2009 Music Game Mega-Review

As I’ve been a bit slacking in getting out reviews, I’m going to approach these in a slightly different format, avoiding the headers I used before (though I still plan to call out the individual grades I give).  As this year we had 6 (6!!!!) music games on the market, here’s my mass music reveal to cover all those.

These are all based on the 360 version. I’m aware of Band Hero and Lego Rock Band DS version, but have not tried those yet.

The Beatles: Rock Band

tbrbcover In lieu of a normal Rock Band release, Harmonix instead gave us this loving tribute to the Fab Four, and it certainly lives up to the quality we’ve come to expect from the game. There’s no doubt that this is still a Rock Band game, and the effort and dedication to making the songs challenging yet fun to play is quite there.  Of course, the songs from The Beatles are not hard of themselves – their hardest songs, such as “Hey Bulldog” or “The End”, barely scratch at the difficulty that things like “Visions” or “Painkiller”. But, that’s the advantage for The Beatles: Rock Band as it makes the game more accessible to all players of all skill levels and ideal as a social/party game.

The changes that they have made in the Rock Band formula are definitely things I would like to see in the main series.  For one, it borrows a unpause countdown timer from Guitar Hero that makes it much easier to jump back into a song.  The overdrive (“Beatlemania” in this game) activation for drums no longer provides you with a large open block for riffing in, but instead alerts you to a final green cymbal hit you can take to trigger it, while you still play out the basic beats of the game. While this was mostly done to prevent dilution of the Beatles’ songs, it would seem to be the type of effect that would work quite well in regular Rock Band that allows you to keep the rhythm going in more complex songs. The approach to harmonies are excellent, and definitely a feature that the main series begs for, though it would be nice if they could work out how to allow these for online play (that is, with two or three remote people each on a harmony part).  The challenges for Achievements or Trophies are also nicely arranged: beyond the usual “get 100% on Expert on any song”, there’s enough of a selection of more difficult challenges that keep you coming back to the game to improve your score. Downloadable content support has been great to date – there are now three full albums that one can play through completely in one sitting (including the infamous Abbey Road Medley), though Harmonix has been quiet about any future content down the road.

Clearly I would be remiss to not mention the stunning graphics and Dreamscapes associated with the game.  Everything about the art direction in this game is near perfect. The Beatles themselves are rendered nicely throughout their various periods in both their natural aging and dress. The recreation of the various stages and performances they played at is a great capture of that period of history. But the Dreamscapes are what drives the game home, and The Beatles: Rock Band would have had a much less memorable impact on the genre if they were not included. The more fantastical ones such as for “Sgt. Peppers” or “Yellow Submarine” are visual wonders, while the more emotional songs like “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Here Comes the Sun” are nicely played out against mellow yet visually appealing backgrounds. There are issues with a few of the Dreamscapes being so bright and colorful that you may lose track of the note patterns (“Within You Without You” is one of those), and unless your comfortable with Rock Band already, you’ll likely not be able to watch these as you struggle through the notes at least the first few times.  It is also good to see them continue to use Dreamscapes (even if they are recycling a lot of material) in the DLC for the game; while both the “Sgt. Peppers” and “Abbey Road” albums consistently use Dreamscapes, the “Rubber Soul” album nicely uses a combination of concert settings and Dreamscapes for those songs.

Previously, Activision did figure out the right way to do a band-specific game with Guitar Hero: Metallica, in terms of combining songs, related or influenced groups, and facts and tidbits about the band.  While I consider The Beatles: Rock Band to be a greater game, it is also another way of presenting a band-specific game, though because of the influence, history, and cultural impact of the group, it is likely the only band-specific game to be given as much attention to detail.  It does a great job of covering all the years of the group (though at least mentions to a point some of the strife in the band’s later years), and the additional photos and videos are highly appreciated.  But again, I don’t believe any other band, outside of a group like Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd, has such a diverse and imaginative catalog to create something of the spectacle that is The Beatles: Rock Band. That’s not to say that other Rock Band band-specific games aren’t possible, and the early information on the upcoming Green Day: Rock Band makes it sound like an ideal product – an exportable soundtrack of Green Day songs, with Green Day band avatars and venues with a bunch of history and facts about the band to round it out.  But I get ahead of myself – we’ll come to an example of how not to do a band-specific game in a bit.

