Guitar Hero: Metallica

"Guitar Hero" may have brought videogames to the music-loving masses, but its new spinoff based on the music of Metallica is for headbangers only.

Veronique Cayla

Guitar Hero” may have brought videogames to the music-loving masses, but its new spinoff based on the music of Metallica is for headbangers only. Featuring venues from the heavy-metal gods’ history, with fully motion-captured avatars of the band’s current lineup, the game targets die-hard fans with a selection of 28 songs, as well as a broader selection of 21 more from related acts that cover classic, hard rock and speed metal. Solidly executed but lacking in unique features or a coherent narrative focus, “Guitar Hero: Metallica” will likely enjoy a somewhat short tour.

Rather than taking the approach of last June’s first band-focused title, “Guitar Hero: Aerosmith,” and following the act from high school days to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, “Metallica” skirts the personal details and career highlights. Instead, it places the titular group firmly on a pedestal, following it from successful tour to successful tour until the bizarre finale. But while the game never lets players fully engage with the band, bright lighting and a sparing use of visual effects impressively emulate the look of a high-def concert video. And the character animations are detailed, if somewhat plastic.

“Metallica’s” material is perfect for a title aimed at players of all skill levels: the songs selected are melodic and accessible, yet technically challenging. Amateurs can hum along to “Enter Sandman,” while expert skin-slappers can woodshed the drum part on “Battery.” The disc includes fewer, albeit longer, tracks than the main “Guitar Hero” titles, and metalheads are the key demographic, with classics by Thin Lizzy and Bob Seger straying the farthest from headbanging territory.

But even players who would have preferred a “Guitar Hero: Shawn Colvin” will find the gameplay rewarding, as the set-list boasts a good mix of shredders and ballads, portentous rests and finger-breaking solos.

All of the “Guitar Hero” or “Rock Band” instruments can be deployed at five settings, from Beginner to Expert, and on most tracks, the drums add an “Expert+” tier, meant for players who have — and know how to handle — dual bass pedals. Head-to-head battles, several online modes and a copy of the “Guitar Hero” music studio round out the package, giving those who don’t own “World Tour” a solid value.

Although many players will just jam with friends, those who dive into the career mode will find that it’s “Metallica’s” biggest weakness, offering a confusing presentation of a rock star fantasy. On half the songs, players steer their own band, dubbed ‘Tallica Jr., as they seize a shot at opening for their heroes. The rest of the time, the player controls the already successful titular band.

The main “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band” games cast the players as the true stars, giving them the thrill of rising from a sweaty garage to the pinnacle of rock. Here, switching between a personalized band and a real one may make a wannabe wonder: Is the goal to worship Metallica? To be Metallica? Or someday, to usurp Metallica as the world’s greatest metal band? Ultimately, it may be the supplicants who enjoy “Guitar Hero: Metallica” most.

Guitar Hero: Metallica

  • Production: An Activision/RedOctane presentation of a game developed by Neversoft for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, Vicarious Visions for the Wii, and Budcat Creations for the Playstation 2. Reviewed on Xbox 360. Rated T. $40-$60