By Clarence Yu
In continuing with the "tradition" of band-centered video games in their Guitar Hero franchise, Activision has finally confirmed that Guitar Hero: Van Halen is currently in development and, according to a report from Joystiq
, will be due for release hopefully by the second half of this year.
Previous band-centered games in the Guitar Hero franchise include Guitar Hero: Aerosmith and Guitar Hero: Metallica. In both cases, the band made a ton of money from game sales, while at the same time experiencing a boost in their album catalog sales.
Arguably however, Van Halen might be a little more difficult to put down on a video game.
First of all, Activision has confirmed that the game will only feature David Lee Roth era songs, which effectively narrows down the possible albums in the game to six: Van Halen (1978), Van Halen II (1979), Women and Children First (1980), Fair Warning (1981), Diver Down (1982), and 1984 (1984). The band had also recorded two new songs with Roth on 1996's Best of Volume I--the superb songs "Can't Get This Stuff No More" and "Me Wise Magic."
Fans of the Sammy Hagar era might be disappointed in this choice. But, as most guitar purists would say, the Roth-era albums were more guitar heavy, while the Hagar era was devoted more to expanding Eddie Van Halen's "love songwriting" capabilities with keyboard/synth heavy songs such as "When It's Love," "Love Walks In," and "Why Can't This Be Love." These were the prime hits of the Red Rocker's era with VH.
Second, is the question of who the bass player will be on the video game: will it be Mad Michael Anthony, or young Wolgang Van Halen, who replaced Anthony on the band's recent 2007-2008 concert outing?
While Van Halen was always centered around the brothers Eddie and Alex, it can't be denied that Anthony's high-pitched back vocals, crazy stage antics, and tight, bottom end were part and parcel of the Van Halen sound and experience. And what to do with Extreme's Gary Cherone, the one-album singer (Van Halen 3, released 1998)? Will Michael Jackson make a guest appearance on "Beat It?" (Eddie Van Halen played the wild solo on Jackson's hit song).
Third, Eddie's playing opened up a whole new dimension to the guitar world. His landmark instrumental, "Eruption," opened up a new generation of guitar players, centering on Van Halen's trademark (though not invented) hand-tapping fretwork, coupled with his signature whammy bar dive-bombs and the notorious elephant squeal. Can this be simply replicated on a plastic guitar controller by pressing a couple of buttons? With technology available today, perhaps it can, but would the gamer actually be able to learn these techniques on an actual guitar?
Finally, Eddie Van Halen's playing has always been rooted in improvisation; his solos have always been off-the-wall, and, as a fan, I'd rather not see these solos conventionalized in a video game. I still get shivers whenever I hear any song off Fair Warning. Few things are more pleasurable than hearing the fret-slapping intro of "Mean Streets," or the unexpected jazz inspired solo of "Hear About It Later." I'd rather keep the sense of the unexpected rather than see it in a video game, but then, I remain hopeful that Activision can pull off a good job.
I probably wouldn't play the game anyway, but it would be great to see the game-plays on YouTube while eating a bowl of brown M & M's.
Eddie Van Halen has always cited Eric Clapton and Allan Holdsworth as his main influences, and I hope that he gives them due credit on this game. Gaming fans may re-discover Van Halen by buying his back catalog, but will they truly appreciate the genesis and roots of Eddie's talent?
Perhaps I am hoping for too much. These may be the main challenges of Van Halen and Activision in developing the game to satisfy a rabid fan like me. Or perhaps, they just want to make a ton of money.