Platform: PS3 (Also on 360)
ESRB Rating: M
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Double Fine
Review by: Bill Jones
If games creator Tim Schafer and his crew know how to do one thing exceptionally well, it is create fantastic worlds populated with engaging characters and awesome stories that show us the best (and funniest) games are often made by its truest fans. With Brütal Legend, the gang at Double Fine teams with musician and film star Jack Black for a follow up to 2005’s critically acclaimed Psychonauts. And while the title suffers from its controls and gameplay being a tad unpolished, gamers and heavy metal fans will find themselves too wrapped up in the world to care.
Black voices Eddie Riggs, who is said to be the best roadie in the business but finds himself lost in the days of metal’s waning popularity, working for a band that dresses in women’s clothing and invokes the name of metal but amounts to little more than an opening guitar riff, only to trail off into ridiculous lyrics with whiny vocals. Still, Riggs, ever the professional, does his job as a roadie should, making others look good while staying in the shadows.
But a stage mishap sends him into another dimension, seemingly forged from the bowls of the devil himself. It is a place where the beasts are truly beastly, and nearly everything else is forged from heavy metal tubing with a shiny chrome finish. It is a land where characters have a striking resemblance to Lemmy Kilmister from Motorhead, Rob Halford of Judas Priest and the “Guardian of Metal,” Ozzy Osborne. It is a world ruled by the axe, in a time when face-melting guitar solos could change the course of history.
The player takes control of Riggs and carries out a battle with the good people of the Halford Settlement against the evil (and glamorous) General Lionwhyte and his master, Doviculus, Emperor of the Tainted Coil. This is carried out in a variety of ways, as Riggs is free to explore both primary and secondary missions whilst traversing the open world.
On the ground, Riggs fights close-quarters with a literal axe, and is also equipped with a guitar for long-range attacks. Solos are collected by exploring the world and finding tabs, and those solos offer a range of new elements – from raising relics (that bring with them new songs and vehicle upgrade opportunities), to obliterating surrounding foes. Riggs also builds a hot rod called The Deuce (aka The Druid Plow), which is used in racing and protection segments (or, if the player chooses, in battle), and can be upgraded at Motor Forges found across the land.
But the biggest segments of the game are played out in real-time strategy battles, in which Riggs constructs a stage as home base. The goal is to destroy the opponent’s stage while protecting that base. Along the way, teams battle over nodes, called Merch Booths, that bring in more fans. Fans allow for upgraded troops – which are created and managed on the fly using quick-pick menus and the directional pad for commands – as well as revive a downed Riggs. The battles start simple, but get more complex as the band tours the land on a warpath for Deviculus, ultimately requiring some quick and clever strategizing, as well as one’s entire arsenal of attack and defense possibilities.
The multiplayer mode is essentially comprised of these RTS battles. Players face off against one another (or computer AI) on a selection of stages. Double Fine’s take on strategy isn’t the most refined, nor does it truly break ground in the genre despite some very interesting ideas it presents. Brütal Legend does a great job at fairly ramping up the difficulty for a solid climax, but the RTS elements would have some trouble standing on their own. For that matter, the vehicle elements could handle much better, and the combat is far from the best on the market. The side missions also seemingly have no problem tossing a good deal of repetition at the gamer.
But the success of Brütal Legend lies not in the individual elements, but how well they are tied together in their charming world. The vehicles aren’t great on their own, but the way they are incorporated into the RTS sections is a nice touch. Likewise, the supporting characters are simple archetypes of the genre, but the double-team attacks they share with Riggs are always fun. The side missions may be repetitious, but it is always entertaining going back and hearing Brian Posehn’s deadpan reactions to Riggs beating another of his hunting records, or Kyle Gass joining the fray as a insecure cannon operator. The combat may sometimes be bland, but rock fans will enjoy things like a face-melting solo that literally melts the faces of enemies, all to the soundtrack of more than 100 heavy metal tunes. And more importantly, though the humor falls by the wayside near the end, Brütal Legend is frequently funny.
Every second of the way, Schafer, Black and the entire development team at Double Fine invite gamers into the fantastic world they have created. It is evident that the developer laments the fall of the heyday of metal just as much as Riggs, and it makes the characters and the world all the more endearing for the gamer. For rock fans who have ever listened to a heavy metal tune and let it carry them away to a fantasy world where they are a hell of a lot more buff, look awesome in leather, hang with rock stars and vanquish the evil of the world with the power of rock, all while teaching a babe the art of French kissing, Brütal Legend will feel incrediblly familiar.
For more info, www.brutallegend.com