80It is difficult to believe that the Guitar Hero franchise was born a mere four years ago.‚  In that short period of time the brand has shuffled through a number of developers, presentation styles, game mechanics and the ever important collection of songs.‚  What began as a singular activity with one guitar played by one living room rock legend has morphed into a full band experience that truly ameliorates the Guitar Hero moniker instead suggesting a more social essence.

Guitar Hero: Metallica, the latest offering from Activision is ambitious to say the least.‚  How do you capture the spirit of one of the most influential bands of all time?‚  How do you bring the head banging, circle pit atmosphere of a Metallica show to the living room?‚  The line between glorious, triumphant success and miserable failure is a slippery slope that Activision promised would turn out alright, but did it?

Mar. 29, 2009

The emotional weight Metallica fans have for their favorite music group is an incredible phenomenon, and one that Activision worked tirelessly to perfect.‚  And man oh man does it show.‚  The setlist is superb, the homage paid to the true legends of rock is unbelievably thorough, and the overall presentation is unique and perfectly fitting.

Before you begin your quest for rock glory you must create a likeness to melt faces on guitar, rock the house on drums, or belt out glass shattering vocals.‚  Customization possibilities are absolutely incredible in GH: Metallica.‚  Your hero can range from a freakishly, and I mean freakishly skinny tattooed shredder, to a chubby metal-head with aviators, and absolutely everything in between.‚  The personalization does not stop at your mini-me however.‚  Guitars can be assembled and adorned any way you see fit, and drum kits and microphones are similarly available to modify.‚  I decided to take my time forming my little dude, and I suggest you do as well, as the personal connectivity and sense of immersion in-game will be cranked up to 11, if you will.

You aren’t buying GH: Metallica to mess around with another avatar Microsoft so generously mandated, you’re in it for the music!‚  Game progression throughout GH: Metallica is refreshingly reminiscent of past titles in that you need not struggle, fail, and repeat songs to move forward.‚  Rather, the way in which new tiers of tunes are unlocked is through the achievement of stars based on performance during songs.‚  For this reason, the game can be completed, if by definition alone, without even beating half of the songs.‚  If you become stuck on the outro solo on “Fade to Black” (which I did), simply highlight another, simpler track and be on your merry way.‚  However, once you’ve “beaten” the game, amassed your precious achievement points, and took time to ice down your fingers (as they will most likely have caught fire at some point in the game) you’ll want to reach back and beat more songs, as you’ll earn additional Metallica gear throughout.

Now for the bread and butter of Guitar Hero: Metallica, the carefully crafted and all together badass nature of the 49 tracks in the game.‚  Of the 49, 28 spew out from the vocal chords of James Hetfield and the amp of Kirk Hammet, with the other 21 tunes aptly assembled from other hard rock aficionados, and Thin Lizzy.‚  Metallica’s famed career is wonderfully represented in this title ranging from the 1984 classic “Creeping Death,” to heinously technical “Broken, Beaten & Scarred” of the 2008 release of Death Magnetic.‚  Really, every Metallica song you’d like to see is here.‚  “For Whom The Bells Toll,” “Battery,” “Welcome Home (Sanitarium),” “The Unforgiven,” “Nothing Else Matters,” and so, so many more all made the cut.‚  Each and every song feels overwhelmingly epic and important, more like a matter of life and death.‚  When you complete a finger busting, face-melting tune in the higher tiers, the endurance it takes to finish it just exudes accomplishment and warrants a feeling of satisfaction mirrored by no other Guitar Hero game I’ve ever played.

Guitar Hero: Metallica is more than a compilation of proprietary tracks; the “guest acts” really show up and vary the setlist in a much needed way.‚  I am all for Metallica, but with an average song length of over five minutes and a loss of feeling in my fingers; I will wholeheartedly welcome “The Boys Are Back in Town” by Thin Lizzy any day.‚  Artists and songs rounding out the solid Metallica list include Lynyrd Skynyrd with “Tuesday’s Gone,” “Toxicity” by System of a Down, “No Excuses” by Alice in Chains and oh so many more.‚  Activision delivers a setlist fans of the rock/metal genre have been pleading for, and for the first time ever I can genuinely say I played every song, skipping none and loving all.

