Metal militia

Metallica' Guitar Hero -- rendered right down to the mole on Kirk Hammett's face
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Mutallica

Guitar Hero: Metallica

(Neversoft, Xbox 360, PS3; Budcat Creations, Wii, PS2)

GAMER Metallica were recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which they surely had in mind while writing their 1983 debut album Kill 'Em All (Megaforce). Back in the spotlight and riding high on the release of 2008's Death Magnetic (Warner Bros), which many have optimistically heralded as a return to form, the Bay Area's most famous thrash band returned to store shelves this spring with Guitar Hero: Metallica. The latest in a burgeoning string of rock 'n' roll rhythm titles, the game is the second to focus on an individual artist, following on the heels of Guitar Hero: Aerosmith but predating the upcoming Beatles collaboration with Guitar Hero competitors Rock Band.

The game's catalog spans 49 songs, incorporating 28 Metallica master recordings from all phases of their career, in addition to 21 hand-picked songs by band-approved rockers like King Diamond and Kyuss. Its now-familiar format enables four people to get together on drums, bass, guitar, and vocals, following candy-colored prompts onscreen to crank out high-voltage facsimiles of classics like "Hit the Lights" and "Master of Puppets."

The band appears in the game as motion-captured metal titans, and Neversoft's animators render them right down to the mole on Kirk Hammett's face. Songs are performed in the venues of Metallica lore, including their legendary 1991 concert at Moscow's Tushino Airfield, where a free show drew a million-odd frenzied Muscovite headbangers. A profusion of pyro onscreen does make you worry a little bit for the health of pixelated James Hetfield.

The intricate, speedy compositions are not for the faint of heart. And while beginners are afforded introductory difficulties to hone their skills, Guitar Hero vets will be surprised by the challenges they face, including double kick pedal support for the drumset. Stumbling blocks aside, Metallica's music is rife with satisfying riffs, and recreating Lars Ulrich's heavy-handed drum fills or the bands rapid-fire thrash is laden with lots of ineffable plastic-instrument delight.

If you like metal, and Guitar Hero, the game is a must buy. If you're into the former, but not the latter, you might be surprised at the way the deceptively simple transcription enables a deeper enjoyment of the music. Conversely, if your fingers are already toughened by those five magical buttons but you don't care for Metallica, you might just change your tune once you've nailed the guitar solo in "Orion." If you don't like either, why didn't you just skip to the next page?

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