Overall, The Beatles: Rock Band is a must if you already are into the plastic-instrument market, unless you absolutely hate the band.  It is a tad short and easy, but these are fun songs to play particularly with friend off- and online, and there’s a certain elation you get through playing these.  If you’ve not yet gotten any plastic instrument game, it is highly recommended to get the full bundle offered with The Beatles: Rock Band (now dropping in price after post-holiday sales) as the Beatles-themed instruments are of good sturdy quality to last you into the various other music games including the iterations of Rock Band and Guitar Hero.

Gameplay: A

Audio: A+

Graphics: A

Value/Replayability: A-

Overall: A

 

Lego Rock Band

legorb When announced back around May of 2009, many people were skeptical of this game – it seemed like a completely odd pairing between the Travelers Tales, Lego series and Rock Band.  Surprising it works. It does have some limitations, and for those completionists, it takes a lot of effort to get to the end, but this is a great game for those with younger children that are interested in playing music games without the concerns of questionable song lyrics.  If anything, its biggest flaw is the complete lack of online play (which makes some sense concerning the target age group, but still something that could have been blocked out by parental controls).

If you’ve played Rock Band 2, you’ve played the main career mode of Lego Rock Band.  There’s numerous venues, which you progress through by earning appropriate Lego vehicles once you have enough stars in any given venue. Instead of money, you earn Lego studs, which then can be spent on customizing your Lego band, their Rock Den (the hub of Career mode), or to hire staff for the band to improve payoffs for studs and fans.  There are several preset challenges in the game that also become unlocked as you get enough stars.  Some of these challenges are special Rock Challenges, which feature a music-video like performance though the actions will depend on how well your band does, including special sections where only an individual’s current performance is counted. The actual gameplay of these is a bit odd, but the video parts themselves are typical of Travelers Tales’s humor in other Lego games; for example, it is not quite a shot-for-shot remake, but the Rock Challenge for “Ghostbusters” pays many homages to the Ray Parker, Jr. video.  A handful of challenges include playing songs as the special Lego-ized guests in the game, including David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and the bands Blur, Queen, and Spinal Tap; unfortunately (maybe after the Guitar Hero 5/Kurt Cobain disaster) you can only play as these Lego avatars during these specific challenges.  The only other major gameplay feature change is that if you fail, you don’t drop out or the like, but instead lose a part of the bricks that you have earned.  After a short pause, you’ll get your note track back with noted marked as part of a “recovery phrase”, with each note earning some of those studs back; you can then fully recover the studs that you lost if you play perfectly this phrase. There’s also the addition of Beginner difficulty mode, which makes it very easy to have those less dexterous to join in simply by doing something in time with the music and not so much getting the exact note patterns.

Now, Career Mode suffers the same problems that people had with Rock Band 2’s mode, in that, if you don’t have any DLC, you’re stuck playing the same songs over and over again.  This is made worse in Lego Rock Band that you only have 45 songs on the disc to start instead of 85, so the repeating is even worse here. Fortunately, Lego Rock Band uses a subset of any DLC you’ve already downloaded (those they have determined to be appropriate for families, roughly 33% of the DLC catalog) so that you can avoid this issue.  It still doesn’t present a great solution to the repetition, and to be honest, most of the songs that carry over from DLC fall into modern pop/rock, meaning repetitive phrases and monotonous guitar and drum parts, but it is a right move.  What this basically means is that if you are seeking to complete career mode (per Achievements or Trophies), you’ll have to play through a good number of the 100+ sets they have, including multiple “make a setlist” and “random setlist” challenges in every venue.  Don’t get me wrong: Rock Band 2 desperately needs a way to play, without enabling cheats which disables saving and online play) an songlist in any venue, and this approach in Lego Rock Band provides that. But most venues have two of each of these (just varying on the number of songs) and is just tiring to work through.  Add to this the lack of any online play (likely due to protect the average player of this game), and the Career mode gets very old very fast.

