Version tested: Xbox 360
There was a time when almost no one cared about appearing in Guitar Hero. Record industry types would seek clarification: "So, the kids play along with our artist's music on a Fisher Price plastic guitar?" Then they'd politely decline the offer, toddling off to snort the last of their terminally ill industry's profits.
But by the time Rock Band rolled around, every band, manager, song publisher and industry-head was smashing down Harmonix's gates for the opportunity to be in the game. Everyone wanted a stake in this brave new interactive musical world where profits went up, not down, and where piracy was virtually impossible.
And yet despite the meteoric rise of rhythm-action, Metallica - those Luddite, Napster-killing metal-heads - remained not only disinterested, but positively hostile to the idea of their music being cheapened by a videogame. They blocked offers from all of the music-game makers, denying teenagers across the globe the chance to spandex up and role-play Lars Ulrich.
We don't know what it took to change the band's tinnitus-addled minds. A generous royalty offer perhaps, or maybe just the sight of their bank manager stabbing his finger furiously into some imbalanced books. Whatever the reason, the worm has turned and the Thing That Should Not Be has become a reality: a special edition release of Guitar Hero featuring 28 of Metallica's songs alongside another 20-odd guest acts "hand-picked" as influences by the band.
The set-list collects material from across the band's history, from their first recorded song, "Hit the Lights", right up to "All Nightmare Long" from 2008's critically divisive Death Magnetic. Songs are drawn evenly from across the group's career, catering as much to fans who prefer their thrash beginnings as those who first fell for their most commercially successful record, 1991's Black album (all of whose singles are present and correct).
Career Mode, as ever the heart of the Guitar Hero experience, starts with a recreation of a contemporary Metallica live show, showing the band's dramatic entrance with "The God, The Bad and The Ugly", going straight into the sucker-punch that is "For Whom the Bell Tolls", and then segueing into "The Unforgiven", the band's film-tribute inverse ballad.
It's a stylish opening, benefitting greatly from aping the Metallica live show visuals, which, despite the music's bombast, are generally far more tasteful and impactful in terms of lighting and stage design than Guitar Hero's traditional cod-rock aesthetic. From here, rather than just continuing on through a live show, the game introduces a story, casting you as a member of the crowd who's so inspired by the performance that they decide to start a Metallica tribute band.
Career progression is handled in the traditional list format, although now you only need to collect a certain number of stars to unlock the next venue (and its attached new songs) rather than completing all of the songs in a grouping. For competent players who routinely earn a five-star rating during a single song, this makes the job of unlocking the full set-list swift and easy, and is a good decision on the part of Neversoft (a full list of the songs included on the disc can be found on Wikipedia).