In case you have been living under a rock or perhaps in a cave for the past few years you may have heard of a small game called Guitar Hero. Likewise unless you have been segregated from reality for some time you may also be familiar with a little band known as Metallica. Well Activision has certainly banked on the idea that you may be familiar with both of them with their latest chapter in the ever-growing Guitar Hero saga. Guitar Hero Metallica is the latest in what is quickly becoming a trend, of single band iterations of popular music games. The market is obviously out there as this is the third band specific title to land so far, with at least one more on the way this year. Of course any game of this type is judged by its music, and I can say with utter certainty that Metallica’s tunes were made for this type of game.
For all intents and purposes GH Metallica is essentially the same game as World Tour with some new character models and a few new tweaks. The career mode is reminiscent of past titles with various tiers of increasingly difficult songs, and earning stars will unlock more as you progress. Also carried over from the aforementioned game are GH Tunes, a music-making application that allows you to create new (albeit limited) songs, and of course the rock star maker. It is also worth noting that the entire game can be played as a full band contrary to the title. You can assume the role of James on vocals (and guitar if you are feeling frisky), Lars on drums, Kirk on guitar or Rob on bass.
As I mentioned earlier the career structure is much different than the mess that was World Tour. Instead of having to repeat songs over and over if you fail, GH Metallica is much more lenient with unlocking its songs. In fact you can complete the career mode with less than 50% of the songs played. This is great in the fact that if you get stuck on certain songs (such as Slayer’s War Ensemble, damn you Slayer) you can move on without having to finish each song in each tier to progress. This is great for beginners and those of us who get frustrated easily and wind up quitting when we hit a brick wall. There are incentives for going back and completing each song such as instruments and of course money to spend, but if you want to jump in and play some of the more complicated songs, it won’t take you long to unlock them in career.
The biggest draw to GH Metallica though is the music, and if you are a fan of the band you are certainly in for a treat. Let’s begin with the special guest acts first to give you an idea what to expect outside of the main attraction. Activision decided to let the guys at Metallica hand pick their set list, and from the names on it you can tell they have a wide taste of music. Classic names such as Lynyrd Skynyrd and Queen share space with modern acts such as Foo Fighters and System of a Down. There are also a collection of lesser-known acts such as Samhain and King Diamond, and by lesser-known I mean outside of the traditional metal circuit. Combined with Metallica’s set list this brings the song tally to over fifty tracks, which range from simply awesome, to moderately enjoyable, much like every other title in the genre.
As far as Metallica songs are concerned the list contains several classics, plenty of fan-favorites and even a few surprises. Fans of older Metallica will be thrilled to see songs such as One, Fade to Black, Seek and Destroy and Master of Puppets (my personal favorite to play) have made the list. Then there are several tracks from the band’s most popular album “The Black Album”, including Enter Sandman, Sad But True, Wherever I May Roam and The Unforgiven. The more recent you get the tracks become less and less prominent. Outside of a few standouts such as the orchestral medley No Leaf Clover and the anger-inspired anthem Fuel, the newer tracks are not as prominent as the classics. There is also a selection of songs from their recently-released Death Magnetic album, but once you beat the career mode you can import your full downloaded album, if you already own it.
Unfortunately one thing the game does not carry over from World Tour is the ability to import the rest of your DLC. Outside of Death Magnetic the game only supports GH Tunes, thus forcing you to switch discs back and forth to play your current library. You can also not transfer the tracks from GH Metallica back to World Tour, much like the AC/DC pack for Rock Band that was released last year. This becomes annoying, especially if you have built up a massive library for World Tour and don’t feel the need to switch back and forth between discs. With these games becoming more and more frequent, it is time to make all of the DLC cross-compatible. We know it can be done, and omitting it simply feels lazy.
The amount of care that has gone into this version is apparent at almost every corner. Each song has extras ranging from lyrics, to a pop-up video-esque montage that relays facts about the track in question. There are a host of videos and unlockables that you can obtain by playing through career mode and the interface has been streamlined to near perfection. You now have a star counter as you play through a song to gauge how well you are currently doing, along with the standard note counter. Everything also feels more polished this time around with amazing venues that fit the band perfectly. The Master of Puppets venue stands out as well as the final gig where the band plays in an ice cavern, complete with visible breath effects. Metallica themselves also look fantastic, sporting plenty of signature motions thanks to the band lending their likeness to the motion capture department.
There are also some new modes included in the game that set it apart from past interpretations. For starters this is a Metallica game, and we all know how badass Lars is on the drums. Well now you can imitate him even more with the inclusion of Expert+ mode on drums. Basically this allows you to plug in another foot pedal and rock the skins with both feet. This mode is entirely for the hardcore, and is only supported on certain songs, but if you want the definitive experience of playing as Lars, it doesn’t get any closer than this. Drums seem to be a focus as the other new feature added to the game allows you to remove the notes and play along to any song as you see fit. It is also a nice touch that on whatever track you are playing the notes mimic that style. It is a nice diversion, and makes wannabe drummers feel like rock stars all over again.
In the end Guitar Hero Metallica is exactly what the name implies. If you are not a fan of either then there is nothing here to change your mind. However if you love either this is easily the best band-specific incarnation yet. Metallica songs just seem to lend themselves to this type of game. The note charts are a blast and the presentation is top-notch. Outside of not being able to import your World Tour DLC there is little to gripe about with this game. Fans of Metallica be warned, you may lose sleep trying to full combo Master of Puppets on Expert and love it.