Let's face facts. Guitar Hero: Aerosmith was a decent attempt at producing a band-specific Guitar Hero spin-off, but it was lacking in a lot of features. With a paltry number of songs compared to regular Guitar Hero games and not much to get stuck into after the main career mode was completed, it's fair to say it was a bit lacking in terms of content. Plus it had Aerosmith in it.
So now Activision's back with another crack of the single-band whip, this time with a game based on the ultimate gods of metal - Metallica. Surely this one's better then? Of course it is... if you like Metallica.
You see, we could spout on for ages about the other songs in the game by different bands (the Foo Fighters, System Of A Down and Queen are represented here, among others) but as you'd expect, the vast majority of the setlist is comprised of Metallica songs, so if you don't know your Nothing Else Matters from your Enter Sandman this might not really be up your alley. It would be unfair to criticise this game for not having as varied a selection of songs as you'll find in the likes of Guitar Hero III or World Tour though, because after all, it makes no bones about being a Metallica game.
So let's assume you like Metallica's music and you're still reading. How does it play? Like Guitar Hero: World Tour really, which is a good thing. As in that game, you can choose to play guitar, bass, drums or vocals, and everything works as you'd expect if you're familiar with the series. Even the GHTunes area, where you can download user-created tracks, is included here.
The track list is a fair improvement over that of Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, with a total of 52 songs on offer (31 from Metallica, 21 from other bands). The Metallica tracks span the band's whole career, from early offerings like Seek And Destroy and Fade To Black, to four tracks from their recent Death Magnetic album. The other acts appearing were apparently chosen by Metallica, and they're enjoyable tracks - the presence of the likes of Machine Head, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Slayer is most welcome.
As anyone who's played the Metallica song (One) on Guitar Hero III would be able to guess, this game was always going to be designed with difficulty in mind, and it doesn't let us down. Though beginners are catered for with the same easier modes as before, Expert mode will push even the fastest-fingered Guitar Hero players to their limits, especially near the end of the game as the songs get heavier and the solos get crazier.
As for drums, since copyright-addicted Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich is quite the demon on the sticks, the difficulty here has been ramped up considerably from Guitar Hero: World Tour. And even if you can somehow make it through Expert mode, there's also the insane Expert+ mode, which supports two foot pedals and will require feet faster than Sonic The Hedgehog in order to get through.
Strangely though, the Career mode's much more lenient than it has been in previous games. Instead of having to clear a number of songs to continue, you only have to get a number of 'stars' by doing well in each song. Even if you're completely rubbish you'll end up unlocking the whole setlist without too much trouble. You're able to unlock all the tracks long before you play half of the songs on offer.
Visually the game's a bit of a mixed bag. The band looks great and all their characteristics have been captured perfectly (due to a lengthy motion capture session), and we love the subtle little touches that make it feel like a proper Metallica concert (like the roadie running onto the stage to give James Hetfield a different guitar for the next song). Metallica fans will lap this up, there's no doubt about it, and the inclusion of some hidden musicians like Lemmy from Motörhead makes it even more entertaining. However, we did notice some drops in the frame rate when playing in Expert mode, meaning the notes didn't come down as smoothly as we'd like. This might sound like a minor detail, but it does affect the experience a little and makes things slightly more difficult when playing those mental solos.
Guitar Hero: Metallica is a recommended purchase for fans of the band and hardcore Guitar Hero players alike. The Expert mode is difficult enough to provide a challenge for veterans, while the easier modes are accessible enough for Metallica fans new to the series.