Review: Guitar Hero: Metallica (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Undeniably, part of Activision’s mission plan is to roll out as many iterations of cash cow Guitar Hero as humanely possible while the consumer iron is still white hot for the franchise. The fact that another Guitar Hero game is around the corner is about as surprising as the fact that the sun will rise tomorrow, but it’s expected out of what is one of the country’s highest-selling intellectual properties on the market. Activision is happy to oblige with another entry in the series, taking the stage in yet another entry to that does little to advance the franchise, but pleases fans hungry for more with a solid addition.

After a successful run with Guitar Hero: World Tour late in 2008, the game engine returns with a fresh coat of paint as Neversoft is tasked with launching the company’s second artist-laden fret shredder, Guitar Hero: Metallica. Much like Aerosmith, Metallica serves as a side release in the series, offering up 49 more licensed tracks that provide the most metal for your money compared to any other on-disc Guitar Hero or Rock Band offering. Hosted on the disc are 28 recognizable tracks from the featured band, along with 21 other acts, personally chosen by members of Metallica and none of the songs are shy about bringing on the guitar.

Based off World Tour, Metallica offers more variety than Aerosmith, as the drums and vocals come into play in all of the game’s various modes. The game modes available also mirror World Tour, but, thankfully, that means there is a lot to do in quickplay, career, online, tutorial, local battle and music studio modes. The career mode actually puts forth a bit of a story, detailing the player’s band’s attempt to be deemed “ËœTallica Jr., a rockin’ opening act for Metallica, complete with short, animated cut scenes. To make Metallica more accessible to players, the career mode has been chopped down considerably, allowing players to progress based on star ratings instead of the usual number of songs cleared. In most instances, players can tackle each career tier in two songs, sparing players from going through the motions in a song they can’t stand or ones they have trouble clearing.

While the career mode is the source of the game’s unlockable content, the online mode has a myriad of possibilities in its quickplay, battle, face-off and band versus band options (that is assuming there is no shortage of online players). Local quickplay is what you’ll want to bust out at parties for social casual play and local battle modes also allow players to do battle face-to-face. The musically inclined can extend their playlists through an in-game song creation tool, while the not-so-musically-inclined can access GHTunes online to download other players’ creations. With so many offerings, Metallica is a lot more than just a disc with a bunch of Metallica songs and players should be able to scoop a ton of game play out of the title’s modes.

I’ve been reviewing music-based games for nearly 10 years now and, in most cases, graphics are an afterthought in the genre behind the music and game play. However, Guitar Hero: Metallica stands as one of the most impressive visual displays in the genre when it comes to the onstage action. The character models look clean and are fully animated with the emotion of performance, especially when it comes to specific routines carried out by Metallica when playing one of its pieces. Lars, the band’s drummer, will sit pretending he’s bored when guitars wail on their own and stands up and slams downward on the drums during the accented notes of “For Whom the Bell Toll’s” outro. Lead singer James will place his hands together in prayer during sections of “Enter Sandman” and the forceful “f” pronunciations in “Fuel” are punctuated with saliva fuming from his mouth. There are a number of other small attentions to detail unique to each song and each one is very noticeable without being distracting from the game play.

On the other hand, though, the menus are extremely generic and while the crowd animates well, having the same four, five people rendered throughout the entire audience looks incredibly hokey. Also, all of the created rockers or series staples have the same recycled and repetitive animations from World Tour, even though they are still well done. Regardless, players will be spending most of their time on the stage, which is where the visuals truly shine.

In regards to audio, you’ll have to keep into account that one’s like or dislike of Metallica (or any song selection in any music game period) is entirely subjective, but, technically, the sound featured in Guitar Hero: Metallica is handled just as well as it should be in any music game. The mostly-metal theme of the game puts the songs in charge, with highlighted drum and guitar parts that engross the player into their instrument of choice. Of course, the music is the star of the audible show, however, the same sound effects that have been used since perhaps the original Guitar Hero game are still present in 2009. While the classic sounds really won’t drag down a player’s enjoyment of the game, but they clearly don’t have the same attention given to them as the music itself. Minor nitpick aside, the sounds of Guitar Hero: Metallica will definitely appeal to anyone who has a pair of ears.

Considering Metallica is only one of almost 15 different installments planned in the Guitar Hero series and has put billions of gamers’ dollars into Activision’s pockets, it shouldn’t be necessary to describe how the game plays. Players still strum, strike or vocalize on the game’s cue to licensed songs popularized by artists from the past handful of decades and after a dozen of entries, this concept is still fun. The game play is pound for pound the same as in World Tour with bass guitar open notes, expert-level sustained chords and slide bar notes carrying over to the entry. Anyone who has played a music game in the past handful of years will be able to jump straight into the game with all of its mechanics being second nature. Players won’t find anything that revolutionizes the genre in Metallica, but if they enjoy music games, they’ll find a hell of a lot of fun.