lrb-screen

The oddity about the game is its soundtrack. First, it is completely exportable to Rock Band though with an additional cost; exportability is a good thing and that leads to the odd part is that there’s enough in this game that I would think the average Rock Band player would want to have, but alongside “meh” songs like Pink’s “So What” (though, admittedly, the Rock Challenge involving this is rather fun). “Ghostbusters”, “Two Princes”, “Summer of ‘69”, “We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions”, “You Give Love A Bad Name”, and of course the quintessential “The Final Countdown” are great to see added to the library. But then songs that may seem exciting to have, like “Let’s Dance” or “Kung Fu Fighting” you quickly realize are rather repetitive and monotonous much like songs like “Song 2” or the like.  It is very uneven, moreso than Rock Band 2’s setlist, and that was across 85 songs.  Of course, the soundtrack is all subjective, so there may be a lot more you like or dislike.  The only thing to remember is that Harmonix has not confirmed or even hinted that these songs will appear as regular DLC and instead one should assume the only way to get them is to get a new copy of the game (rental or borrowing won’t work due to the need for a unique code) and import them.

Lego Rock Band is not for everyone.  If you are an avid music game player, unless you are particularly fascinated with the Lego games, you’re not going to find anything that Rock Band 2 doesn’t already offer, beyond the exportability of the songs.  But it is a very good product for families with younger children, and also maintains the humor and style that Travelers Tales has brought to market with the Lego games.  It works – but not for all.

Gameplay: B+

Audio: A

Graphics: A

Value/Replayability: B

Overall: B+

 

Guitar Hero 5

gh5 Activision and Neversoft have learned many things regarding band games since their release of World Tour last year, and while different from how Rock Band approaches the genre, Guitar Hero 5 does do a lot of new and interesting things that would be nice to see picked up by Rock Band.

Probably the most important change is that the game is less about the career mode and instead about enjoying playing the songs with others. There still is a traditional Career mode – you create your band, your avatar, and then are presented with a series of venues with fixed songs within each. But like Guitar Hero: Metallica and Smash Hits, progression is based on earning a reasonably fraction of the stars available (roughly about half) to open the next venue. It takes very little work to get a “completed” career mode in the sense of opening every venue, even if you’ve not played all the songs. Stars can be earned at any difficulty, removing the frustration of the “Hard” to “Expert” transition that has been part of the series since its start. That said, they have introduced a new feature, called Challenges. Each song has its unique challenge that is tied to one instrument or the whole band. Often these are straightforward – earn a specific number of points, maintain a series of correctly-played notes, or the like. Others are more specific due to the song’s structure, such as nailing the “Fame”s at the end of the same-named David Bowie song.  Each challenge has three completion levels, with a max of an additional 3 more stars (to the 5 you can get for the general performance) depending on how well you do. This helps to accelerate the playthrough of the Career, but this is even further capitalized by the fact that when you are playing with others, as long as any band member completes the challenge, all members are individually credited towards it. Thus, if there’s a Challenge with a tough guitar lick that you can’t do, find a friend and play with them to finish it.  Activision has noted that some of these Challenges can only be completed at the highest level when playing Expert difficulty, so there is some aspect of learning to play well to keep improving and complete all of these. There are also Challenges that allow you to pick any song to complete it – this also includes any common downloaded songs from World Tour as well as the selected lists of importable songs from World Tour, Smash Hits, and Band Hero (roughly 50% of each of those respective setlists); yes, Activision finally has realized the necessary of building a library of songs and importability. It is still trailing what Rock Band offers, but it is a definite step in the right direction.

