Developer: Neversoft Entertainment
Release Date: March 29, 2009
Ever since the Guitar Hero franchise launched, fans have argued about which bands deserve to appear in the games. One group that made an early appearance in the series and has been a mainstay ever since is Metallica, the heavy metal band that has inspired countless numbers of wannabe shredders to pick up an instrument and drive their parents nuts. When the Guitar Hero franchise began branching out and including band-specific games, fans knew it was only a matter of time before Metallica got the special-edition treatment. Well, that day is here, and it would seem that Activision has absolutely nailed it this time around.
This game isn't the first spin-off of the Guitar Hero franchise, but it's easily the best. Guitar Hero Rocks the '80s was terrible in basically every way, and Guitar Hero: Aerosmith was a shameless cash-in featuring a band that didn't really deserve their own game anyway. It would seem that Activision and Neversoft have taken the criticisms leveled against their games to heart, though, as this title fixes all the old problems of the other games and adds such a heaping helping of amazing bonus content that you're really left with almost nothing to complain about.
First off, the track list is phenomenal, offering all the greatest Metallica hits known to man as well as a whole host of tunes from other bands that are just as fun to play as anything the monsters of metal have to offer. Sure, there's a heavy dollop of metal with guest tracks from bands like Slayer and Judas Priest, but there are also songs from Queen, Bob Seger and the Foo Fighters. Basically all the music was hand-picked by the members of Metallica, and it would seem like the fellows have some pretty solid musical taste.
But obviously James, Lars, Kirk and Robert are the stars of this show, and the game features roughly 30 of their greatest hits spanning their entire catalog. From hard-driving '80s thrash pieces like "Disposable Heroes" and "Fight Fire with Fire" to their more modern and complex songs like "All Nightmare Long," there is a terrific sampling of the band's music here. Furthermore, nearly all their singles are present, so you'll get to play classics like "King Nothing," "No Leaf Clover," "Master of Puppets" and many, many more. While not every great Metallica song is here, there are enough hits that you probably won't even mind the tracks you're missing.
A big point of concern for me heading into the game was difficulty, as every time the band has appeared in a rhythm game, it's always been on the upper tiers of song difficulty and I still have nightmares about trying to be "One" in Guitar Hero III. Therefore I wondered if the title wouldn't simply be too hard and if frustration would set in too quickly for all but the most hardcore plastic guitar savants. Thankfully this isn't the case, and the game actually presents one of the most gentle and reasonable difficulty curves I've seen in the genre. There are plenty of early tracks from guest acts that aren't very challenging, and slower ballads such as "The Unforgiven" mean that you'll have plenty of time to ease into Metallica's catalog before you get to the hard stuff. Sure, the game gets mighty tricky near the end, but by that point, you're expecting and welcoming the hard stuff, and beating one of these finger-twisters provides a real sense of accomplishment.
Adding to Guitar Hero: Metallica's accessibility is the fact that you no longer have to beat all the songs in a tier to move on. Activision has smartly changed progress measurement into a star-based system, so now all you need to worry about is performing well on the songs you can play rather than beating yourself up trying to play tracks that are simply too difficult. If you can muster five stars out of every early song, you only need to beat 12 songs to unlock the full set list, leaving you to peruse the remaining tracks and tackle them in whatever order you wish. The whole system is so simple that you really have to wonder why we haven't been using it all along.
Those who relish challenge will easily find it on the later tiers in the upper difficulties, and anyone who thinks themselves true masters should tackle the new Expert+ drum difficulty. This new mode adds a second bass pedal, allowing players to replicate Lars' rat-a-tat machine gun bass lines and generally give your legs a thorough workout. The only downside to the second bass pedal option is that it can only be used in Expert+, so those who want to try and get used to the mechanic in a lower difficulty level are out of luck. This is one of those all-or-nothing gambits; it's just unfortunate that it would seem a lot of folks will never get to try it out because they simply don't possess the skill.
The fun of this game isn't just in the gameplay, though, as it's also found in the special features that can be unlocked. You've got your standard new characters and instruments, but Guitar Hero: Metallica also includes a whole host of other goodies including performance and behind the scenes videos, as well as song lyrics, old set list notes and more. Perhaps the coolest addition is the "Metallifacts," which are unlocked anytime after you beat a Metallica song. You can then go back and listen to the song again and let the game play it while you read about some really interesting song facts and band trivia. For those who want to know everything about the band, these little insights teach you a ton in three- to five-minute chunks. Unfortunately, there aren't enough tidbits to fill up each song, so the facts will start to repeat at some point, but you still learn a lot about the band that you likely never knew before.
In addition to improved gameplay and tons of special features, Guitar Hero: Metallica also gives the series' animations and graphics a much-needed overhaul that will hopefully carry through into future iterations of the series. The band members came in for extensive motion capture sessions, and their hard work pays off with some impressively animated (mostly) realistic character models. The guys are still caricatured slightly, but it's nowhere near as bad as the series' trademark monkey-faced lead singer. Also, the new animations implemented for the band carry over into all the game's characters, which means that those robotic, clunky character animations are gone, replaced by much more fluid and natural movement. For example, while the drummer in the other games has always looked terrible, Lars' antics have breathed new life into the rhythm section, and now you'll see drummers jump up off the stool to play and just generally show a lot more personality. This injection of attitude was something the franchise has always been missing, but this time around, the band swagger is conveyed perfectly.
The bottom line is if you're a Metallica fan, there's no reason for you not to be playing Guitar Hero: Metallica right now. In fact, if you haven't bought it yet, you should kick yourself all the way to the store as punishment for your sins. The title also holds up as an exceptional entry in even a generic sense as the music, gameplay, extras and visuals all hold up as the best we've seen in the genre thus far. GH: Metallica does everything almost perfectly, and if this level of perfection holds for the next full product refresh (Guitar Hero: Universal Tour perhaps?), then we'll be in for a real treat. Get this game right now, and then rock until your fingers bleed.
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