IMG_0230My copy of Guitar Hero: Metallica arrived today and I’ve managed to coax about two hours play out of my left wrist.

There are no great surprises in the gameplay — it’s pretty much exactly like any other GH or Rockback game — the only exception being the Expert Plus level of difficulty on drums, which sees the introduction of a second bass pedal. Madness.

At the moment, I’m progressing reasonably well through Hard on guitar and frequently surprising myself at the number of riffs I’m hitting. The trick seems to be not to think about it too much. That, and mashing the buttons randomly.

Presentation-wise, though, it’s a much slicker product compared with the rather disappointing Aerosmith addition to the franchise. The band look like the band and behave like the band. Watching the game is, by and large, exactly like watching Metallica perform live. Unfortunately, that has a downside and that downside’s name is Lars Ulrich.

If you didn’t hate Large Oilrig beforehand, you’re not going to find anything in here to secure his position on your Christmas card list. He yawns at points when his drumming prowess is not required. He constantly has that smarmy, smug expression on his face, mouth doing a passable impression of a cat’s arse.

But what get’s me is, he must look at that and see it. He must surely have had to sign off the design of his digitized face.

“Guys, guys, guys,” I imagine he might have said. “If you can’t make me look like a bulldog licking pish from a nettle, we’re pulling the freakin’ plug.”

GH games and their ilk live and die by the song selection and GH:Metallica has picked its tunes from the right end of the Metallica back catalog, ie. the pre 1990 bit. That’s not to say there’s nothing from St Anger etc, but so far at least, they’ve been thankfully brief.

Easily one to play through to completion and to return to when the mood takes.

Okay, so it’s been out of a week and after notching up some-teen hours of play over the last seven days, I’m just about in a position to declare what I think about it.

I’d been looking forward to the release since before this time last year and once the first trailer was released, complete with the Philip Glass score, every time I switched on my Xbox 360, I kinda wished it was being switched on to play GTA IV. So there’s been a fair level of anticipation chez Gav and a shit load of hype everywhere else.

First up, visually, it’s captivating. Liberty City this time round may lack the sheer scale of San Andreas, but what’s there is beautifully drawn and, like the best cherry tomatoes, it’s organic. Plus, everything that lives, breathes and dies in Liberty City seems to add to the experience. Life’s rich, High-Def pageant.

Pedestrians mumble to themselves and each other. Fast food joint counter staff announce, “Welcome to Burger Shot, motherfucker.” Crossing the road requires extra care because these drivers don’t think twice about knocking you over and this time, you can see the health shatter from the gauge with every bounce off the tarmac. The first time I saw the rag doll physics in action, I felt a little sick, much like the first time I noticed blood leak from a random pedestrian on GTA III.

Control-wise, it’s much the same deal as before, except quite notably, the combat system has been tweaked to be more in line with First Person Shooters and the driving has been tweaked to be more in line with actually driving in NYC. No longer can you throw a car round a corner at 120 mph with just a prayer and a yank of the handbrake. In fact, if your right index finger is tempted to apply the handbrake you may just end up doing a passable impression of Doctor Fox on Dancing On Ice. But you can dive out of your car and use it as a barrier.

Both tweaks, I think, suit the less-cartoony feel to the game. So what if driving at speed now relies on you being able to calculate a racing line? It makes it all the more rewarding when you nail that corner and find yourself back in the race or on the tail of the Russian mafia.

The story arc and characterisation of the main story is Hollywood quality. The missions follow the same formula as ever other incarnation of GTA and fall neatly into four categories: kill someone, take something to someone, evade someone, catch someone. There are 90 of them, so prolonged playing is bound to highlight the similarities in theme. Is that bad thing? Well, no, but it’s not necessarily a good thing either. it just is. To make a big deal of this is, I think, to miss the point.

Since when was the main storyline of a GTA game the be all and end all? As was the case with GTA III, Vice City and San Andreas, what you get up to when you’re not on a mission is what hooked me when I first visited Liberty City on the PS2. The living and existing, the choices, the side games and now the MASSIVE multiplayer options are, I imagine, what will keep me coming back to the game long after the final credits have rolled.

So it’s flawless, then, right? Not quite. The draw distance can still be a problem sometimes and I’ve come out of my apartment on more than one occasion to find that the furniture arrives a few seconds later. Plus, the first time you have a scout over the city in a helicopter, you realise that it’s not really that big a city at all. Cars randomly turning right or changing lane detracts a little from the improved realism.

But for every one of these, there are a dozen reasons to love it and at the very least, you’re well within your rights to utilise the free aim shooting method and kill the boy behind the counter at Burger Shot.

I’ve been a very patient boy. The countdown started at something like 200 sleeps, which was forever, but it managed to get down to about 50 sleeps before the man who controls the number of sleeps decided to up it back to around 180. Much swearing was done at that point. Much swearing at the man who controls the number of sleeps and much more swearing directed towards the stupid PS3 as it was the PS3 that made the man increase the count in the first place, on account of it being rubbish.

But now, after another eternity has passed — or 179 sleeps to be exact — and GTA IV will finally be released. In fact, some souls who can stay awake beyond the witching hour have no more sleeps to go and will, at this moment, be deciding whether they should go to the 24 hour Tesco or Asda.

Personally, I’m waiting until tomorrow morning, but I’ve the day off work and I plan to do absolutely … nothing … other than play GTA IV until either my eyes melt, an epileptic fit is enduced or I have to nip downstairs for a roll and square sausage. Probably the latter.

So, Reading Several, don’t expect too much in the way of posts over the next few days, unless the game is shite in which case, set your sleep count to one. Until the morrow, I’ll just need to make do with reviews, like this one:

Now, where did I put my Night Nurse?