Unlike Rock Band, the game does not enforce a rigid structure on the combined band, which while more a disaster in off-line mode, makes it very easy to play with others online, since you’re not waiting for that one vocalist to fill an empty slot in your 3-person band.  The visuals may look weird when this happens, but it makes the game very accessible to online.  Other Online modes include the usual face offs but also include a set of Rock Challenges.  These are various modes where up to 8 players play at the same time (you don’t see their note charts, however, just tracking their scores per the challenge rules) the idea to earn the most points per that mode’s rules. One includes a mode where the difficulty of your track keeps increasing (and thus earning you more points) as long as you play well, and falls back if you fail enough notes. Another mode is an eliminator mode, that the player with the lowest score after a 30-second segment is dropped out. There’s about 5-6 of these modes all together and it does change how you approach a song. It is interesting to play – it may not be so much for music appreciation but does provide a level of enjoyment.  Perhaps one of the more subtle modes of the game is the Party Play mode, which, when you launch the title, the game automatically drops into; it is an extended demo mode but lets you pick up the axe or sticks at any time and jump in.  In a social party setting, this certainly has many advantages since people can drop in or out, change difficulty, or the like, without having to spend minutes navigating the menus. Particularly after becoming rather tired of “Hello There” due to the endless repetition in the Rock Band 2 menus, this is a very welcome feature.  There is also an improved version of GHTunes, allowing for more interactive creation of user songs, with fewer restrictions on length and the like, but in the end, this still has the same problems as the World Tour version: no vocals are allowed, and they still come out sounding like MIDI songs.  User-created content is great, but the approach by the upcoming Rock Band Network seems to be nailing that.

gh5-screen

There are only a handful of changes to the actual gameplay (a good thing, since this is like the 5th title of the series) – they’ve reworked the Star Power to be individually collected ala Rock Band instead of a shared pool, and these contribute to the Band Multipler; this multiplier also gets boosted when the band plays certain marked phrases all correctly and with other consistent play mechanics.  While one can fail out, recovery of that member requires the other band members to play their parts well.  Otherwise, the in-game play remains the same (and as I’ve found, makes it weird to jump back and forth between Guitar Hero and Rock Band games.)

This leaves the question of the soundtrack, and – well, its clear that the two franchises have a clear bead on what works out for these games, as there’s a large number of overlaps between tracks on Guitar Hero 5 and songs available through Rock Band 2.  This game’s soundtrack is a bit weighted towards more recent songs – again, considering the game as more social than for music appreciation.  Whereas World Tour did have a disproportionate number of foreign songs (due to the game’s more popular success in Europe), Guitar Hero 5 avoids too many of these, though still manages to pull from a few bands you’ve likely never heard of. But it seems most of the songs are playable and enjoyable for all instruments at any time (even if this means we lose great guitar solos), and thus can be considered well-rounded this way.

Graphics are improved to a degree in this game. World Tour was criticized for having Muppet-like avatars on stage, and while it is not the case that Guitar Hero 5 still doesn’t have some of the more creepier images, they’ve applied graphic filters to make it look reasonably more life-like and take out the stilted motions of the avatars.  There is just enough in-game advertizing on the venues to appear realistic without overwhelming.  And by now, everyone’s aware there’s several celebrity avatars in the game, including the infamous use of Kurt Cobain which has since becoming something of a firestorm for Activision.  On one hand, it helps to make the game feel legitimate, but at the same time, when you compare the real-life celebrities against what you can make with the character creator, there’s a still a large gulf that needs to be crossed.

Guitar Hero 5 is definitely a positive improvement on the series after the more disappointing World Tour.  It doesn’t offer any significant advantages over Rock Band if you’re the type that likes to play along to these songs and appreciate them, but is definitely geared towards the more social aspects of just having fun with them.  All the steps made are in the right direction for this, but there is danger that they may be adding too many features within the main gameplay that may tip this from being enjoyable to being too complex to appreciate.

