Guitar Hero: Metallica (360) – Review

cover Guitar Hero: Metallica is the second band-specific game in the series, and given how woefully flat that Guitar Hero: Aerosmith came across, it’s very reasonable to have certain cautions about how well this game will be.  Fortunately, Neversoft did a lot of extra work to spit and polish this game up, paying a much better tribute to the band Metallica while also learning some of their lessons from past Guitar Hero games, making this game their best effort yet on the series and shows about as much skill towards music games as Harmonix has already.  It’s still got a few problem, mostly that if you’re not a fan of Metallica’s songs, you’re not going to find anything here, and that you’re going to spending the same price as a full game for a reduced soundtrack and fewer songs. However, the added features and touches really do make this game a great example to follow if they do attempt any more band-specific titles.

Gameplay: A-

There’s not much to say about the basic Guitar Hero gameplay here once you’re actually in the songs, save that they’ve wisely copied one feature that I love from Rock Band, that being that your progress towards the number of stars you are earning is tracked as you play, which can also be used to some extent as a "progress through song" meter, which can be very helpful on these longer Metallica tunes. Otherwise, all the features (including sliding notes that use the touchpad on the World Tour guitar, armored notes for the drummer, and like) are present.

In terms of game modes, the Career mode drops the World Tour approach of gigs, and just outright gives you a list of songs to work through. However, you need to earn a minimum number of stars to open up certain sections of that list (basically representing another venue).  Fortunately, and probably very wisely, this barrier is low and you can earn the stars at any difficulty you want to play on.  Thus, to unlock the whole set of 49 songs, you pretty much only need to play about 12 or 15 songs total, making it very easy to get to the songs you really want to play if you’re not a fan of certain Metallica eras or their choice of guest acts.  For a set list this size, this works very well – a Rock Band tour mode would been too repetitive (again, Metallica songs are not short, so it would take time to work through things) and the gig approach from World Tour would lock up too much of the stuff.  And of course, the fact that you can play through without being tied to difficulty is great if you bite off more than you can chew by starting on Expert and getting your ass whooped by the time you get to the middle tiers.  The single player progress is still tied to the initial instrument you select (effectively you have four different careers to work through), but this is reasonable here since there are various differences in the difficulty of the songs depending on instruments – notably with some Metallica songs being simple but fast guitar/bass chord progressions and hard as heck on drums, while others have killer guitar solos over easy drumlines.  Band mode still requires you to have at least two people present to play, but otherwise works similar to the single player career.  There’s also the usual bunch of competitive multiplayer modes, including Boss Battles retools to feature Metallica-themed distractions, if these types of modes are your thing.

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What’s probably the most pleasant thing to see in this game is that from a difficulty standpoint, this game feels right about perfect, or at least, right on par with Rock Band‘s implied difficulty.  I’ve played many songs on drums on Expert/Hard and some guitar and bass on Expert, and pretty much is about right where I’d expect metal songs to be for my skill based on Rock Band.   That is, if you’re more casual then hardcore, both Medium and Hard difficulties will present enough of a challenge to not be boring and give a good run through the songs, while Expert will be (appropriately) a very difficult ride but great for the purists. And of course, to meet the with the actual aggressiveness of Lars’ drumming, there’s a special Expert+ mode that pretty much requires you to use two bass drum pedals to even have a shot. (However, you either needed to have preordered the game or have purchased the second kick separately).  This is a far cry from Guitar Hero III‘s "wall o’ notes" and the scaled-back lack of difficulty in Aerosmith, finally achieving a good balance between being fun and challenging. I have to give Neversoft kudos for getting to this point as quickly as they did given that Harmonix has had much more background in getting there.  The only factor that comes into dragging these songs down is their length – sure, Metallica songs do run long, and there’s no reason for the game to cut them short, but some songs I did find that the same fast easy rhythm can get very tiring near the end at the Hard level, and maybe would have liked a bit more breathing room at this level.

Playing through the songs will give you cash that you can use to customize your avatar using the same character creation system as in World Tour.  You also unlock special features such as playable versions of Metallica members as you gain enough cumulative cash to cross certain boundaries.  When you complete all the Metallica songs and many of the special guests songs, you’ll unlock the ability to watch these via "Metallifacts" akin to Pop-up Videos, giving you some insight into the background of the song. Add in lots of videos of Metallica performances and their behind-the-scenes look at the motion capture and development sessions, and this is really a more complete tribute to the band compared to the few extras on Aerosmith.  There’s probably more that people would have liked to add, as this certainly isn’t the end-all biography of the group, but it pretty dang complete for a console game.

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Value/Replayability: B+

If the only thing that really hurts this game (beyond the soundtrack if you are not a Metallica fan) is that it is still a full price game.  Now, sure, nearly 50 songs is a pretty full disk, but when one considers that World Tour has 80 songs and costs the same, one has to question how much value there is on the extras in this package, and for myself, not the world’s biggest Metallica fan but certainly appreciative of their music, it’s just a bit too much.  Add to the fact that save for the previous release of Death Magnetic content, there will be no additional (at the present time) DLC for this game, and you’re really looking at a very limited package. (GHTunes is still here, and cross-compat with World Tour, but my experience with comes out of there is very hit or miss).  It will still provide a good amount of gameplay and certainly not a bad use of your money, but it is a bit pricey compared to what else is out there.  At the same time, could this have been a DLC add-on to World Tour?  Maybe… but the spit and polish on the presentation really makes this game stand out alone.

Graphics: A

Neversoft really went all out to make this game look and feel like a Metallica game.  Thanks to extensive motion capture, all of the Metallica members look sweet and completely at home on the more realistic venues created for this game.  The motions and camera effects during the various songs is about as good as live concert videos, including the appropriate use of film filters to give some songs a handicam-shot type feel.  Even when doing the non-Metallica songs, the avatars look much better, and are less cartoony that the Guitar Hero III versions, if not even better than World Tour.  If anything, the only mark on the game’s presentation is that with the intensely accurate graphics there is a slight impact on the frame rate, barely impacting the display rate which I noticed but certainly not ruining the experience.

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Audio: A

Presuming you are already a fan of the band Metallica, you’ll love the soundtrack, which weighs a bit heavier on their pre-Black album material (which common knowledge tends to consider as the better part of their career) but does include some more recent material too. The tracks are all master and sound excellent from the game. If there’s a hitch, it’s that the guest acts don’t quite have the same "volume" of sound that the Metallica tracks were obviously painstakingly mixed to perfection for the game; there’s nothing wrong to ruin the experience but switching from the Metallica songs to the guests and back, its clear there’s a bit of difference here.

Overall: A-

Your actual value on this game is going to depend on your fondness for the band Metallica. If you dislike them, you’re not going to find anything new here. If you’re a rapid fan, this game is definitely a must-have.  But for those in between (I mildly like their stuff, and certainly not turned off by it) you’ll find this to be the best post-Harmonix Guitar Hero game to date – it’s sufficiently difficult but not impossible through most of the game, the presentation is top notch, and overall a well done game. It would have been nice to have the option to have these songs as DLC, or means of integrating these with World Tour or vice-versa, as the price of this game is bit high for just under 50 songs, but it still is a pretty fun game.

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