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Guitar Hero: Metallica
Score: 96%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Neversoft
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 4: 2 - 8 (Online)
Genre: Rhythm/ Online/ Party

Graphics & Sound:
Metallica fans unite! It has finally arrived! A fun game that features Metallica and it isn't a terrible car combat game. Guitar Hero: Metallica is the second licensed entry into the franchise and it seems to me that it is also the first one since Guitar Hero 2 that feels like the creators' hearts were poured into making it. From excellent animations and graphic design to the masterful tracking of the songs, Guitar Hero: Metallica simply outshines previous entries in the franchise.

Since Neversoft took over for the Guitar Hero franchise, all of the characters had a strange look to them. It was a weird amalgamation of cartoons and caricatures mixed with realistic skin textures and fabrics that made everyone seem too surreal to be in a videogame.

I guess it took the biggest rock band in the world to make them commit to getting the details right. Everyone in the band is recreated in an almost action figure-like essence. Kirk Hammet, Lars Ulrich, and Rob Trujillo are spot on. They look great and seem believable with the help of a few weeks of motion capture. Unfortunately, James Hetfield looks very stoic and very stiff at first. During some of the songs though, his mo-cap sessions pay off and it actually feels like you're on stage at a Metallica concert. Just be prepared to wonder if they replaced the lead singer with Frankenstein the first time the band walks on stage.

I can't imagine it is hard to make a music game based on a band that has over 25 years of material to pull from. Every Metallica album is represented in Guitar Hero: Metallica. From Kill 'em All all the way up to Death Magnetic, there is definitely something in here to satisfy even the most casual of Metallica fans. The breakdown for how many Metallica songs versus all of the other bands that influenced them is about two out of three.

I think it should go without saying that this is as close to the most heavy metal videogame as you can get right now. So, with that, expect to hear other songs from Slayer, Judas Priest, MotorHead, King Diamond, Samhain, and even some newer bands like Mastodon and Machine Head. The Heavy Metal genre prides itself on being gritty and dirty, but I must admit that it is awesome to hear all of these songs mixed in high quality and blasting through my surround sound. It nearly gave me whiplash from headbanging too much.

If Guitar Hero: Aerosmith was a re-skinned version of Guitar Hero III, then Guitar Hero: Metallica is most definitely a modified version of World Tour. Full band support is standard right out of the box on top of including the Music Creator Mode that is pulling songs from the same servers as World Tour. There is so much value for the purchase, but it isn't offered in bundles, so if you don't have the instruments, the price of admission is a little steeper.

The premise is simple; you and your band mates have decided to form a Metallica tribute band and quickly become discovered by Metallica themselves and now open for them on the road. The beginning guides you through a rather robust feature editor to customize the look of your band and prep you for the crowds of rabid Metallica fans. Accordingly, the rest of the game is a non-stop tour through huge venues that the metal gods have played through over the years. Metallica comes out and performs their own songs while your band plays covers of the other songs. It is a simple setup and it's pulled off masterfully.

In other Guitar Hero games, they were structured like a traditional arcade game. Essentially, every venue became a level and the songs for that set list became the enemies. After you cleared all of the enemies, a boss would appear in the form of a more difficult song for each set. Well, now that is thrown out the window in favor of a much more convenient approach.

The Career mode now tracks your progress by your performances, not single songs. The songs included in each set increase as you progress, so it may start out with only five songs in the new venue, but it then increases to ten or fifteen. It allows you to decide what songs you want to play in order to progress. It is the same for each instrument as well. While one song may be really tough on drums, it is a breeze on guitar, so if you play the Drum Career mode, you will know not to play that song if you want to win. After all, "Dyer's Eve" isn't played that much at Metallica concerts because Lars sometimes has a hard time keeping up with his younger self.

While the single player comes and goes fairly quickly, the real longevity is in the online play. Each of the modes available offline can be played with a buddy down the road or across the world. Head-to-Head and 4 vs. 4 band battles are probably the most played modes online. So if you think that you and your mates have the chops, there is always some good competition at your fingertips.

Like every other music rhythm game these days, there are multiple difficulties for every person's skill levels. Guitar Hero: Metallica copies what World Tour did with adding a "Beginner" Mode and went in the other direction. Made especially for drums, Guitar Hero: Metallica now includes a new difficulty level called "Expert +." With the addition of another kick pedal, every single drum note is tracked and becomes more like real drums than ever before. Word of warning though, there are only a few songs that support Expert + and they are real doozies.

But as far as guitar players go, this version of Guitar Hero is definitely the most fun and accessible version of the rock star fantasy since the original was released. The level of fun you are going to have most definitely depends on what skill you play on. I prefer a good challenge with the uncertainty of whether I will have to use Star Power to save my butt. Expert mode is definitely a test of reflexes and dexterity, but it also still remains fun while still being hard, which is something that the series has sorely missed for the past few installments. So failing a song is inevitable, but after you load and reload the same song again and again, it really doesn't matter because I guarantee that you will be singing along every time.

Game Mechanics:
Some of the fundamental core mechanics of Guitar Hero: Metallica have been tweaked a bit to make the experience more fun. For example, solos sometimes have a string in between the notes which is meant to be played on World Tour's new guitar that has a sliding fret board near the body of the guitar. Although, even if you don't play with that guitar, the notes appear just the same, but they don't appear that often which makes me wonder why bother? If that mechanic isn't utilized that much, then what is the point of including it anyway? Is it to make people buy the more expensive guitar? I don't know.

It seems that everything about Guitar Hero: Metallica has taken the best the series has to offer and polished it to the point where it seems like it may have hit its stride. The songs are a ton of fun to play and playing metal songs with a full band is indescribable to someone who isn't a fan. It seems like there may not be anywhere to go from here, though. Even though this is definitely the best version in a very long time, it still seems like there isn't anything new that can create a reason to buy the inevitable next entry.

The pendulum swings back and forth for Guitar Hero. One month, it is fantastic and most definitely worth a place on your shelf, like Guitar Hero: Metallica, but then someone behind the scenes pulls the shortest straw when the next title is a "Greatest Hits" collection. If you only buy one Guitar Hero game this year, please make it this one. Arguably the most successful band in the world in your living room anytime you want is well worth the price of admission. Considering that tickets to a Metallica show are at least double the price of the game, you'd be a fool not to pick this one up if you are a Metallica fan.

-HanChi, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Hanchey

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