As it's the middle of the month, and I only have cash for practical things, over the weekend I fired up the Xbox 360 to see what free demos were available. First up: Guitar Hero: Metallica
. The last band-specific Guitar Hero
focussed on Aerosmith, and was a mediocre mid-tempo effort. The graphics achieved the impressive feat of making Steven Tyler & co. look even more like zombies than they do in real life, and there was a distinct lack of soul and care to the whole enterprise.
Judging from the demo, GH: Metallica
will be a much better product. For starters, it's based on the Guitar Hero World Tour
engine so the graphics are much improved, both technically and in terms of art direction. Whereas GH: Aerosmith
was cartoony, colourful and cluttered, GH: Metallica
uses Left 4 Dead
-style desaturated colours and film grain to give the visuals some bite. The character models of the band look far more realistic than before, and the developers have reduced a lot of the visual clutter - the note streak you're on is subtly illustrated with a skull-embossed plectrums to the right of the fretboard and the rock meter is less intrusive. The game also works in artwork from Metallica's albums - the fist from St Anger punches upwards when the song ends, for instance.
The demo comes with four songs:
Queen – Stone Cold Crazy (1974)
Alice in Chains – No Excuses (1994)
Metallica – Seek & Destroy (1983)
Metallica – Sad But True (1991)
The two Metallica songs work brilliantly, with great note charts that really lock into the music. The Queen track has long passages where there's nothing to play, and the Alice in Chains song comes across as a little plodding, but overall it's well worth a download and makes GH: Metallica
look like a promising release.
Next up, I'd grabbed the demo a Ninja game that was so staggeringly generic I can't even remember the title. Ninja Terror. Ninja Attack. Ninjas with Swords. Ninja Killer Dudes. Ninja Squirrel Squad. Something like that. Ninja Blade!
Anyway, it's set in Tokyo, in the future, and you play a member of a government trained Ninja black-ops team who are called in to deal with some bad shit that's going down. You journey to the site of badness in a helicopter that looks a bit funny because it's from the future, and as you're a ninja you can jump out of the back without a parachute.
When you do, you're greeted with a couple of quicktime events. If you don't press the right button, you get to instantly re-try until you do which makes them as fun as assembling Ikea furniture. It's a shame they're so dull because it looks great - you are, after all, hurtling through from the sky slotting weird beasties with a typically enormous Japanese sword.
When you land, you find you're in luck - your enemies don't have guns, so you can actually put your massive selection of swords to good use. Combat is third person, and the action is fluid and fast - so much so that I just resorted to button mashing. It looks good, and there's nothing wrong with slicing up weird beasties with swords, so it remains reasonably fun until there are yet more tedious quicktime events and I head for the dashboard.
Finally, the demo of The Wheelman
, a game of a Vin Diesel movie that the world isn't ready for yet. Or maybe it's the other way round. Either way, the film has yet to be released (and it doesn't appear to be imminent, either), but the demo shows the game is coming along well. In it, you play Vin Diesel, who in turn plays Milo. He’s a wheelman - a criminal taxi driver (by which I mean a taxi driver for criminals, not a guy who drives a cab and doesn't pay for Twixes). At first you might look at the game as your average GTA clone – it’s cars and it’s got crime, it's set in a big, sprawling city... but play it for a few minutes and it feels more like a blend of Burnout
, the first Driver
game and Need for Speed: Most Wanted
While you can get out of vehicles, the focus really is on aggressive driving and vehicular combat. You can drive into your Police pursuers as per usual, but you can also perform lighting fast lane changes to sideswipe cars alongside you, leap out of your car and into another, as well as shooting out of the window and perform Matrix-style slow-mo bullet ballet and blow your enemies to pieces.
I can't think of too many recent games that have actively focussed on vehicle combat successfully - the MMO Auto Assault was widely considered a complete failure, so you have to reach back to the excellent, if generally overlooked Interstate '76
*, and before that, to games such as SpyHunter
to find good examples of car combat.
There are a lot of controls, but the demo introduces them fairly smoothly. You get to try your hand at several missions. It's not perfect - the racing mission is confusing and it does borrow a lot from other games, which makes me wonder whether as a whole the game will have much of a sense of identity and coherence - but as a demo, it's much, much better than I expected. Well worth a download, and we should have review code this week, too.
* One day I'll do a post on how awesome Interstate '76 was. Until then, I'll leave you with the classic quote, Hey Stampede, how 'bout a poem