Xbox 360 Review

Guitar Hero Van Halen

Dance the Blight Away

If a greater amount of pride equates to a more spectacular fall, Eddie Van Halen must have had more self-esteem than Simon Cowell and Piers Morgan combined when popping his signature on the contract for Guitar Hero: Van Halen. It's a crushing disappointment - a confused, rambling mess of a game - from the moment you load it up and realise "Why Can't This Be Love" isn't on the tracklist.

There are few highlights to its discord. "Jump", with its recognisable 80s fusion of synth pop and arena rock, is the kind of song that's the life and soul of the new age Guitar Hero, where you play as a whole band and have to pick songs that whoever is on vocals will agree with. The song, the only of the group's lengthy discography to reach #1 in the American charts (the band have always been a non-entity in the UK) was significant enough for the group to shift from hard rock to a radio-friendly sound. To the credit of the developers, the notations for the song are also entertaining on all instruments, resulting in a recognisable tune that leaves nobody short-changed.

The opening, too, a double-bill of "Panama" and the hard-hitting "Runnin' with the Devil", nicely warms you up for a full-blown Van Halen experience; a trek across the feuds, shifting musical styles, conflicting ideas, and maybe even a couple of tracks from the 1998's dodgy Van Halen III album. It never delivers on these expectations.

Instead of aping games such as Guitar Hero: Metallica and The Beatles: Rock Band, offering an expansive selection of tracks across the band's lengthy career, Van Halen serves you up a meagre snapshot of the group from 1977-1984, the David Lee Roth era, and completely ignores everything from when Sammy Hagar took over as lead singer. This revisionist experience features but 25 Van Halen tracks, with 3 of those guitar-only solos from Eddie Van Halen that, thankfully, includes the finger-shredding "Eruption".

The mandatory Career mode splits the music into ten clumps of tracks, meaning "Beautiful Girls", "Ain't Talkin Bout Love", "Hot for Teacher", "Jamie's Cryin" and "Little Guitars" have been spread out to deliver a scant few hours of gameplay. Following Metallica's lead, Van Halen unlocks its next stages by an accumulation of total points as opposed to completing an entire set; those well-trained in the art of using their plastic instruments will be able to race through the list in no time at all.

Then there's the Guest Acts, with 19 included on the disc. Why has Fountains of Wayne's "Stacy's Mom" made the cut? Are we supposed to believe these tracks are a modern channelling of David Lee Roth's and Eddie Van Halen's musical ethos? You've got to struggle through Weezer's "Dope Nose", The Offspring's "Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)" and Third Eye Blind's "Semi-Charmed Life". The latter, I imagine, was included solely because Activision were already using the license in DJ Hero. These aren't bad songs, but their inclusion within a Van Halen themed game is nothing short of baffling; an attempt to tick off all the demographic boxes in a title that can't possibly have universal appeal. They might as well have bunged in some S Club 7 and a Grease megamix.

Then there's the repetition. Judas Priest's "Painkiller", Deep Purple's "Space Truckin'", Tenacious D's "Master Exploder" and Billy Idol's "White Wedding (Part 1)" all make a leap from rival franchise Rock Band 2, as if their inclusion is supposed to somehow put Harmonix's efforts to shame. Again, these aren't necessarily poor tracks but anyone who's been knocking around the music genre for a few years - probably the only people that will give this game any consideration - will have already played them to death.

The game bills itself on being "the most challenging Guitar Hero game ever", no doubt thanks to Eddie Van Halen's reputation of blindingly-fast taps, hammer-ons, pull-offs and experimental guitar techniques: in one of the game's better moments you get to see Eddie take a power drill to his strings to produce the haunting noises in "Intruder". But this is where the game is at its most confused, lumping simplistic 90s tweenie rock up against ultra-demanding Van Halen solos. Neither the casual Guitar Hero fan nor the dedicated players who ace "Through the Fire and the Flames" on Expert are going to come out feeling satisfied.

Everything about it feels out of place. Despite the mo-cap techniques used to represent the aging rockers, the GH:WT engine pulling the strings makes everyone look like mawkish, stunted puppet versions of themselves, which is especially peculiar when the far superior looks of GH5 have been doing the rounds for the last five months. The contemporary appearance of the band, even going so far as to feature Wolfgang Van Halen on Bass guitar, completely clashes with the music selection, although the game makes an eventual concession and allows glam outfits to be unlocked.

With no ability to Import and Export other songs from the Guitar Hero catalogue you're stuck with its schizophrenic, and disappointing, selection. For the sake of convenience I'd rather just been able to buy "Jump", "Runnin' with the Devil" and "Hot for Teacher" as a DLC pack for GH5. Pride, squabbling and calamitous design decisions have ultimately left the game a meagre shadow of its potential self. Its biggest problem, outside of its lacklustre design, is that you and the band have to ask yourselves, in the midst of a music game session, "shall we bother fumbling around the shelves looking for that copy of Guitar Hero: Van Halen?"

The answer: No.

50%
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