Guitar Hero: Metallica

For Those About to Rock...

We present some hands-on impressions of our hours-long time spent with Guitar Hero: Metallica (here's a hint: it's better than you think).
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: March 13, 2009
This whole music game... thing is starting to get a little crazy. There were two Rock Band games released in the span of less than a year, and we're going to diplomatically avoid talking about the sheer number of planned expansions and spin-offs Activision has announced for fear of sounding a little harsh, but let's just say there's... lots. So you can imagine that we saw the latest Guitar Hero World Tour expansion as a cheap cash-in -- kinda like the less-than-well-received Guitar Hero: Aerosmith -- and while the two games are fundamentally similar in their core approach (a bunch of songs from a band and some of their favorite bands tagging along to round out the track list and break things up), there are few more things introduced to keep it all interesting.

The first, of course, is that GH: Aerosmith was an add-on for the old-school Guitar Hero (y'know, the one that was still just about guitars rather than the full band experience of World Tour). The addition of drums and vocals, plus all the new instruments (like having the slap bass option with the little touch pad on the new guitars) make for plenty of variety if you somehow missed out on World Tour, but the biggest change is the addition of Expert+ difficulty.

Expert+ is, as the name implies, even more difficult than the previous top-tier challenge level of the previous games thanks to one very important inclusion: the almighty double-bass. Pre-ordering the game gets you an extra drum pedal and a little y-adapter to plug both pedals into one port, which is useful if, say, you're using the Rock Band drum set, which only has a single bass drum port (but then of course you're missing out on a good chunk of the Guitar Hero experience if you aren't playing with five pads). Though it's really just channeling two pedals' input into one part of the screen, the speed of some of the songs' bass kicks makes it entirely necessary; this is not the kind of stuff you want to try to do with one foot lest it fall off mid-song.

Luckily, from what we were to play a few days ago (and quite a few hours more about a week or so ago, though we have to hold off on talking about that stuff until the review, sadly), just adding another bass pedal is far from all GH: Metallica has to offer. No the true fun to be had here is in just playing the songs. For whatever reason, either because of the way the band's songs are structured or how the team at Neversoft set them all up (we're guessing it's a combination of the two), the songs are an absolute blast to play -- especially on drums. Lars' play style and the band's songwriting process rarely leaves one playing the same thing for more than a few measures (okay, add in a few measure more if you're playing on guitar), and when coupled with the length of the songs (plenty of 'em are over five minutes long, and some, like the multi-song tribute, "Mercyful Fate" stretch their legs into double-digit length.

Something we didn't really notice while playing through the marathon-like song selections was what was happening in the background. Even we bitched and moaned a bit about the animation and modeling of the characters in the past, but Guitar Hero: Metallica looks, frankly, awesome. Ever so slightly cartoonish, the band is represented ably, and, most importantly, moves just like them thanks to extensive motion capture sessions. Little touches like James Hetfield closing a peeper while singing the "sleep with one eye open" line in Enter Sandman just make us grin.

Most of our time with the game was spent playing drums because, well, we love playing clicky plastic drums, and mostly because the actual rhythms in the game this time around are an unabashed blast. Guitar Hero: Metallica piles on a fairly even split of the band's own songs vs. the stuff they like, making for almost 50 tracks in total. Even the guitars, though, thanks to plenty of solos and some tough technical sections, are a blast to play too. In fact, it's fair to say this is one of the best chunks of challenge and reward offered in a Guitar Hero game, and has single-handedly overcome our music game burn out. We can't think of a better endorsement of things than that, and we haven't even dug into the career portion in earnest. We'll do so for the full review, which hits along with the game on March 29th. Check back then!