Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Impressions: Guitar Hero: Van Halen

For the last week I’ve been playing Guitar Hero: Van Halen. I feel sad just having to write that. The only applicable analog to that sentence would be for me to write, “For the past week I’ve been continually banging my head on my desk.” They are, more or less, synonymous activities.

And I liked Van Halen.

First of all, this is the single worst-looking Guitar Hero game I’ve ever played. That includes the PS2-exclusive Guitar Hero 1. The use of color has not been a strong suit of the franchise since Neversoft took over its development (this game, btw, is actually developed by a company called Underground Development, using Neversoft’s game engine), and like every GH game since numero tres, this game looks muted and bland. The character models, though, are just flat out ugly. Not to mention creepy. This is a budget game with a regular game’s price.

Second, the audio is in stereo only. Someone is going to have to explain to me how a game, especially a music game, published in 2009 manages to not support Dolby Digital surround sound. This is probably my biggest single beef with the game because it’s apparent in every single song you play that that the audio is not as clear or encompassing as in any other comparable game.

Third, not one track from the Sammy Hagar era? Really? Hey, I know many people hate Sammy Hagar. I’m not one of them, but whatever. I acknowledge David Lee Roth is a superior talent, but then, so was Terrell Owens in his prime and, like Owens, Roth is an ass. Also, let’s take a quick look at the scoreboard since Hagar and Van Halen parted ways:

Albums from Hagar (includes the one from Chickenfoot): 7

Albums from Van Halen: 1 (almost 12 years ago)

Now tell me who’s about making music and who’s just looking to cash in with the least amount of effort possible.

Anyway, no matter how much you might feel Van Halen is only Van Halen with monkey Roth in the lead, the band still put out four frigg’n albums with Hagar as the lead man. Ignoring the one album done with Gary Cherone in the lead is justifiable, but can anyone really argue a Van Halen-themed Guitar Hero game is complete without at least a couple tracks from For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge? Nothing from 5150? Nothing from OU812? Nothing from Bala… okay, nevermind that last one. That is insanity. I can only hope it’s a contractual issue, because if it was a design decision, wow was it stupid.

Fourth, as is the case in every single one of these band-themed Guitar Hero games, the non-Van Halen tracks selected for inclusion along with the main band’s stuff almost universally makes no sense. Two words: Stacy’s Frigg’n Mom. How does that happen? How do Semi-Charmed Life and Pretty Fly (for a White Guy) happen? And can we finally retire White Wedding (as awesome as it is) and frigg’n Painkiller (as awesome as it’s not) from any future renditions of these music games? Including filler music in a band-themed game is a bad idea in principle, but in this game the practice reaches entirely new lows.

Fifth, even if you’re going to sell me on a Van Halen game with stereo sound, a game with absolutely no Hagar content, and one that includes tracks from Fountains of Wayne and Jimmy Eat World, you are, under no circumstances, selling me on a Van Halen game that features the band as it exists today. Geezer, over the hill, and without anything new or relevant to say versions of Eddie, Alex, and Roth with Eddie’s kid, Wolfgang*, on bass. The hell? Even in the lone section of the game to show the band in their prime, a six song set where three of the songs are Eddie-only solos, there he is, Wolfgang Van Halen, playing bass. Kid wasn’t even born yet. Erasing Hagar (and, I guess, Cherone) from the band’s history is bad enough, but not one trace of Michael frigg’n Anthony to boot?

Screw Eddie. Screw Alex. Screw Activision for even considering allowing something this inept and hobbled to be made in the first place. I can’t even muster the indignation to say anything bad about Underground’s development job. It’s obvious they had no budget and no freedom. There’s simply no way this is the game they wanted to make. This isn’t a game that anyone would want to make.


*Note: I’m not bagging on Wolfgang. For all I know the kid could be the best bassist of his generation. The point of my screed is that these band themed games should be a celebration of the history and times of the featured band, not something that pretends most of that history doesn’t exist. If you’re not gonna do that, then offer the tracks as DLC or something. Do not, under any circumstances, make a full-on game. Harmonix understood that when they made Beatles Rock Band.