Metallica also controls just like anyone would expect Guitar Hero (or Rock Band, if you’re on that side of the fence) to. Hammer-ons, pull-offs, taps and slides still execute effortlessly and even previous Guitar Hero or Rock Band controllers provide the player full control in their performances. Drummers will perhaps find the most resistance, though, as Rock Band owners will encounter some limitations in Metallica. The game will automatically adjust to the four-pad scheme, but Guitar Hero’s extra base pedal isn’t compatible with the Rock Band set and some cymbal functionality is lost (you won’t be able to play the tutorial either, robbing you of a possible 5G in Gamerscore).

Guitar Hero: Metallica features full integration with the Death Magnetic downloadable content album, allowing players to seamlessly load in songs from the newest Metallica album that aren’t found in the game. Guitar Hero diehards might have a slight problem, however, with the fact that non-Death Magnetic downloadable content isn’t playable in Guitar Hero: Metallica. Ultimately, it’s not a big deal to switch over to World Tour, however, full DLC integration would have been nice to see for ease of use. During game play, the HUD also seems to have cleaned up a tad and the progression meter for the song’s star rating is a very welcome addition and is even more concise than Rock Band’s circular gauge. While most of the tweaks and additions are small, they are indeed welcome, giving players a sort of World Tour version 1.1.

With the expansive list of modes and the social allure of the game, thankfully, Guitar Hero: Metallica will bring players back for more, even after the career mode is said and done. Sure, a few of the achievements might force a few more playthroughs for some gamers, but with limitless song possibilities to be found on GHTunes, competitive and social online play, multiple difficulties and more, there is a fair amount of genuine replayability featured in the title. Extremists might not be satisfied until every song has a five-star rating, the final career earnings level is met or all achievements are earned while the casual crowd might pull it out with friends and family occasionally for quickplay, meet with friends (or strangers) online for more quickplay or download familiar tunes with ease from GHTunes. No matter where a player falls on the scale, it’s very unlikely players will find Guitar Hero: Metallica to be a “one and done” deal.

Every song in the game features five difficulty levels, with some introducing an Expert+ for the drummer, ensuring there are songs for both the beginner and most seasoned of players. While Metallica’s nature pulls the difficulty a little more to the harder side, the career mode tiers progress in an expected nature with the harder songs being reserved for the end. Anyone who does have trouble with the songs, though, can build their skill in practice.

Veterans of the music game genre pre-Guitar Hero may have some qualms with the nature of game performance, but it’s a minor price to pay to provide fun to the masses. For example, the star note combos still have an awkward balance with all combos netting the same amount of power no matter how many notes are involved and scores are more favored toward knowing when to use star power (which easily keeps players in the game without effort) as opposed to timing and accuracy. The star rating system also seems a tad meaningless as the rating progresses automatically when players aren’t even performing (you’re already almost half way to the first star before the guitar part in “No Leaf Clover” even begins). Furthermore, the timing window is extremely generous compared to other music games, further diminishing the rhythm game basis of timing, but, again, these facets slide the game to a more accessible and enjoyable state for gamers and non-gamers alike. While leaderboards do allow the best to brag, Guitar Hero has always been about picking up a plastic instrument for fun, and that enjoyment is still large and in charge in Metallica.

Since Guitar Hero: Metallica falls in one of the most milked franchises in the market (and one that launched an army of clones), it’s impossible to call the game wholly original and, again, nothing radically new has been introduced since the release of World Tour. Also, the title banks on the popularity of Metallica, which, obviously, won’t attract everyone. Still, Guitar Hero maintains one of the highest consumer recognition rates in the country and as long as people keep buying Guitar Hero games, that obviously means people still want them. You’d really have to hate Metallica or Guitar Hero to not get into this installment so it wouldn’t be hard to imagine this title would be highly appealing to fans of the series.



The Scores
Modes/Story: Great
Graphics: Incredible
Sound: Classic
Control and Gameplay: Great
Replayability: Very Good
Balance: Good
Originality: Bad
Addictiveness: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Very Good
FINAL SCORE: VERY GOOD GAME


Short Attention Span Summary
While Guitar Hero: Metallica might seem like a pricey song expansion pack, players get a full-fleged experience with mode offerings comparable to Guitar Hero: World Tour. Neversoft took Metallica’s involvement seriously with incredible graphics and animation and, of course, the title represents each artists’ music offerings well. The game play hasn’t advanced one bit since World Tour, but given the franchise’s pedigree, fans of the series won’t be looking for a drastically different experience. While the number of songs on-disc is a handful lower than World Tour, everything players love about Guitar Hero is here with a fresh coat of paint. Metallica’s involvement gives plastic guitar players a lot of notes to shred and the double bass action on the drums will challenge even the most seasoned of drummers. Fans of music games shouldn’t pass this one up unless they just really can’t stand Metallica.