A couple months back I wrote about my frustration while waiting for the delivery of my much-anticipated copy of Guitar Hero 5. I don’t know who was to blame, Activision, Amazon or the USPS, but I assumed that the game publisher could be absolved in any guilt in regards to shipping delays. However, now, looking back, I don’t know. These days it seems that Guitar Hero/Activision is asleep at the wheel.
Of course there was the Kurt Cobain avatar controversy in Guitar Hero 5 (heck, even Bon Jovi was embarrassed by the idea of the late Nirvana frontman and grunge icon singing Jersey’s greatest hits). Then came news this week that ska/punk/rocksteady/rock/pop outfit No Doubt is suing Activision over the use of their image in the Guitar Hero spin-off Band Hero. Evidently, much like the Cobain fiasco, Gwen Stefani and the boys did not provide Activision permission (or so they claim) to use their virtual counterparts in songs other than No Doubt tracks (apparently the prospect of No Doubt avatars performing a Taylor Swift jam is an affront to everything ska/punk/rocksteady/rock/pop stands for). Certainly, it looks like Activision is having some issues. But these avatar disputes are not what concerns me.
No, what concerns me is the utter lack of effort put into the artwork for both Guitar Hero 5 and the yet to be officially released Guitar Hero:Van Halen (which has been shipping as a free bonus to those whom pre-ordered GH5). I’m not going to try to comment on the actual gameplay and interface, as I don’t have the video game acumen to speak authoritatively on that. And I didn’t expect something on the level of The Beatles: Rock Band. Honestly, I don’t blame for Activision for not putting the same level of work into GH as Harmonix did with Beatles; the latter game is much more about the overall experience, and it’s a unique experience that only works with an iconic, legendary, larger than life band like the Beatles. Even Aerosmith and Van Halen don’t bring the same history and reverence at the Beatles. And for me, as both a casual gamer and a casual Beatles fan, I was more excited about GH because I was genuinely more enthusiastic about the tracks on GH5 and Van Halen than Beatles songs, and the idea of playing through classic Beatles sets, completing challenges and unlocking rare photos didn’t appeal to me as much as just plugging in and rocking out to Bush’s “Comedown” (and No Doubt’s “Ex-Girlfriend” (and, really, when are Gwen and Gavin Rossdale going to collaborate on something other than a baby!?)). So, clearly, I had set the bar pretty low.
I had seen the cover art for Guitar Hero 5 when I pre-ordered the title and thought it was pretty nondescript. However, in all earnest I thought it was just temporary art and that the final version would at least feature some stock cartoon rocker, something akin to Guitar Hero World Tour, and its predecessor Guitar Hero III.
Yes, something similar to that. But when the game came I found that the art was, in fact, unchanged:
That’s it. I’m not even sure that can be considered artwork. It looks like maybe they were supposed to put something on the case and then decided this was good enough. Or maybe they just got way behind schedule and at a final production meeting said “F it, let’s just go with the cover that looks like it should say, ‘Artwork Missing.'”
(I should note that the game itself is mostly fine, and I’ve noticed that some of the title’s deficiencies might be more accurately attributed to the Wii and less the fact that it’s not Rock Band)
I had mostly forgotten about my qualms with the art when Guitar Hero: Van Halen arrived in the mail some six weeks later (I did not know exactly when it had shipped so I was not waiting with quite the same anticipation. Plus I still had GH5 and my roommate’s The Beatles: Rock Band (for Xbox) to divert my attention). However, before I could focus on the cover art I was immediately taken aback, as the game arrived in not the typical plastic case but in a cardboard sleeve. Clearly, they were looking to save on production and shipping costs with these pre-release copies, but it made the game feel not like a real bonus for buying GH5 but rather more like a demo copy, like a role player game with only the first level, or a promotional CD with only a few tracks (To my relief, you can rest assured, it is, in fact, the complete version of the game, but it still feels like another example of Activision going the negative mile).
And then I got to the cover art. Apparently Van Halen are big basketball fans?
Again, this looks like when it came time to develop the artwork for the game they just slapped a VH logo on top of some generic template. As if they said, “Alright, with this one we’re going to let the interns take a crack at the cover. Interns, you up for it?” I guess maybe the crisscrossing scheme is supposed to emulate Van Halen’s spandex outfits of yore? Maybe? But if that’s the case it’s hard to make that connection when the game presents us with current day look of the band, not the iconic big haired tight pants neon party time Van Halen that we typically visualize (and the virtual line-up includes young Wolfgang Van Halen, as both Sammy Hagar and bassist Michael Anthony are now avatars non grata). You can unlock the classic outfits by completing songs and earning stars, but for a less committed player like me it’s a bit of a drag. Plus even Lego: Rock Band arrives with incarnations of its artists that will please purists. However, while I have a hard time getting behind the game when it excludes Hagar and Anthony, I will admit that it is a blast to play (I even pulled my hamstring while playing drums on “Hot for Teacher.”
That being said, the cover art is still terrible.
See IGN for a real review of GH:VH