Fun songs, good track list... just too bad it's Guitar Hero.
When I first started playing Guitar Hero on the Playstation2, I was completely addicted to it. Harmonix had created a brand new craze in video gaming, and these days, that craze is getting more and more out of hand. Every game is coming out with some kind of wacky peripheral now, and I put it down to Guitar Hero's influence. However, in any situation like this, there will always be an innovator, and a stream of copycats. After Harmonix did so well with Guitar Hero 1 and 2, they got swooped up by EA and MTV to make Rock Band. Now under this knowledge, I've been a pure Rock Band geek ever since, simply because once Neversoft got their hands on Guitar Hero and gave us Guitar Hero 3, I really didn't seem to like the franchise anymore. It felt like a stranger had come into my home wearing a mask with my mother's face on it. Something wasn't quite right. The timing of the notes was slightly different, the note maps didn't seem all too keyed into the GUITAR part of the song (remember playing the keyboard part of Knights of Cydonia by Muse?), and altogether it lacked something that Harmonix had so easily been able to infuse from the start. It was because of this feeling towards Guitar Hero 3 that I pretty much ignored Guitar Hero World Tour and Guitar Hero Aerosmith in favour of Rock Band 1 and 2 and it's EXCELLENT downloadable content service. When I heard that Guitar Hero: Metallica was in the works, I knew that any chance of getting the whole of "Master Of Puppets" available on Rock Band was going to be ZERO. In one way, I was saddened - why should I have to put in a new game disc just to play songs by a band I really like? But then, given Guitar Hero's backwards way of dealing with beginners (Rock Band's no fail mode is much more accessible than GH's "Beginner mode"), I thought to myself "Wow, maybe GH: Metallica will be a real challenge... Not as hard as GH3, because that was ridiculous, but maybe a satisfying challenge". And I was correct to think that.
Let me just say at this point, that I have an almost vitriolic hatred for Neversoft. This is mainly because I used to LOVE them for the amazing work they did on the first two Tony Hawk games. As a skateboarder, those games got me into skating and the fact that they played so well and presented skateboarding in a way that was a tad wacky, but in a way that skaters would totally understand, made it the perfect game for anyone interested in skating. But over the years, it's become apparent that Neversoft has a business model that revolves around "Quantity not quality". Every time a new Tony Hawk game has been released after the second game, it's been crammed with things that are just there so the marketing guys can put a bunch of BIG NEW FEATURES on the back of the box. It's this repeated raping of gameplay by oversaturating the key features of a game that ruined the Tony Hawk series, and I'd hate to see it happen to Guitar Hero as well.... But unfortunately the key signs of this are already taking shape. Rock Band 2 kept the gameplay simple. It was exactly the same as the first game, with just a few tiny tune ups in order to streamline the experience. Guitar Hero World Tour, on the other hand, whacked in a load of these extra features that simply weren't needed. Open notes for bass? Tap Wah? Create-a-song? In theory, these are all good ideas, but the more you add, the more you alienate beginners. When playing GH: Metallica with a bunch of people who have never picked up a GH controller before, it felt like a pain in the ass having to explain why the bassist has a purple line running across their highway, and why there's a strange line connecting all of the notes in certain solo parts for the guitarist. It just adds to the feeling that in order to truely understand the behemoth of information that you must know in order to play GH: Metallica, you must have already been a long time fan of these kind of games.... which is fine for the shredfest that is Metallica's tracklist and it's legion of die hard fans, but is the opposite of the kind of people World Tour was actually attracting.
The key things they changed in Rock Band 2 were in the single player mode, where they integrated it into the multiplayer band experience and made a compelling game that allowed you to freely play any style of music you desired. If you were a metal fan, you could just go ahead and play heavy rock or metal songs straight off, because the track list had been heavily thought about in such a way that you could play one or two songs that took your fancy and then progress to another area of the game where you could continue to play songs that you enjoyed. World Tour tried to copy this, but in comparison it came across as confined and boring, especially seeing as the tracklist was more focused on songs a mainstream non-rock audience would know, as opposed to someone who seriously listens to a vast array of rock music. GH: Metallica returns to a classic GH setlist style, leaking you several songs at a time as you unlock new venues. Not only this, but (something positive) the tracklist is 90% awesome. There are a few songs on there which I really didn't like (mainly Frantic and a few other newer Metallica songs), but the majority of the tracklist is made up of amazing artists, and the Metallica songs are mostly from their first five albums (they have 6 out of the 8 songs from Ride The Lightning). Even the songs that aren't that good to listen to play really well, and provide a fun game experience.
People have said that these band-centric GH and RB games are a waste of time, but I say the opposite. The main franchise entries are becoming more and more bogged down with so much variation that unless you have a brilliant online store like Rock Band, people are going to get bored because you don't offer them enough of their kind of music. Games like GH: Metallica are pretty straightforward, if you like Metallica, you'll like this game. If you're a fan of Metal or Hard Rock, you'll find that the notemaps are fun to play, the songs sound great, the graphics are pretty decent and overall Metallica's back catalogue is probably one of the best for these kind of games. The difficulty isn't too hard, it's just right, and you can feel satisfied playing through a song on hard difficulty without completely failing out on the song. GH: Metallica is, no word of a lie, the first GH game Neversoft has done that actually FEELS and PLAYS like a real GH game, and that's probably because instead of ramming the game with new features, they've looked at this game like an "add-on" and thought about how to make the songs fun as well as working really hard on making a simple, fun experience.