Reviewed by Mr. Dark
Available for the Xbox 360 (reviewed), PlayStation 3
Published by EA Games / Double Fine
I’ve been a fan of Tim Schafer since the original Monkey Island, all the way through the brilliant Grim Fandango and the vastly underplayed Psychonauts. When I first heard his next project was a heavy metal action adventure, I was stoked. After many months of promotion, publicity, and straight-up hype, was there any way it could live up to all the noise?
Shafer has done it again. He and his team at Double Fine have crafted an engaging, original action title full of his trademark humor and tons of surprises.
Brutal Legend, if you’ve missed all the advertising, is the tale of Eddie Riggs, master roadie. One night, while supporting an uber-crappy band that represents everything wrong with modern ‘heavy‘ music, an accident on stage splashes blood into his belt buckle. One shiny metal beast and some decapitations later, he awakes in a world made up of every epic fantasy heavy metal album cover.
It’s a metal Wizard of Oz, and Eddie definitely ain’t in Kansas anymore. Before long, he’s involved with the humans of this new (old?) age fighting their demonic masters for the glory of all things metal.
Let’s get one thing out of the way. Hate Jack Black? You aren’t going to love him here. He’s Jack Black. While he does actually portray a character as Eddie more than in most of his work, it’s still Jack. No complaints if you hate the dude then hate the game because, well, he IS the game.
The difficulty in reviewing Brutal Legend is in describing it. It’s an action-adventure hack and slash real time strategy driving/racing music RPG. Seriously. And I’m probably missing some. Okay, fine, gameplay can be broken down into three primary mechanics: hack and slash action, innovative real-time strategy, and vehicle-based exploration.
First, the action. Eddie has a big-ass axe, and he uses it. A lot. He also has his guitar, Clementine, which represents the ‘magic‘ in the game. It’s a simple mechanic for most combat purposes, with unlockable combo attacks that blend melee with ranged lightning and fire from the guitar. Where it gets a bit revolutionary is in the incorporation of a rudimentary music/rhythm game for more complex ‘magic‘ abilities. Throughout the game, Eddie learns solos that perform tasks from raising ancient relics that contain power-ups or new songs, to launching incredibly powerful attacks that destroy multiple enemies. (I’m a particular fan of the ‘Facemelter‘…I don’t need to explain what it does.)
Next, the real-time strategy. The multi-player is restricted to the RTS mechanic, and all of the major battles in the game use it as well. This is the biggest area of innovation on the disc. It’s also the biggest failure in the game, unfortunately. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the RTS segments. I even enjoyed the multi-player battles (which can be played against others online or against AI bots) which is not generally my cup of tea.
All the RTS basics are here: resource collection, base defense and upgrades, etc. Two things make the otherwise cliché RTS combat shine. Both you and your opponent can take a direct hand in the battle using the hack and slash combat present elsewhere in the game, as well as special solos that only apply to the RTS combat, or you can just order your troops to the dirty work. While other RTS’s have had ‘hero‘ characters that you can control, I’ve never seen one (especially on a console) that had a mix of action and RTS quite like this. Also, the way you summon troops and handle upgrades is especially fluid and simple to master, something I’ve yet to see accomplished in a console RTS.
I just wish there was more depth to the actual combat. You wind up doing the usual RTS shuffle: whoever gets more of their most powerful units out first, wins. There just isn’t enough strategy involved. Get Eddie’s most powerful bulldozer of a unit out, and it’s game over no matter whatever your opponent is doing. Or, go for the Brutal Legend version of a Zerg rush and throw a ton of low-level troops directly at the opponent’s stage, backed up by your powerful solos, and you might pull an early (and undeserved) victory. It isn’t that it’s easy, it’s just simple.
Strategy rarely comes into play. It’s too bad, because there is a good toolset here that could have been the basis of a more solid RTS experience. The multi-player gives a glimpse of that promise, with each of the three available factions featuring dramatically different designs that -should- allow for very different strategies when thrown against each other. Instead, they each just offer a different method of delivering the most punch directly to the enemy stage as quickly as possible.
Finally, there’s the exploration. It’s here that Brutal Legend shines. The main storyline is completely linear, but the world here is vast, gorgeously designed and rendered, and your ‘Deuce‘ (the bad-ass hot rod Eddie builds upon arriving) is a blast to drive. The landscape is littered with collectibles to find, jumps to make in the Deuce, and secondary missions. These missions add quite a bit of variety, and feature some very cool cameos by familiar faces. You can easily spend hours wandering the land, jamming to the amazing soundtrack of metal songs, shooting the crap out of random enemies as it pleases you.
That’s a good thing, because we’ve come to the primary complaint with Brutal Legend: it’s really damn short. If you breeze through the main storyline without exploring much or doing any side missions, you’ll be watching credits in six or seven hours. (Mind you, I have no idea how you’ll best the final boss battle with no upgrades, only attained through exploration.) Everything feels right in the story until that final battle, which seems to happen way too soon, as if we’ve skipped a bit of the plot.
Honestly, though? If you aren’t wanting to explore this world, to marinate in it, why would you buy this title? Shafer’s strength is in story and atmosphere. He is THE funniest writer in video game history. He has an amazing passion for the subject matter here, and it shows. You will want to wring every last drop out of this wonderful world of metal he has created.
And that’s a key point: are you into metal? I don’t mean Limp Bizkit. I don’t mean screamo bullshit. I don’t mean Bon Jovi. I mean HEAVY FUCKING METAL. If I say that the achievements have names like ‘Flowerslave‘, does this mean anything to you?
If so, you will love this game. It’s just that simple. It was ripped straight from the minds and hearts of metal fans. Every single pixel is 100% pure, true metal, and for an old school metalhead like myself, it was an all-too-brief jaunt through heaven.
Brutal Legend has flaws, but the total sum of glory is great. You don’t have to love metal to enjoy it, but if you already do love metal, it’s just something you have to experience.
4 out of 5
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