Gameplay: A

Audio: A-

Graphics: B+

Value/Replayability: A

Overall: A-

 

Band Hero

bh There’s no easier way to describe Band Hero beyond being the pink version of Guitar Hero 5 aimed at ‘tween girls. The gameplay and approach are all the same, and the only real difference is the venues, selections of clothing, and the soundtrack.  The fact that current pop sensation Taylor Swift is predominately featured in the game should clue you in if you really need this game or not.

The soundtrack is by far one of the weakest if you are looking for a significant challenge. These are all Top 40 , pop hits, and that usually implies a simple guitar and bass strumming rhythm and fixed drum beat that rarely varies.  If anything, the soundtrack is one to glorify the vocalist, and really is more a karaoke machine with some guitars and drums thrown in.  That said, there are songs that I would to have in Rock Band simply because of musical appreciation, for example “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” or “American Pie”.  Even with that said, there is atrocious censorship in this game to earn it an ESRB “T” rating, such as the removal of the word “Whiskey” from the chorus of “American Pie”.

This should have been downloadable content to Guitar Hero 5; none of the new venues are super exciting, and only serve to be highlighting the guest acts.  Unfortunately, it does look like Activision believes there is a product line here as hints of a Band Hero 2 are already emerging. I can understand that there will be a class of people that play Guitar Hero 5 but hate the bulk of the music in Band Hero , and vice versa.  But here’s an example of what Harmonix has already learned: you can provide DLC of music that is outside of what one might consider a core audience – you’re not forcing everyone to buy it just to get one or two songs they like, and gives you ideas of where to explore if there’s more interest; I’m sure the various genre retail track packs didn’t simply arise because Harmonix wanted to do it, but instead because there was a general interest in having more classic rock, country, and metal in the game.  Band Hero represents another genre, that of pop-rock, that Activision could have treated the same way.

bh-screen

Technically, there is nothing bad about Band Hero beyond the caution behind the very modern soundtrack; the game does what it promises without failure.  It however is an example of the problem with Activision’s approach to the market – they’ve stated they rather sell full products than DLC.  Which is fine when you’re talking two or three releases a year.  However, 2009 has come and gone and shown that the music game market cannot handle 5 different titles from the same series.  It is really hard to recommend this game unless you are desperate to play any of the songs from its setlist, and instead just recommend to hope and wait that Rock Band will soon these as well.

Gameplay: A-

Audio: C

Graphics: B+

Value/Replayability: B-

Overall: C

 

DJ Hero

djhero DJ Hero reads like a train wreck from most any angle, but really comes together in the end – as long as you are fan of the electronica/hip-hop/mix scene.  While I may criticize Activision of saturating the traditional guitar/band market with titles, this is one spinoff I completely agree with its inclusion. Both FreeStyleGames and Activision should be commended for a great first shot out the door barring a few technical problems that can easily be fixed for DJ Hero 2.

The game is all about mixing two songs together to create a rather new work.  It features over 80 different mixes with over 100 different individual songs used (however, at the same time, its clear that there’s a lot of reuse of single songs to make all those mixes).  The game requires a new plastic controller modeled after a turntable.  One side is the turntable that spins freely along with three buttons, each associated with the two songs used in the mix and an effects stream. The other side has a crossfader, an adjustment dial which is used ala the whammy bar to build points during certain sections, and the “Euphoria” (Star Power) Activation button.  During a mix, you’ll constantly need to work the crossfader back and forth to bring one song to the audio foreground and back again and to use the buttons on the turntable to hit beats on the individual mixes. These buttons are also used to hold down and “scratch”, rotating the turntable as indicated by arrows on the tracks.  Euphoria is earned by doing all the actions in a segment of the song, while a “Rewind” feature, activated by spinning the platter counterclockwise 360 degrees, is earned by playing enough notes in a row correctly and then allows you to go back a few seconds in the song to fix errors you made or simply boost your score.  As with Guitar Hero, DJ Hero gives you up to 5 stars for each song. There is no failure mode in the game – you simple do not score points if you continually miss the tracks.

