Reviewed: April 1, 2009
Released: March 29, 2009
Before we dive into my review for Guitar Hero: Metallica I should probably make a few things clear. First and most important, I’m not the biggest Metallica fan out there. I don’t own a single CD of theirs and thanks to their infamous anti-Napster campaign my hard drive is free of any illegal MP3’s. I enjoy a few of their more popular the songs – the ones that actually get played on the local rock station, and for some reason I did purchase the S&M DVD about 10 years ago which I’ve watched once when I bought it and once, about halfway through the other night after playing the new Guitar Hero game.
Metallica is what I like to call “angry rock”. For the most part it’s not fun to play or listen to and its nearly impossible to sing, unless you smoke four packs of unfiltered Camels and gargle with some broken glass. But for those who enjoy a challenge, Metallica are technical masters of every instrument they play, whether I like their music or not, and this latest Guitar Hero game is going to put your plastic instrument skills to the ultimate test.
Last summer I got to review Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, which is a band I love dearly, but that game was slapped together rather hastily and in the end failed to impress me or most critics beyond the song selection. With Metallica, we get a much-improved game with (in my personal opinion) a much weaker song selection. Even the 20-some guest artists are a bit hit and miss, and after 10 years of being a DJ, I consider myself to have a fairly open mind when it comes to musical taste.
Putting my personal preferences aside, I realize that only Metallica fans and maybe a few other hard rockers are going to be rushing out to buy this game and for you, this game is going to rock your world. Neversoft has addressed many of the issues from Aerosmith and created a fairly open-ended game. For instance, in Quick Play you have immediate access to the entire song library without having to unlock anything in Career mode.
Career mode is still a bit flawed, forcing you to pick your instrument and a skill level and start a career using only those selections. I enjoy the freedom of Rock Band where if I am playing guitar on Hard and I can’t get through a song (Screaming for Vengeance) I can switch over to vocals and belt my way to victory. In Metallica, I started a Medium vocal career and couldn’t get past the second tier of songs.
Metallica takes a new approach to unlocking career content. You rank up through the 30 levels of career mode based entirely on your cash earnings, and you will spend that cash on all sorts of clothes, instruments, and new guest rockers that you unlock throughout career mode. Songs are grouped into tiers and unlocked by earning a set amount of stars that you collect by playing well. I found it interesting that you can pretty much unlock the entire song library by playing less than half the songs, assuming you get 4-5 stars.
With the entire library open and no real structure to the game I felt a total lack of direction or purpose. I was merely picking and choosing, in my case, the least offensive songs, and plugging away to earn cash to raise my rank. Each song is assigned a certain venue, but after you play it once you can choose your venue for future replays. It’s also interesting in that all of the guest songs are played by your custom (or pre-built) rockers, but any song by Metallica is played by the real band members, the premise being that you are the opening act for Metallica as shown through a few short animated cutscenes.
Of course the obvious question would be, why not just make Metallica DLC and the obvious answer would be you can’t charge $60 for DLC, but seriously, this game does offer a bit more than would be possible with a mere download. First off, you get some amazing visuals ranging from all new camera angles and moves, stage shows, lighting, pyrotechnics, and the best looking recreations of real-life musicians ever. While still a bit stylized due to the animated game engine, each and every member of the band looks strikingly like their real-life counterpart, and the band even did some mo-cap sessions (viewable in the bonus section) so their animated performances look just as real. There are song-specific and even lyric-specific animations so subtle that you will have to watch the replays to enjoy them.
Yes, you now have replays, although they aren’t actually recreating your performance, but merely replaying the song with the band performing using all those camera shots you would expect from live concert coverage. And while this is all going on you get some insightful information called Metallifacts – usually trivia about the song, or in the case of a guest artists, why that song was chosen by the band. It’s pretty awesome stuff.
Metallifacts are only part of the Extra Song Info. You can also get song and album info, date of release, etc., and even scroll through the lyrics. Then you have the bonus video menu where, once unlocked, you can watch live (sometimes bootleg) video performances from the band in various venues ranging from clubs to giant stadiums. You can also watch one of their mo-cap sessions. This is the kind of special treatment and extra content I wanted with Aerosmith.
Guitar Hero: Metallica is based on the World Tour engine so you have the Music Studio included on the disc as well as access to GHTunes, so you can upload and download custom creations, but Metallica drops the ball when it comes to DLC support. If you already downloaded Death Magnetic those songs will appear in your song list but no other DLC can be played in this game and you cannot export your Metallica songs into the main World Tour game. Prepare to do some disc swapping. Even more annoying is that the game searches for DLC between every major menu screen taking upwards of 30 seconds. It would be nice to toggle off this auto-search feature in the functionality options.
Drumming has always been my weakest part of both World Tour and Rock Band, so when Metallica announced it was coming with an Expert+ setting I was fairly indifferent. This setting allows the use of twin kick pedals for faster 32nd note beats that are virtually impossible with a single foot. Sadly, I am lucky to not fail a song on Medium when playing the drums, so Expert+ is well beyond my reach. For those who like to freestyle on the drums, there is a new Drum Over mode that turns off the required note stream and allows you to create your own rhythm track.
Solo rockers can enjoy the career and quickplay modes in all the various difficulty levels, while two rockers can go at it locally or online in Face Off, Pro Face Off, and Battle modes or create a band and play cooperatively. You can also go online and challenge other bands for up to 8-player action.
The graphical engine has seen a serious upgrade with stunning new visuals and camerawork. The textures are excellent and there are some awesome stage effects. As with World Tour, the game supports all the HD video modes but the HUD still resides in the 4:3 aspect ratio, which is still just as annoying as ever. The HUD did get one significant upgrade – you now have a star meter that shows your star progression and your total stars as you play the song in real-time.
There is more music in Metallica than Aerosmith and the sound quality is exceptional with a far superior mix to previous Guitar Hero games. Each instrument is pitch-perfect and clearly definable. You can even hear distinct skin effects for the drums based on the original album. The vocals are as good as can be expected with the gruff singing style of Hetfield and most of the guest artists. Bob Seger is probably the mellowest singer on the entire track list.
There are 50 Achievements, 10 of which you’ll get without even trying. Many of the Achievements in Metallica seem to be targeting multiplayer activities, either online band play or local face off and battle modes. And then you have 20 secret Achievements that you’ll have to figure out for yourself.
Bottom line, I’m not a huge Metallica fan and I probably wouldn’t even have played this game if it weren’t for doing the review. While I appreciated the new upgrade to the visuals and concert style camera work, these games live and die by the music and for me, Metallica just didn’t have enough to keep me interested past the 65% completion mark, which is all it took to complete the career. I enjoyed have faster access to the song list, but this also allowed me to pick and choose my favorites, and now that those have all been 5-starred I am only left with the more undesirable tracks.
I’m the first to admit I’m not the target audience for this game so my scores will not reflect my personal bias and distaste for the song selection. Instead, this score is for the Metallica fans who will be buying this game regardless of what I have to say, and hopefully the next Guitar Hero installment will continue to improve the technical side of things while offering some music more appealing to the masses and not just a niche group of hard rockers.