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Guitar Hero: Metallica
Graphics: 7.9
Gameplay: 9.3
Sound: 9.5
Control: 9.2
Replay Value: 8.9
Rating: 8.9
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Budcat Creations
Number Of Players: 1-4
I owe a lot to Metallica, as do many people and bands. They were, pretty much, the first real metal band I was exposed to when I was around 13 years old. My eyes and ears opened up to an all new assortment of music, which eventually lead to me picking up a guitar and learning it on my own. Had it not been for my cousin, who happened to be staying with us from Israel for six months, I may have never been given the pleasure of discovering the world's biggest metal band. Metallica has had this kind of effect on many, and so when it came time for Activision to create a followup to last year's Aerosmith game, who better than Metallica?
Guitar Hero has always had a soundtrack that was geared more towards the heavier side of rock, as opposed to Rock Band - it's the reason why my personal choice last year was GH: World Tour. Well, Guitar Hero: Metallica takes that attitude and theme, and increases it considerably by plugging in a horde of Metallica tracks, in addition to tunes by Motorhead, Thin Lizzy, Mastodon, Machine Head, Alice in Chains, Judas Priest, System of a Down, Foo Fighters, Slayer, and others. 
Playing Guitar Hero: Metallica immediately feels like you're playing a proper Guitar Hero game, as the presence of a band like Metallica just seems to be more in tune with the franchise. That is not to say that Metallica is better than Aerosmith or any of that, it's just that, demographically, fans of Aerosmith are significantly older than fans of Metallica and are less likely to play a game of Guitar Hero. And, Aerosmith songs aren't nearly as badass, exciting or fit for videogames, as opposed to Metallica. It's just the excitement aspect of it all that really makes GH: Metallica feel like the best the series has seen.
With a total of 48 tracks for the PlayStation 2 version (three more than PS3 and X360), the game will feature a collection of 31 Metallica tracks, and 20 tracks by various artists which I've already mentioned prior on. These 20 songs were hand selected by Metallica as some of their personal favorite tracks, and we're happy to see them here, we especially like their choice of Bob Seger's "Turn The Page" (a song Metallica covered and made a video out of). Obviously, because the PS2 versions of Guitar Hero do not support DLC, you can't import your downloaded Death Magnetic tracks, which hurts the game a bit. So to alleviate the problem a bit, the PS2 version features three extra songs from Death Magnetic - it would've been nice to have the entire album, really. 
Now, with no DLC support, that also means no online gameplay. So with the PS2 version there are no online battles, or online gameplay of any sort, for that matter. You can still get a whole band going with four people in your living room, but that's the extent of the game's multiplayer offerings. The multiplayer supports vocals, guitar, bass, and drums. And yes, the Rock Star Creator and the music studio will still be featured in Guitar Hero: Metallica, in addition to a feature called Drum Over, where you can drum over a song without a track-chart to follow, allowing you to improvise. But, again, user created content sharing is not here.
All together, you will find a total of 20 guest acts in the game, from bands that Metallica worked with, to the bands they admired and inspired them. Moreover, I must add that I am absolutely floored to see that they've included "No Leaf Clover" into the mix, as it is one of my all-time favorite Metallica tracks. For those not familiar, the song first debuted on Metallica's live symphony collaboration record called Metallica S&M - it was one of the few great songs the band wrote in the late 90s.
A pretty solid choice of Metallica tracks can be found in the game, and thankfully only one comes from St. Anger (Frantic), although if it were up to me, I'd have chosen "Unnamed Feeling" or "Sweet Amber as they're the only decent tracks from the album. I would have also liked to see "Blackened", "Ride the Lightning", "...And Justice For All", and "The Outlaw Torn", but, alas, they're not here. 
Unfortunately, virtual versions of Jason Newsted, Dave Mustaine, and the late-great Cliff Burton are not present, but you will see them in the game's collection of archived footage, much of which is never before seen. If you'd really like to see the former Metallica bandmates, you can try to create them, but it'll be a bit more difficult to do on the PS2 version, as it's creator isn't as expansive as the PS3 and X360 versions. But, as far as authenticity, you will get to see motion captured versions of James, Kirk, Lars, and Robert as you make your way through an assortment of real venues. 
It'd have been nice to play through a historic timeline, a'la Aerosmith, but seeing as how complicated Metallica's past is, it was probably too much of a hassle for Activision to bother with. So instead, the story mode was put together based on actual events that happened earlier on in Metallica's career, where a group of guys would follow the band around, essentially acting as their butlers and hardcore devotees. Eventually, the guys at Metallica let the group join them on their tour, and even give them the chance open for their shows, as well. So the core of the game is somewhat based on those events, but eventually, you are given control of Metallica. 
The game draws some concepts from GHIII's Battle Mode and brings them to light in the multiplayer mode of GH: Metallica. One such concept is a power-up called "Fade to Black" that'll black out the opponent's note tracks, forcing him to only see black colors. Now, as many of you know, a very crucial feature for the game is the ability to use two bass pedals with your drum set in a difficulty mode called Expert+. This greatly increases the difficulty, but there's no doubt in my mind, that if you master this, you'd be well on your way to becoming a solid drummer in real life. It's fun, but damn hard, and I'll leave it at that. 
As I already mentioned, the game boasts a wholesome amount of archived footage. Now, while it looks fantastic on the PlayStation 3 version, the footage looks very poor on the PS2. The video quality is poorly compressed and exhibits artifacting and grain everywhere - it's like a circa-2000 webcam. Okay, it's not that bad, but you get the idea. We're not sure why the PS2 version doesn't at least use the same video quality as the Xbox 360 game, since both are DVD format. And don't bother trying to read the lyric sheets scattered around, either. It's all just a blur. 
But there's still one other problem, the hiccups. Don't ask me how or why, but the game has a framerate problem that occasionally hiccups and disrupts the flow of the notes. Now, because I've never seen this in a GH game before, I thought maybe it was my PS2 Slim acting up, so I tried it elsewhere and got the same results. I also asked a few folks, and sure enough got the same response. This doesn't happen very frequently, but when it does, it may cause mistakes. Still, overall, this is the best looking Guitar Hero game to date. Yes, the details and characters are still cartoon-like, for the most part, but the motion captured animations and the superb lip-syncing really wins me over. While the visuals aren't as polished as the next-gen versions are, it's still really nice to see the band on stage moving and singing so realistically in a PS2 GH game. The lighting effects and the audience have been noticeably toned down, though, so the stage presentation isn't quite as intense anymore. 
Since I covered most of the game's offerings in sound earlier on, it's time for the conclusion, and it's a simple one. Guitar Hero: Metallica is the best damn Guitar Hero game ever. Beyond the visual quirks and the limitations of the PS2, there's still an awesome game to be had. Not only does it boast a collection of Metallica tracks, but also a collection of other amazing bands. Unlike GH: Aerosmith, GH: Metallica is non-stop excitement at all times, powered by a menacing soundtrack that simply never quits. The addition of a double bass pedal, as well as modes carried over from World Tour, and even the Drum Over mode are all great touches, not to mention the extras such as all of the Metallifacts, the archived footage, and so forth. There is simply nothing left to say, other than: this game is absolutely incredible.

5/14/2009   Arnold Katayev