djhero-controller

It takes a while to get use to the controller, but where the game shines is that the difficulty ramp being the specific difficulty levels and within the various setlist challenges makes it very easy to get used to all the features.  Early songs for me on medium were more geared towards getting the crossfading right and hitting the beats on each mix.  Then they add more rapid crossfade changes and introduced scratching (where exactly how you scratch didn’t matter). Making it through the medium difficulty was sufficient enough a challenge with those but easily lead into the Hard difficulty where there are now “spike” crossfades (Where you have to move the crossfader out and back in a single motion), and scratch sections that required specific movements on the turntable.  I’m certainly not yet an expert in the game, but I feel that I’ve mastered something, that same feeling that I had back during Guitar Hero and clearing those high-end songs on Expert.  Without the gradual increase in difficulty, this game would probably have been the train wreck that it was anticipated to be.

The music itself is pretty good. Again, if you’re not into the remix culture, this game will do nothing for you. And there’s some of the mixes (typically the slower ones) that just seem to drag on and on.  There are also some mixes that just don’t work – “Sabotage” vs “Monkey Wrench” is ok, but feels overly awkward.  The game also attempts to extend the Guitar Hero gameplay into 10 special mixes, but it really doesn’t need this – the types of songs that work well for mixes don’t really aren’t challenging on guitar, and vice versa. The “failed” mixes, in my opinion, are maybe about 20% of the tracklist – the other mixes are all real strong. This is further helped by the fact that FreeStyleGames was able to bring aboard some big names in mixing: DJ Jazzy Jeff, Grandmaster Flash, Daft Punk, DJ Shadow, and others, all that have the right ear to make these work.  Just as with the right approach to gameplay, without this talent, I have a feeling this was have been less impressive. As it is, their presence both in music and their appearance helps to lend credibility to the product.

djhero-screen

Gameplay is basically your career mode – you have a number of pre-set tracks consisting of mixes, with most of the later ones being those done by one artist. You collect stars (at any difficulty) to unlock the later sets of tracks, as well as for characters, venues, and additional clothing and outfit styles. While all songs are available in a “quickplay” mode from the start, it is not a traditional quickplay but instead you use can custom one of two sets of tracks to what songs you want to play.  This means that if you’ve made up two custom setlist to keep around for a while, you’ll have to erase one to quickplay a mix.  There are online modes, basically score attack modes between two DJs, or you can have a guitar player help with your DJ, but thankfully there’s no “battle mode” here; at this point, the series is too fresh to be assured if this would work.

The visuals are… well, they fit with what Activision has provided in the past with Guitar Hero.  It definitely is based on the club scene, and that means lots of flashing lights and random girls dancing to the music.  While the celebrity avatars are spot on, the new characters created for the game are just a bit too cartoonish to mesh well.  The overall theme is interesting, but it does seem to lack a certain professionalism when you compare it to Rock Band.

The biggest factor into getting this game is to justify the cost. The new controller is not cheap (nor is it cheaply made), and presently works in exactly one game. There is another DJ game due out soon, Scratch, information given, it is very unlikely that it will be compatible with the DJ Hero controller. There is a very strong likelihood of a DJ Hero 2 coming out (it has been all but confirmed by Activision), and the game current does have a limited selection of DLC available for it.  But it is important to stress, this is not a bad game, and despite the shear number of other titles Activision has put out this year, this was the largest risk and to me, was a good payoff in its implementation.  This is likely a good try-before-you-buy game; if you can get your hands on a demo unit to get the feel for the game and the flavor it gives, you’ll have a better idea if you’re willing to plunk down the money for it.

