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Guitar Hero Metallica

Metallica provies justice for all.
Several years ago I was living in Northern California. One year, around my birthday, The Rolling Stones came to town. I eagerly bought myself and my girlfriend a pair of tickets, fully prepared to be blown away by the Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band in the World. What I didn't expect was an announcement that arrived just a week or two before the show. Without much pomp or circumstance, I was informed that opening for the Rolling Stones would be...Metallica! Needless to say, I couldn't believe it. Metallica is one of the most famous bands in the world, so for them to open for The Stones was astonishing. In a press release, the group said it was their idea, and that they always wanted to play with The Stones. And that was how I got to see Metallica live. I remember being blown away by their energy, but was slightly relieved that they didn't play a longer set, lest they start pulling out tunes I didn't care for.

This is kind of how I feel about Guitar Hero: Metallica. While the group has a bevy of undeniable classics, I never cared for their catalog post-Black Album, and am not even terribly fond of their first two records, which feature less developed songs and screechy vocals from James Hetfield. For me, their real legacy is that trio of albums that made them famous: Master of Puppets, ...And Justice For All, and Metallica (aka the aforementioned Black Album). So while playing Guitar Hero Metallica may give me access to some of the best metal ever recorded, it also comes with the baggage of the rest of what Metallica has done.

Eschewing their multi-gig format of Guitar Hero World Tour, Neversoft makes the goal of Guitar Hero: Metallica exceedingly simple. You start with a list of playable songs, and after accruing a set amount of stars (the song selection page lets you know how many you have left to go), you unlock new songs and new venues. That's it. There is a slight semblance of a story, told through Neversoft's preferred method of hand drawn animation, but there's not much to it. The idea is that you've started a band to open for Metallica. And each venue is set up with opening songs and Metallica songs.

The tracklist is surprisingly robust, featuring artists like The Offspring, Thin Lizzy, Motorhead, System of a Down, Samhain, and more. And while these are fun, the real draw is to play for Metallica, and you do, over the course of 28 tracks, many taken from their classic period, although all of their albums are represented. The only major classics missing are "Blackened" and "And Justice For All," both of which are available as Rock Band DLC. Speaking of DLC, the only downloadable content that will work with this game is Death Magnetic. You won't be seeing Metallica playing Wings anytime soon. But no matter what kind of Metallica fan you are, there will be something for you to play here. Whether you can't wait to play "Whiplash" or only know "Enter Sandman," this game has you covered.

The charts themselves are much better than they have been since Neversoft took over the Guitar Hero franchise, generally not adding or dropping notes or indulging in other gimmicks. Only a few scattered songs use the pointless touch fretboard available on the latest Guitar Hero controllers. This is the first time Neversoft has gotten within reaching distance of the quality of Rock Band. Like World Tour, Metallica is a full band game, which is perfect, because Metallica isn't just about guitars. For one thing, Lars Ulrich is one of the most celebrated drummers in rock, and the game really does him justice. In addition to the challenging but fun drum charts, the game offers an "Expert+" mode, which allows you to double bass drum, provided you get a second bass pedal for your drum kit. Furthermore, the vocals are surprisingly fun, given that oftentimes it seems like Hetfield is just screaming or shrieking. But getting to play all the instruments on a song like "Dyer's Eve" or "Battery" really felt like gaming nirvana for three minutes.

Neverosft also went above and beyond in providing extra content related to the band. Beating many of the songs unlocks behind the scenes or motion capture videos, clips of the band playing live at club gigs, or "Metallifacts." Metallifacts is like a Pop-Up Video but for one of the songs in the game. You watch as one of the song charts is played through, and info pops up as it plays. It's a really neat addition and something I hope sticks around in future Guitar Hero titles, such as the upcoming Guitar Hero: Van Halen. Other extras include unlockable guitars, clothing, and playable characters, such as Lemmy from Motorhead.

I only had two real issues with the gameplay. The first is that the difficulty ramps up much more quickly than in other Guitar Hero titles, which makes sense given the bands involved. But even something like "The Boys Are Back In Town" felt harder than it needed to be. Although, perhaps the problem is due to my second complaint: PS3 Guitar Hero controllers. Instead of connecting directly to the system the way 360 controllers do, the PS3 ones use a USB dongle, and I feel this adds in a delay that is difficult to get around, even when you adjust for delays in the calibration settings. If you're going to get this game, I recommend the 360 over the PS3.

The Graphics:
A big complaint for me in Guitar Hero: Aerosmith was the poor renderings of the band. This problem has been completely eliminated with Metallica. The band came in and did performance capture work, so their movements look pretty natural and realistic. Even better, the actual renderings are more detailed and less cartoonish. The venues, all based on real places Metallica has played, are also well put together, and for your own band you get the recognizable stable of Guitar Hero characters and the option to make your own, just like in World Tour. Really, the only issue I discovered was some bizarre animation breaks, mostly when Kirk Hammett plays guitar solos. For some reason during these solos, Hammett will abruptly shift to be facing the other way. It's strange but not game-breaking.

The Audio:
As befits a band at the top of the metal heap, Guitar Hero: Metallica sounds fantastic. The guitars roar, the bass thunders, and the drums pound. When you play, you feel it. The mix is never a problem the way it sometimes was in World Tour. In short, just what you would want from a Guitar Hero game.

The Conclusion:
It's not secret that I've been very critical of Neversoft ever since they've taken over the Guitar Hero franchise. For the first time, they finally hit almost all the right notes with Guitar Hero: Metallica. While I'm not a huge fan of their material after the Black Album, the game is set in such a way that you don't have to play a ton of songs you dislike in order to progress, and there are so many classics here that even the most hardcore Metallica fan will love it. The graphics are a major improvement over previous entries since III, and the sound is perfect. The only caveat is that the PS3 controllers seem to present a lag problem that hinders gameplay. But if you can live with that, Guitar Hero: Metallica comes Recommended.