True story: Back in 1996, Metallica visited my small Washington hometown to play a private concert for the winner of an MTV contest. This concert drew thousands of music-lovers to this one little house, a house that could only fit ten to fifteen people. For an hour the band rocked out in this tiny duplex with thousands of screaming fans outside just trying to get a glimpse of their heroes. Thanks to my dumb luck, my then-girlfriend lived directly next to the winner's duplex, which gave me an amazing up-close, front row seat for one of the most exciting events to happen to my little town.
I tell you this because it is just about my only real connection to Metallica. I'm not your typical Metallica fan. While James Hetfield and the gang were selling out stadiums around the world, I was banging my head to a much different beat. My music of choice was Sonic Youth, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Pavement. I chose flannel over spikes. For this reason I was excited to play through Guitar Hero: Metallica, if only to have a better understanding of the music of this popular heavy metal foursome.
Guitar Hero: Metallica is exactly what it sounds like; it's a disc full of new and old Metallica songs confined to the trappings of Activision's mega-popular Guitar Hero franchise. Like last year's so-so Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, Metallica features around 50 songs, including some of the biggest songs ever played by the Los Angeles-based quartet. Unlike the Aerosmith edition, this Metallica game allows you to play more than just the guitar and bass. This game is based off of Guitar Hero: World Tour, which means that you can add a drummer and singer to the mix at any time. This one change really makes a world of difference, giving me hope that there may be a bright future for these band-specific Guitar Hero installments.
As I said before, the game features a great selection of new and old songs. You get some of their biggest hits, including "Enter Sandman," "Fuel," "Battery," "The Unforgiven," and of course, "For Whom the Bell Tolls." You also get some incredibly old Metallica, such as "Hit the Lights," "Seek & Destroy" and "Whip Lash." Throw in a few newer tracks ("Cyanide," "The Day That Never Comes," and My Apocalypse") and you have a solid line-up of Metallica songs. As somebody with only a passing knowledge of the band's work, it was nice to hear how different each of the different eras are.
Instead of only focusing on Metallica (as the title suggests), this Guitar Hero game features a mix of songs from other bands, including groups inspired by and friends of Metallica. This list includes everybody from Slayer ("War Ensemble") to Suicidal Tendencies ("War Inside My Head") to Queen ("Stone Cold Crazy") to Thin Lizzy ("The Boys Are Back in Town") and so on. The game included bands that were new to me (Samhain and Michael Schenker Group) and bands I'm more than familiar with (Foo Fighters, Social Distortion, Alice in Chains). If you're a fan of heavy metal and Metallica-flavored rock bands, then Guitar Hero: Metallica may just be a dream come true.
The problem is, I'm just not that into most of these songs. Don't get me wrong, I appreciated being introduced to a great deal interesting Metallica music, but this is not the type of music I would turn on in my spare time. It works fine for people wanting to rock out on some fake plastic instruments, and there's no doubt that Metallica fans will have a great time playing through the medium-sized track list. I, however, wasn't feeling the song selections. Obviously this is a personal preference sort of thing, but I've made it perfectly clear from the get-go that I could take or leave this band. Yes, I had a lot of fun playing the game. However, I suspect that's because I enjoy rocking that fake plastic guitar ... no matter what music is on. It could be a long-lost duet between Milli Vanilli and Right Said Fred remixed by the Rednex, I would still rock that guitar as if my life depended on it.
I can't believe we're this far into the review and I haven't even mentioned the game's itsy bitsy storyline. Instead of giving us weirdly disjointed interviews with the band (a la Guitar Hero: Aerosmith), this Metallica edition wisely uses animated cinemas to convey a lame story about (you guessed it) a small band who ends up making it big alongside Metallica. It's a really stupid plot that we've seen too many times in the Guitar Hero franchise. Still, the animated scenes are clever and they may actually get you to chuckle a few times before all is said and done.
Aside from the game's barely-there storyline, Guitar Hero: Metallica has an extremely basic single-player mode that doesn't try to be more than it is. Like past Guitar Hero games, Metallica features a long list of songs that you have to earn stars on. If you earn enough stars you will be rewarded with new songs. Some of the time you will take the stage as Metallica themselves, while other times you will be the opening act (featuring characters from Guitar Hero: World Tour). Together you (and your band) attempt to earn all 245 stars, ultimately proving that you are the true Guitar Hero. Or something like that.
The truth is, this game is exactly like Guitar Hero: World Tour. The graphics are the same. The gameplay is the same. The extra modes are the same. The whole thing, it's basically Guitar Hero: World Tour with Metallica music and artwork. Instead of just saying "You Rock," the game uses the artwork from St. Anger. The whole game is like that, with venues specifically designed after album covers, characters that are near and dear to Metallica and a sense of style that is so strong that it could give you a rock and roll headache. It's disappointing that the game isn't anything more than just Guitar Hero: World Tour plus Metallica, especially since there are so many aspects that need to be improved.
Because this is based on World Tour, that means that you can sing, drum, play bass and jam out on guitar. It means that you will be able to make your own music (and download songs from other people). It means that you will be able to import downloadable content, including the entirety of Metallica's newest album. Unfortunately it also means that you will have to put up with pointless single-player modes, lame power-up driven multiplayer challenges and a little too many gimmicks for my blood. Those who already own World Tour will know what to expect, especially since Activision spent no time at all trying to add functionality to this product.
The good news is that there's enough to keep even the heaviest head banger busy for at least a few days. When he's not rocking out to the four dozen songs, he can watch plenty of Metallica videos and get a real history lesson about this game. He can go online and play against other Metallica fans. He can go after a number of obscure (and ridiculously time consuming) achievement points. There's plenty for the die-hard Metallica fan to enjoy. Unfortunately everybody else will be left out in the rain with this release.
Perhaps that's not a bad thing. Even though I'm not the kind of game that would be clamoring for a Metallica-themed Guitar Hero game, I know plenty of people who want this more than anything. Even though I'm not a big fan of the foursome, I can appreciate that Activision tried a little harder when it came to designing this second band-specific Guitar Hero. It's still not perfect, but they are definitely on the right track. This release comes down to how much you like the band. If you're one of those people who owns all of the albums and likes to sing along in the car, then sixty dollars isn't too much to ask. I personally wouldn't pay that much for this game, but I'm also not the target audience. Guitar Hero: Metallica is good representation of a hugely popular heavy metal band, nothing more and nothing less.