Guitar Hero: Metallica won't be the first time Activision has dedicated a retail release of its musical juggernaut to one band, though from what we saw of the game at an event in San Francisco earlier this week, it's looking like a much more attractive package than Guitar Hero: Aerosmith.
Part of this is due to the fact that Guitar Hero: Metallica will feature the basic framework of Guitar Hero World Tour, providing players with the full band experience, rather than limiting it just to guitars. Indeed, Guitar Hero: Metallica promises virtually every feature found in World Tour, including the character creator, the music generator, and support for DLC. That DLC support, though, seems to have been thrown in for the sole purpose of letting you play the previously released downloadable version of Death Magnetic in Guitar Hero: Metallica, as the game won't be supporting any non-Metallica DLC. Metallica.
As many cues as the game takes from World Tour, it definitely makes some changes to create an experience that is more, uh, Metallic. The career mode will open with you playing two songs as Metallica, though after that quick glimpse of the band, you'll be put in the shoes of a new band that dreams of opening for Metallica. It's here that Guitar Hero: Metallica brings to bear my least favorite characteristic of the latter-day Guitar Hero games, the cartoon cutscenes. Does Guitar Hero really benefit from some slapsticky pantomime story that pits your new jeans-and-black-t-shirts band against a disgruntled hair-metal rocker? Does Metallica?
Still, there should be plenty for Metallica fans to like here, beyond all the music. There will also be a wealth of Metallica-related extras on the disc, including live footage of the band in concert, behind-the-scenes footage of the band's motion-capture sessions, old show flyers, handwritten lyric notes, and more. Probably the most material change that Guitar Hero: Metallica will make to the World Tour formula is support for a second kick pedal, letting you get into some double-bass-drum action. This is a feature that, while I appreciate its presence on an academic level, is totally beyond me, simply because it requires a level of skill I do not possess. In fact, Guitar Hero: Metallica features a difficulty level beyond Expert (simply called Expert+) which is the only place that you'll be able to use the double kicks.
While there will be music from other acts in the game, Metallica is unquestionably the star of the show, and our enjoyment of the experience is sure to hinge at least partly on your affinity for the band. Even as someone whose interest in Metallica starts and stops at the Black Album, it's hard for me to ignore the technical complexity that is inherent to much of the band's music, which definitely came through in the gameplay. This seemed particularly true of the guitar parts, though that's not terribly surprising for a game called Guitar Hero.
Addition by Brad, lapsed Metallica fan: I feel like a bit of a hypocrite in talking about this game, because like Ryan, I didn't much care for GH: Aerosmith. That's largely because, you know, I don't much care for Aerosmith, either. But I did spend most of junior high and high school expunging my angst to the crunchy tune of Metallica's first five albums, so I got really excited the moment I picked up a guitar controller and starting scrolling through GH: Metallica's track list. It seems to lean toward those five albums, which is fine by me, since the band kind of lost me during the lull after the Black Album. There's a ton of Metallica's early big hits in here, including "Fade to Black," "Battery," "For Whom the Bell Tolls," and "Master of Puppets." I could have done with "And Justice For All," but as it stands, this is a really solid track list for current and past Metallica fans.
I guess your interest in these band-specific music games really does depend on your affection for the band itself. Who woulda thunk it? Oh yeah, and I think the polygonal versions of the band members (visible in these screens) are actually pretty good, and less cartoonish than the Aerosmith dudes. Though, as someone who hasn't actively paid attention to Metallica in a few years, I can't help thinking Rob Trujillo looks a little out of place, with his braids and metalhead sports gear. I saw literally no sign of Jason Newsted or Cliff Burton in the game whatsoever, which is certainly understandable in the 3D band action. I hope they're at least represented in some of the bonus material somewhere, though I'm not holding my breath on that one.