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Is the third band-specific rhythm video game in the Guitar Hero series. As with the previous games Guitar Hero: Aerosmith and Guitar Hero: Metallica, the game features 25 songs from Van Halen along with 19 additional songs from selected artists that have been inspired by the group. The game was released in retail for the PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Wii systems on December 22, 2009, in North America, and on 19 February 2010 for Europe. However, as part of a promotion with Guitar Hero 5, the game was shipped to Guitar Hero 5 purchasers prior to its retail release. The game content was developed by Underground Development, with the primary engine code developed by Neversoft and Budcat Creations. The game is published by Activision Blizzard.
While the game was formally announced by Activision on May 7, 2009, several sources reported earlier that Van Halen was in development. USK, the German software ratings board, posted a content rating for a Van Halen-based game in the series, GameStop temporarily listed the game for pre-order during the month of April, and a list of Xbox 360 Achievements was posted to the Internet in early May.
For the month of September 2009, people that purchased or preordered Guitar Hero 5 in the US were able to redeem a code with the game to receive a free copy of Guitar Hero: Van Halen prior to its retail release. These copies began arriving to customers in early October for PlayStation 2, Xbox 360, and Wii players, while the PlayStation 3 version was delayed due to a printing error. The game's cover art was slightly changed to note that it was promotional only. The game comes in a cardboard sleeve.
Guitar Hero: Van Halen is similar to the preceding band-centric game, Guitar Hero: Metallica, featuring support for four players in a single band on lead and bass guitar, drums, and vocals. The game does not feature the additions that are present in Guitar Hero 5, such as drop-in/drop-out play.
Only the current members of the band—Eddie Van Halen, David Lee Roth, Alex Van Halen and Wolfgang Van Halen—are playable avatars in the game for the Van Halen songs; former band members Sammy Hagar, Michael Anthony and Gary Cherone are not included. The band is represented by their current looks, but by completing challenges in the game, players can unlock their older appearances from the "spandex era […] with the big hair and tight pants"; these outfits are also included for Wolfgang Van Halen who was not yet born during that period of the band's history. Wolfgang will have an outfit that is based on Michael Anthony. User-created characters can be used to play non-Van Halen songs in the game.
A demo of the game was released to Xbox Live on December 9, 2009, featuring two Van Halen songs, "Eruption" and "Panama", along with Weezer's "Dope Nose" and Killswitch Engage's "The End of Heartache".
Early reviews of the promotional version of the game received as part of the Guitar Hero 5 before its retail launch were negative of the game. IGN's Eric Brudvig rated the game a 4.9/10, citing problems with the lack of relevance of Van Halen relative to the culture of the 2000s, including having their avatars based on their older appearance rather than of that during the 80s, the lack of songs from Sammy Hagar's period in the band, and the lack of features since introduced with Guitar Hero 5, and ultimately saying those that got the game free through the promotion "got what they paid for". Robert Workman of Game Daily was less critical of the title, but still noted that the game lacked features including some mention of Hagar and Gary Cherone and songs from their period with the band, and felt that the title was below the quality of Guitar Hero: Metallica. Both Brudvig and Workman commented positively on the sound recordings and the note tracking of the Van Halen songs.
Guitar Hero: Van Halen reviews following its release was similarly negative. Ben Kuchera of Ars Technica considered the game's limited coverage of the band's history to be "a sadly revisionist and dishonest take", and felt that the non-Van Halen songs clashed with the band's own material. Kuchera further points to Activision's distribution strategy for the game, with the free copies given with Guitar Hero 5, as a means of undermining any confidence Activision may have had for the game.