As mentioned earlier GH: Metallica is all about representing the band in an authentic and honorable way.‚  Activision went to great lengths to ensure a high level of realism, or as much as is digitally possible, and their determined efforts truly shine through.‚  In the game’s opening scene the band emerges from backstage and struts toward an arena of screaming fans in slow motion.‚  The camera slowly maneuvers its way around the carefully sculpted muscled upper body and heavy face of James Hetfield, the unique and alluring hair of Kirk Hammet, and the total bad-assery of Lars Ulrich, thus setting the tone for the entire game.

In-game and on stage Metallica’s movements are wondrously genuine.‚ ‚  Hetfield’s mannerisms during a heavy breakdown and Hammet’s crazy antics are articulated wonderfully and can be chalked up to the hours spent in motion-capture sessions and the bands’ determined involvement in the production of the title.

The elements of authenticity do not stop at the band members themselves.‚  Via the main screen you can select BackStage, which brings you behind the scenes by way of numerous live-action videos with the metal-heads themselves and offers a glimpse into rock stardom that fans of Metallica will love.‚  In addition, “Metallifacts” is an option that allows you to sit back, watch the game itself play through a song while little known truths about the band pop up along the bottom of the screen.‚  All together, what Activision created in terms of homage paid to the band is incredible and is nothing like the past side project, Aerosmith.

In terms of game mechanics, GH: Metallica doesn’t add much to the experience from World Tour.‚  That being said however, Expert + mode, unique to drumming made the build and allows for the total replication of the incredible drum work of Lars Ulrich.‚  Anyone who pre-ordered at GameStop has the secondary pedal but is also available for purchase should you enjoy numb and blistered feet.‚  The lack of ingenuity in GH: Metallica in terms of game-play is no detriment whatsoever mainly because the technicality and brute force of the songs you’ll be combating is the new experience.‚  Songs of this caliber have never been assembled in one in your face inclusive package before, thus delivering an attraction unlike any other.

Finally, when I first caught wind of GH: Metallica, I immediately became turned off, thinking “it’s just going to be too damn difficult.”‚  The reality of the matter is actually that the majority of the tunes are both approachable and fun.‚  I elected to play the campaign on Expert thinking I might as well try, but was surprised at the end when I only failed a couple of songs.‚  Don’t get me wrong, there are some harshly difficult rhythms and solos scattered throughout the setlist, but strategically deploying accumulated star power will save your ass in any instance.‚  “War Ensemble” by Slayer really got my fumes going and I can’t count the‚  number of face-palms I incurred in my effort to slay the beast, but such heinously thorny songs will keep me coming back, and that’s the goal isn’t it?

My only gripe with Guitar Hero: Metallica was the inability to migrate my World Tour DLC to the game.‚  The Death Magnetic album is the only piece of additional digital wares that can be upwardly integrated into the game, thus making it mandatory to switch discs to play every tune you own.‚  This fact cuts me deep, especially when the Rock Band franchise allows for such mobility.‚  This main distraction pales however in comparison to the successes GH: Metallica exudes, namely everything else.

Guitar Hero: Metallica is a truly first rate music experience that contains much more in every department than any other out there.‚  If you call yourself both a fan of Guitar Hero and Metallica this game is absolutely a must have.‚  That said, metal-heads and those craving for a truly solid list of challenging, heavy riffs will adore this title as well.‚  With The Beatles: Rock Band on the horizon Activision has made a clear statement for what a band-oriented title should look and feel like, leaving the duty up to Harmonix to one-up the kings of metal.

About The Author

Eddie Makuch is a Blast staff writer. Reach him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @EddieMakuch.