IGN Review of Guitar Hero: Metallica
The Guitar Hero franchise seems to be ever rolling, churning out more than one title a year these days. Fortunately for metal fans, this year's "side project" is Guitar Hero: Metallica, which brings with it a ton of promise and hype. After all, Metallica is the band that has convinced countless souls to pick up a guitar (myself included), and their music seems to be a perfect fit for the formula.
Luckily, the game delivers in many of the ways that we had hoped for. The track list is stellar, the presentation is top-notch, the band is very well represented, and, perhaps most surprising of all, there's a ton of stuff for fans of the band to check out. While the game isn't as immense as the franchise's yearly big update, and while it generally sticks to the same tried and true formula of past releases, there's just a feeling of care taken with the experience that makes it a must-play for fans of the band and metal in general.
The title is a full-band game, just like Guitar Hero World Tour, so guitar, bass, drums and vocals are all part of the mix. Rather than the gig-based progression from World Tour, you'll find something much closer to the original two titles where it's a tier-based system, but instead of having to beat each song in a tier to progress, you need only meet a total star requirement. I actually "finished" the game after having only beaten 40% of the songs, so there's a ton of leeway in allowing you to move on if you get stuck on something. Obviously there are incentives to go back and play everything else in the name of unlockables and so forth (including the band's instruments), not to mention fun, but it's unlikely that you'll get stuck unless you choose a difficulty that's way over your head.
Though it presents less of a challenge and winds up taking away a little of the reward for beating some of the game's hardest songs (like Slayer's "War Ensemble"), it's nice to know that you won't get caught up having to repeat the same track over and over to progress. Also, it means that you can almost skip right past the early stuff and quickly get to the big tracks, like "Master of Puppets" and "One", if you really want to.
Speaking of the tracks, as I mentioned before, the set list here is absolutely killer, not only in terms of song quality but the overall enjoyment level with respect to actually playing them as well. There's just something about the way that these guys play their stuff that translates really well to a plastic guitar (if that makes sense). Plenty of fast power cords, blistering solos, melodic breaks that don't bore you to death and just awesome riffs all around. Lars' drumming also turned out to be incredibly fun, offering up cool bass work with some thundering toms here and there.
As for the song choices, the tracks span the entirety of Metallica's career, pulling titles like "Seek and Destroy" and "Whiplash" from Kill 'em All, all the way up to "Broken Beat and Scarred" from Death Magnetic. You'll find at least a couple tracks from each of the band's first five original albums (up through the Black album), with a scattering of stuff from the latest four, which is great news for long-time fans. My only complaint in the song selection department is that "Blackened" and "…And Justice For All" don't appear here, likely because of their availability as DLC for Rock Band. Still, those seem to be the only two major tracks that I'm sad aren't here. I'm sure everyone will have their personal favorites, but the available songs read like the quintessential "Best Of" track list for the band. Killer stuff all around.
My biggest complaint for the game is actually tied to the available songs, however, and it's assuredly going to be a disappointment to many folks. The only DLC that the game supports is Death Magnetic - that's it. None of the downloadable tracks for World Tour work here, which means that you'll have to swap back to that disc to play the bulk of your library if you've invested in some new tunes. Really, downloadable content like this should be cross-franchise, and as it's not, the game feels like it's a little separated from the would-be pack.
With regards to presentation, as I had alluded to before, a lot of care was put into making sure this was a die-hard fan's game. The band members all look great, sporting more realistic (though not entirely) looks than any of the characters previously seen in the franchise, including Guitar Hero: Aerosmith. The band came in for a series of motion capture sessions, and their movements have been transferred into the game quite well. Gone are the stilted animations that we had seen in the past, instead replaced by lifelike movements from James, Lars, Kirk and Robert. Great stuff here, right down to the camera work.
But the presentation goes way beyond the way the four guys look and move. You'll find a ton of content here that'll bring you inside the band's inner-circle, including behind-the-scenes footage from the motion capture sessions, fan-shot video from tiny club gigs (the kind of stuff you'll never see in person unless you're incredibly lucky), a gallery with photos and tour notes from years past and song lyrics. Perhaps coolest of all for factoid-obsessed fans however is the inclusion of Metallifacts, VH1 Pop-up Video-inspired sets that allow you to watch the game play a song while notes and info bits pop up on the lower part of the screen. This isn't available for every song, but there's a fair bit of interesting stuff for the numerous selections that you can watch it for. All of this is great all around, and really helps to sell the fact that a lot of time went into ensuring that this isn't just a slapped-together take on World Tour with Metallica songs.
As I mentioned before, the game doesn't stray from the beaten path too much in terms of gameplay mechanics, but there are a couple cool new things related to the drums. The first is the Expert+ setting which essentially turns on every bass drum note. Usually on faster music like this the bass drum notes are scaled back so that you can actually play them with a single pedal, but Expert+ gives you the full deal so that you can attempt to mimic Lars by playing with dual bass pedals. Pre-ordering the game would have netted you a second pedal for free, but you can pick it up separately if you were holding out until now. Of special note is that, at least in the setups we tried, the Guitar Hero bass pedals don't work with Rock Band kits, so even though you can play the game with Rock Band's drums, you won't be able to couple the second bass pedal with the kit.
The other cool mode is a secret (well, not so much anymore) mode called Drum Over where you're able to turn off the required notes for a song and just play whatever you want. The drums are sampled from whatever track you're playing, so if you're using this on "Master of Puppets", the skins will sound like they do on said album. I've been told that this mode was made as a "secret" of sorts so that folks wouldn't automatically think that you would be able to submit a score to online leaderboards, though it seems to me that a quick note saying as much would have sufficed. At any rate, this is a really cool way to play the game and I'm hoping we'll see more of it in the future.
The last bit that I'll mention before I wrap things up is that you might think this would be an incredibly hard game, possibly too much to handle for your skill set, or perhaps a nice challenge from start to finish for you experts out there. That's not exactly the case. While the end does get hard, and you will need some endurance to finish some of the faster and longer tracks ("Master of Puppets" is a great example), I actually didn't have any sort of a problem until I started playing the final tracks. I'm fairly good at the game and always play on Expert, though I'm not the sort that's ever been able to come close to beating "Through the Fire and Flames" from Guitar Hero III. At any rate, the game's difficulty ramps up in a nice fashion, so don't worry about getting left in the cold early on. Newcomers will have a harder time here than with other Guitar Hero titles as there aren't any really simple tracks (like the usual Joan Jett inclusions), but it's far from impossible.
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