If you haven't heard of Guitar Hero by now, you've not only been living under a rock, you've probably renovated it and added an extension.
On the strength of their music-based franchise, Activision, RedOctane and Neversoft have banked enough money to finance their own rebel army. They've managed to create the holy grail of video game distribution - specialised hardware coupled with easy-to-produce and addictive software that can be updated periodically, and played by multiple people locally or across the internet. The fact that it's based on popular music simply adds fuel to the fire.
Last year, it was made obvious that the Guitar Hero franchise was moving in a bold new direction with the release of the first artist-specific title (Guitar Hero: Aerosmith) and the first co-operative band title (World Tour). Never ones to shy away from massive success, Activision have now released Guitar Hero: Metallica, and although New Zealand gets it about a month after North America, there's still good reason to check it out.
Metallica is an integral part of music history, and the pace and style of their music is a perfect match for the social, upbeat nature of collaborative music gaming. Where Aerosmith only had you worried about the difficulty of a couple of tracks, Guitar Hero: Metallica has plenty on offer to challenge anyone who picks it up. This is mainly fuelled by the incredible pace of the Expert+ mode, which has been added for dummers. With support for two kick-pedals and more notes per second than ever before, only the best need apply. Unfortunately nobody at Gameplanet HQ was even remotely skilled enough to last more than a few seconds on this brutal difficulty, but it sure looks like a lot of fun.
The set list takes you from the early days of the band through to recent times, and is intentionally out of chronological order to allow players to adjust before hitting them with the hard stuff. Spliced into each section of the game are guest appearances from notable rockers such as Motorhead, Alice In Chains, Foo Fighters, and Queen, to name but a few. Despite a few stand-out hits (such as The Ace of Spades and The Boys Are Back in Town), most of the guests artists play second fiddle to Metallica, and seem to have been included to offer a break between some of the lengthy tracks the band are renown for.
For guitarists out there, Metallica is much like World Tour on speed, with extended hammer-ons and pull-offs in all the likely places, as well as a liberal helping of the neck tap notes, which don't seem to have achieved the level of popularity promised by the developers when they were first included with World Tour. It's important to remember too that Metallica doesn't ship with any new hardware as such, you'll still require a World Tour instrument bundle if you want to experience the full band effect.
Timing-wise, Metallica sits squarely between Guitar Hero 3 and World Tour, as although you can't tap a hammer-on or pull-off well before they strike the bottom of the screen like you could with Guitar Hero 3, neither will you require exact precision to land them as you did with World Tour. It's a happy compromise that keeps gameplay fluid and entertaining.
We've prepared a video of Metallica's One being played on Hard difficulty below. On the left is the version included with Guitar Hero 3, on the right is the newer Guitar Hero: Metallica version. Of particular note (other than my complete butchering of the song) are the new chords introduced at the beginning, and that two years on, a single guitarist still has to play both lead and rhythm in the introduction.
As you can see, Metallica sits between the brutally difficult Guitar Hero 3 and the family-friendly World Tour in terms of difficulty, at least for the guitar players out there. I couldn't find a single track that rivalled Slayer or Dragonforce from Guitar Hero 3 for difficulty on the Expert settings, but at least Activision won't have to process so many hardware returns from people who have thrown their controllers at the TV out of sheer frustration.
Progression through the game is much less taxing that previous Guitar Hero titles - you simply need to gain a certain number of stars to unlock new venues, rather than being forced to repeat the same song over and over until you pass it. It's clear too that a great deal more effort has been placed on ambient animation and location-specific artwork - the in-game effects are wonderful, the visuals are entertaining, and despite not actually watching any of that when you're concentrating on hitting notes, it's nice to know spectators can be entertained whilst pretending to applaud your talent.
If you're a true Metallica fan and you have even a passing interest in the Guitar Hero franchise, then it's safe to assume you've probably pre-ordered Guitar Hero: Metallica already. If you're taking a break from the series because World Tour just wasn't as much fun as Guitar Hero 3 then you should definitely pick up Metallica and give it a go.
For everybody else - there's a huge amount of fun to be had, but if you're just starting out you might be better to pick up an earlier Guitar Hero game to learn the basics.
Continue to the next page for a full set list.