What could be cooler than heading out to San Francisco to party with Activision and Metallica? Probably nothing, but unfortunately the Metallica we partied with happened to be in the form of Guitar Hero. While this wasn’t a let down by any means, it would have been pretty awesome to sit down with Lars Ulrich and shred on a model guitar to Master of Puppets. On the flip side though, we were given an inside look at Activision’s upcoming Guitar Hero title, Guitar Hero: Metallica. Guitar Hero: Metallica, which releases at the end of March, is the second band-focused installment into the franchise, which follows somewhat closely on the heels of Guitar Hero: Aerosmith’s release last year.
Much like the Aerosmith iteration, Guitar Hero: Metallica is about catching the essence and soul of a band that has contributed so much to the music industry. For those of you who played GH: Aerosmith and are concerned about Neversoft being unable to truly grasp the essence of Metallica, your worries can be laid to rest. Surprisingly, after a slouchy debut in a band-centric offering, Neversoft has done an outstanding job in replicating Metallica to its fans with an unrivaled sense of authenticity and recreation of an actual live performances.
Metallica is widely known for its impressive drumming, guitar riff trade-offs between Hammett and Hetfield, and its memorable tunes which seem to last a lifetime. Neversoft was able to catch lightning in a bottle in regard to each of these aspects as the addition of the double-bass pedal, lead guitar/bass riff trades, and Metallica-based track list provide fans of the band as close to experiencing the real thing as virtually possible.
Neversoft achieved this by putting each member of Metallica through an extensive motion capturing process which is also documented and viewable from within the features menu in the game. The decision has lead to an unrivaled presentation that surpasses what we originally expected. From the band’s signature style of moves while playing to their gritty facial expressions, it was apparent that the development team was truly able to grasp every facet of Metallica in all of its glory.
The coolest addition to this version of Guitar Hero is without a doubt the new difficulty level for drummers called Expert Plus Mode. This difficulty level brings the entire experience to a higher level as a second bass pedal for the drummer is an essential tool to success. While the highway of notes are rapidly scrolling down the screen, the pedal depressions are anything but few and far between as rapid pedaling is not only a requirement, but a necessity if you want to top the leaderboards (or even pass the songs). While there was absolutely no way we could succeed in this mode of play, there were talented individuals at the event which were hitting 94-96% success rates which left a lot of onlookers impressed to say the least.
Guitar Hero: Metallica's campaign mode is a giant step forward for the franchise. The mode itself takes the direction of an obsessive cover band that wants to follow in Metallica’s footsteps and have the opportunity to open for them before shows. Stars are now treated like currency, as you only need a certain number of stars in each tier of songs in order to push forward. This ultimately results in allowing gamers to skip songs they may not want to play.
Another big bonus of the campaign is the unlockables that the creative thinking team has implemented within play. You no longer play to unlock songs; instead, you unlock new clothes, venues (The Stone nightclub in San Francisco, the Hammersmith Odeon, Tushino Airfield, and The Forum in Los Angeles, and one final venue representing the pinnacle of Metallica's success), and song extras like “Metallifacts” that allow you to learn more about the music behind the game. Metallifacts works a lot like VH1’s popular TV show, PopUp Video. This “mode” of play removes the highway and notes and in their place little text boxes pop up notifying you of why certain songs were chosen and information pertaining to the song that is playing.
Campaign mode also offers up a new character creation mode as well. While it isn’t anything to write home about, it’s a little bit more in-depth than Guitar Hero’s competitor, Rock Band. This allows for a more personal touch to be applied to the game, while also making the availability of unlocked clothing a tad more important due to the ability of making your character that much more unique and personable.
Some other small tweaks you may notice when you pick the title up is that the Star Power indicator is now larger, making it much easier to watch without missing notes. The same goes for the performance meter as well. Each band member’s performance meter is now to the left-middle of their highway, which is an easier way to take note of how you’re performing without having to look to the top left to find out. I’m sure a lot of players will find this more convenient as breaking away from the highway can often lead to missed notes at times. The star meter has also been given a more prominent placing to the right of the screen which makes it much easier to figure out how the band is doing as a whole. All of these small tweaks help make Guitar Hero: Metallica the most polished Guitar Hero thus far.
Guitar Hero: Metallica is undoubtedly a game geared towards fans of the heavy metal genre. If you don't like the music, you won't enjoy the game. If you do, however, you're in for a treat. The Metallica infused presentation and track list, the slight additions to the franchise, and the upgraded campaign mode all justify the asking price of a new Guitar Hero title, even after last year's World Tour. Gamers will be hard-pressed to find anything to complain about regarding this music-rhythm gem.