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.
You get some bonus material for each song located in the new menu item, Extra Song Info. The first and most impressive is Metallifacts, where a game-engine peroformance of the song will play out as trivia and notes pop-up below the video. You can also get song and album info, date of release, etc., and even scroll through the lyrics, but unfortunately, the graphics on the Wii, even in 480p, are so bad most of the text is unreadable and worthless. You also 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.
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. A world to vocalists, hopefully you know the words to these songs already as the font and graphics clarity on the Wii borders on unreadable, especially when the text is scrolling by on some of the faster songs. They really need to clean up the font or use a bigger one or something. It's almost a deal breaker for the Wii, at least for singers.
The graphical engine has seen a minor upgrade with cool new visuals and camerawork. The textures are excellent and there are some awesome stage effects, 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. 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 on the Wii. The Dolby Pro Logic II mix isn't quite as rich as the Dolby Digital mixes on the other systesm, but it can be impressive if played on a decent home theater. 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.
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.