Sneak Peek: "Guitar Hero: Metallica" Offers Deep Cuts and Lifelike Band, But No Cliff Burton

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There is a video clip in Guitar Hero: Metallica of Lars Ulrich performing on a silent drum set while covered in motion-capture equipment. He's playing a song Metallica haven't played in more than a decade, and he can't get the timing right. After a handful of takes, he finally makes it through, and collapses in a heap on the floor. "I'm sorry for all the bad things I've done in my life," he moans.

Now gamers can feel Lars' pain as the Metallica-themed version of the juggernaut Guitar Hero franchise hits stores March 29th for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 consoles (Wii and PS2 versions will follow later in the spring). In a storyline concocted by frontman James Hetfield, players begin as Metallica's opening act, and eventually play as Metallica once they prove their mettle.

Everything about the game, from the menu animations based on art by Pushead, Metallica's long-running collaborating artist, to venues and stage sets from all phases of the band's career to signature lighting effects and crowd chants will be familiar to fans. The motion-capture used to animate the band is strikingly lifelike, as all of the signature moves are there: the contemplative Hetfield during the opening of "The Unforgiven," the preening Ulrich hopping up from behind his kit to be seen after every song, and bassist Rob Trujillo's crabwalk and spins.

The members all initially appear as their modern-day selves, but there will be unlockable character skins that hearken back to earlier eras. Although no past members are in the game (there go fantasies for a Cliff Burton cameo — the band feared his inclusion may have felt like a slight to Trujillo), a few of Metallica's heroes make appearances.

The full track list for the game will be released next week (update: here it is), and Neversoft employees admit that the list of songs which has been announced so far was a bit of a tease — a list heavy on material from the band's self-titled album and onward ("King Nothing," "Fuel," "No Leaf Clover," etc.) — but fans of the early days will get a kick out of the remaining tracks, which include a few deep cuts and covers that the band has very rarely performed.

The gameplay remains true to previous incarnations of the franchise, allowing players to perform vocals, guitar, bass and drum parts, with the main addition being a new skill level, dubbed "expert-plus," which requires an additional kick-drum pedal for double-bass on some of the band's thrashier songs. When the lead developer of the game fails out at 24 percent of the way through a song and calls another "totally impossible," it's safe to say that this is the most demanding any rhythm-based game has made itself so far.

However, one drawback is that although Hetfield and Kirk Hammett are one of hard rock's most celebrated guitar duos — and the game is called Guitar Hero — there is no option to choose between lead or rhythm guitar, limiting players to only one guitarist per band, and not allowing any Hetfield/Hammett riff-trading. If fans at home figuring out the guitar tablature to post online can do it for free, why couldn't a wildly successful game franchise trying to create "the ultimate Metallica experience" pull it off?

The game disc also comes with bonus features, including live videos from special performances and footage of the band making its contributions to the game, as well as early images, set lists and miscellanea from the band's career. In addition, the track list will not feature solely Metallica tunes, but also songs from the band's friends and influences, such as Alice in Chains, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Lars' new favorite band and current Metallica tour opener, the Sword. Sadly, the game was completed before a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony stage could be included.

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