Monday, April 5, 2010

Guitar Hero: Van Halen

Let me begin by apologizing. I'm very sorry. Guitar Hero: Van Halen is, as they say, my bad. As some of you already know, I am a self-processed music game whore. I bought the original Guitar Hero bundle the day it was available, and rode the music game genre all the way to Beatles: Rock Band, investing hundreds of dollars in games, instruments, and downloadable songs. While running the risk of sounding pseudo-pretentious, I believe that, when properly done, music games allow for a fantastic way for music fans to interact with some of their favorite artists. Anyone who has ever sung along to a song in the car or has wailed away on their own personal air guitar or air drum kit can recognize the appeal of, for one brief moment, in their own mind, fading into the shoes of a world renowned musician. It's a simple experience, but a unique one to the genre that other forms of games have a hard time recreating.

When done improperly, however, you end up with the most obvious cash grab since Activision's last obvious cash grab, Guitar Hero: Van Halen. Brought to you by Underground Development (formerly Z-Trip), the developers of such phenominal titles as X-Men: The Official Game, the PS3 port of Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, and the "Oh-Jesus-I-Can't-Even-Burn-The-Thought-From-My-Mind" BMX XXX. Honestly, BMX XXX might have been a more inspired attempt than this one. Rumored since March, leaked in April, and announced to the surprise of absolutely no one in May, GH: Van Halen has been percieved as a cash grab from the beginning. Lovingly dubbed GH: David Lee Roth's Ego Trip by the fine folks at the Penny Arcade forums, it contains no songs from the Sammy Hagar-led "Van Hagar" period" or the lesser known Gary Cherone era, and, keeping with the spirit of petty "rivalries" from aging, money-hungry musicians, contains neither of the mentioned singers or original Van Halen bass player Michael Anthony, who is replaced by current Van Halen bassist and son of Eddie Van Halen, Wolfgang Van Halen.

The aforementioned Fatty Ding Dongs Van Halen

Activision's most obvious flaw in their release of Guitar Hero: Van Halen (and, in the same way, GH: Metallica and GH: Aerosmith) is the thought process that anyone into Van Halen enough to buy a video game being advertised by them starring them would want to play anything other than Van Halen songs in this particular revision of the series. Who knows, maybe they actually had the idea at some point to actually have the star of the game have the majority of the songs in the game? I mean, I don't think anyone would view this as outrageous, and most people would view it as a respectful way celebrate the career of the band. Luckily though, Fatty Ding Dongs was there to set them straight! Yes, unlike in previous GH single band games, where the "supporting cast" was related to the band in some way, such as inspiring the band in question or listing the headliner as a personal inspiration, the majority of the songs were just chosen at large by Mr. Ding Dongs, and that is how we end up with such bands as Queen, The Clash, Tenacious D, Judas Priest, and Alter Bridge in a game called Guitar Hero: Van Halen.

The most obvious slap in the face to Guitar Hero: Van Halen is, well, Guitar Hero 5. Guitar Hero 5 was built on an entirely new engine built to replace the aging Tony Hawk/Guitar Hero 3 engine. While the character models of GH5 are still a little off, the lighting and animation of the game are absoultely stunning, and honestly recreate the feeling of being at a concert more than any music game out today. Unfortunatly for GH: Van Halen, though, they didn't get the GH5 engine. GH: Van Halen was built on the aforementioned aging TH\GH3 engine, and it shows horribly even without comparing it to GH5. The game is not pretty. The animations are stiff, and the character models are horrid. This means that either the game was in development long before GH5, or that it was quickly thrown together with the scraps left over from more competent games/studios as a quick sell for Christmas. This is all without mentioning the fact that Activision had so little faith in this game standing on it's own, plus fear of the impending release of Beatles: Rock Band, that they literally gave this game away. If you bought GH5 new during the months of September, they would mail you this game for free in a little envelope that only served to accentuate how pitiful this game was: they didn't even give you a case.

I don't even know anymore

In short, as poor in quality that this game is, it is a perfect metaphor for the state of the music genre as a whole: reaching. They're reaching the end of their rope. The music game bubble is slowly letting out all traces of life, and Activision is doing whatever it can to squeeze out the last bit of blood from their stone. Or, and this has honestly came to mind before, they have decided to enact a scorched earth policy: if they can monoplize the genre, then kill it and keep anyone else from doing such. It's Activision, you honestly can't put something like that past them. The genre that I wrote so lovingly of at the beginning of this peace is dying, as much as I hate to say it, and it's very clear. When a game starring The Beatles, arguably the largest and most influencial rock band in the history of music, sells below expectations, something has gone wrong, and that's how we end up with Green Day: Rock Band. That is an article for another day, though.

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