'GH: Metallica' hurts ears

The game has an unnecessary story and personas that don't fit the songs.
Guitar Hero: Metallica has all the hits of the band's golden days but all the problems of previous games in the franchise. Courtesy of Neversoft

Behold "Guitar Hero: Metallica" -- the perfect union of two sellouts.

The very essence of "Guitar Hero" consists of two things: music and note charts. In this regard, "Guitar Hero: Metallica" provides some of the most interesting, challenging and high-energy songs to play along with to date. Developer Neversoft lost its way by putting a modern-day Metallica spin on the surrounding presentation.

The first mistake Neversoft made was allowing the members of the band to have creative input on the project. Unlike the chronological history lesson approach of "GH: Aerosmith," this version focuses solely on the band's more successful and cleaner incarnation of today. The music selections lean toward the earlier (and better) half of their discography, so the juxtaposition of the band's two personas doesn't mesh well together. Hearing James Hetfield's '80s-era voice come out of his short-haired, clean-shaven body just sounds awkward.

"Guitar Hero" never needed a story, but a cringing premise sours your progression through the Career mode. After being inspired from attending a Metallica concert, your character forms a band called "'tallica Jr." and tours with the band to perform opening acts. Seriously? Having a bunch of great Metallica songs to play should be enough, and the nonsense surrounding those songs only diminishes the fun.

The virtual visages of the band members accompany every Metallica song played, complete with scanned-in faces and motion-captured performances. A lot of care and effort went into their movements -- probably more than necessary. When converted and disfigured by the unappealing cartoonish "Guitar Hero" art style, all of that effort goes to waste.

On the plus side, most of Metallica's top-tier stuff is here: "Master of Puppets," "Fade to Black," "One," "For Whom the Bell Tolls," "Enter Sandman," "Fuel," "The Unforgiven," "Hit the Lights" and "Battery." The list isn't comprehensive (about 30 songs in all), but those that made the cut will definitely please fans. Did I mention "Master of Puppets?" Finally!

That said, the music in "GH: Metallica" is starving for variety. The band members handpicked the other "guest acts" on the setlist, so expect more heavy stuff like Slayer, System of a Down and Judas Priest. Each song eventually sounds indistinguishable from one another. Having lots of metal songs to play isn't necessarily a bad thing, but when consumed in excess, the songs begin to take a toll on the eardrums.

Some nitpicks about "GH: World Tour" were addressed here, such as an on-screen progress bar for the star rating (hey Neversoft: congrats on finally catching up to "Rock Band 1!") and the individual statuses of band members being moved to their respective note highways.

Everything else that sucked about "World Tour" has returned, which is quite a bit. The vocals engine is still too strict and can't account for singing in rhythm. Trying to activate Star Power on drums usually screws up your note streak by accident. Online matchmaking is way too slow. Everything that comes out of the Music Studio sounds like a bad cell phone ring tone. I could go on.

For a successor that rectifies very few of its predecessor's blatant issues, "GH: Metallica" makes siding with the "Rock Band" side of this war of plastic instruments that much easier. Fans of the genre have come to expect large libraries of diverse songs, making the game's existence as a full-priced retail disk come off as greedy on the part of Metallica. This is shame because taken individually, the songs kick ass, as do the note charts. Neversoft is just trying way too hard to find entertaining ways of presenting these songs to the player.

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