Gameplay: A

Audio: A

Graphics: B+

Value/Replayability: B

Overall: A-

 

Guitar Hero: Van Halen

ghvh This could only be a joke, right?

It is not that Van Halen couldn’t have the same treatment that Metallica got.  They’ve got a lot of songs in their pocket, many instantly recognizable, and there’s some good killer guitar shreds from them.  In other words, it is completely possible to make a good Van Halen band game. But all the decisions taken for this game, despite being functionally equivalent to Guitar Hero: Metallica (which, to recall is closer to World Tour’s approach than Guitar Hero 5), makes it a laughing stock.  Issues such as:

– Focusing on the period of the band before Hagar (that is, pre-1984) drastically cuts the number of good songs to pull from. The game does not even acknowledge their existence in the band (unlike Guitar Hero: Metallica which at least tribute the past members of the band in the various facts).

– The inclusion of Wolfgang as the default bassist.  Every time on screen, it looks like some kid snuck up on stage to perform; it probably doesn’t help that Wolfgang is a bit on the heavier side, and all that looks like baby fat for his on-screen avatar. The effect is even worse when you eventually get to the last tier which puts the band back in their skin-tight outfits – including Wolfgang which wasn’t even borne at the time some of the songs selected were played out.

– I know this is a band that has been around a long time, and I don’t think we’d necessary want to see 40-50yrs olds bouncing around on stage like children. But at the same time, I found the band’s default appearance effectively made them look like mid-20s that shopped at the Gap. I’m sure they had a say in what they wanted to look like on the game screen, but I think they went too far in the virtual youth look. Again, comparing to GH: Metallica or even GH: Aerosmith, the band avatars looked right – aged appropriately, but still energetic and happy to be performing. The job that Van Halen got in making the avatar transition just makes the band look like any other alternative band today.  And remember, we’re playing their songs from before 1984; it puts their outfits even more out of place.

ghvh-screen

– Like GH: Metallica, there are "guest acts”, which I’m not always thrilled with (I bought a band-specific game, I want band-specific songs). At least in GH: Metallica, most of these made sense.  The ones given for GH: Van Halen just boggle the mind.  I love Weezer as much as the next person, but what connection at all do they have to Van Halen’s music?  It has been reported that Wolfgang (hmm, coincidence?) was given the reins as to what guest acts to include, and while these songs would be fine in a regular, non-band title, they just don’t work here.

I can’t fault the game technically: again, it is functionally equivalent to GH: Metallica, and the charting seems really well done; solos on “Panama” and “Eruption” are just as much of a blast to play out (if you can!) as you would air-guitaring to them.  But it just feels, in the end, a half-assed job.  If there was some effort to at least acknowledge later songs from the band’s career (things like “Right Now” are painfully missing), it might have helped. But in the end, the content of this game feels dictated by what the current band wanted, and somehow Activision didn’t seem to feel like fighting it. It feels, effectively, like an egotistical view of the band.

And of course, you can’t overlook the means by how Activision treated this title.  It was rumored for several months, and then when finally revealed, it was given a release day on Christmas week; that is not how you treat a game you hope to sell well. Then add the free giveaway of the game for those that purchased Guitar Hero 5 in the first month of its release, and you can quickly tell Activision wanted this one out of its hands as fast as possible.  Speculation again, but I suspect that they had signed their contracts to make this game, but quickly found it impossible to work with Van Halen to make it as quality as GH Metallica, and thus offloaded it to another in-house developer (it uses Neversoft’s code, but they aren’t the lead on this) and sell or give away copies to complete the contractual requirements.

Guitar Hero: Van Halen is a game that you do not want to support with your dollar; it is still a technically sound music game title to have if you can get it for free or used, or rent it to play through, but this minimal lack of effort and overall package is just disappointing.

Gameplay: A-

Audio: C

Graphics: B

Value/Replayability: B

Overall: C

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One Response

  1. lol

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