The age of metal is upon us. For the first time since the glory days of point-and-click PC games Tim Schafer is back in the spotlight. Brütal Legend is the epitome of Schafer-ian humor. The game takes stabs at all of the current genre knock-offs including glam, emo and hair metal and combines it with deliciously crafted dialogue and over-the-top characters. The end result is a game that actually manages to be as humorous as it is fun to play. Of course all of this is null and void if the gameplay manages to slip through the proverbial cracks, but as well all know Tim Schafer has been in this industry long enough to know how to craft a fine game. Brütal Legend is easily one of the most unique, expertly crafted and most importantly enjoyable experiences you will have on a console this holiday season.
You play the role of Eddie Riggs, a roadie that spends his life making other people look good. He can build anything, fix anything, and is genuinely a nice guy. That is one thing that Brütal Legend does so well; it introduces characters that you relate to easily. Everyone in the game is unique, and when plots twist and turn, you cannot help but feel connected to the characters. The story starts off with Eddie saving a local guitar player from falling to his death only to be crushed by the stage itself. Blood poors into the mouth of Eddie’s belt buckle and the stage comes to life as Eddie is magically transported into this heavy metal utopia.
From here the story continues the trend of humor and excellent writing including cameos from some of the greatest rockers of our time. As I played through the game I found myself genuinely interested in the outcome, not to mention actually enjoying the dialogue between characters. This is mainly because of the excellent voice acting that each character delivers. Lemmy Kilmister, Ozzy Osbourne and Jack Black are all hilarious while other staples such as Jennifer Hale and Tim Curry deliver outstanding performances. The one sore spot is Lita Ford whose lines pour out like she is reading (poorly) from a cue card. Everything else about the story and writing is top-notch, making the entire experience a fun-filled ride.
One of the most shocking things about BL though is that the initial demo is really not a good representation of what the real game is like. While most may think this is a straight up action game where you also get to drive vehicles, it is actually an RTS game that includes open-world elements and some action tossed in. Sounds weird I know, and at first I was just as confused as the next guy. Once you get into the main world you have access to a large area full of both story missions and of course side missions, more on those in a bit. The story missions slowly introduce you to the RTS elements of the game. There are large green pits that you can construct merchandise booths around that serve as your resources.
The game does a great job of easing you into the more complicated stuff such as controlling individual units, and using their specific abilities. Eventually you will be able to control the entire battle from a birds-eye view, and the game really takes on the RTS vibe. Of course if you prefer you can also hop into the action yourself, but every time you die you lose resources and your enemy gains some. Being more of an action gamer I assumed I would spend most of my time on the ground, simply controlling troops to my location, but as you get into bigger and bigger battles you realize that running headlong into a fight is not always the best strategy. Tim Schafer and Double Fine have done an amazing job of balancing units and gameplay to create a cohesive experience that is just as addictive as it is strategic.
The main campaign will run you around 6-8 hours depending on your level of skill, and also if you skip all of the side missions and collect-a-thons. There is a lot to see and do in the world of Brütal Legend; unfortunately there is also a lot of repetition. One of the biggest drawbacks is the lack of variety in the side missions. While there are some interesting side endeavors such as running into a hilariously proportioned Kyle Gass (the other half of Tenacious D) and a giant bat that resembles Ozzy, most of them are copy and paste. There are only so many ambush, race and defend missions I can handle before it starts to get a bit tiresome. There are also a host of upgrades to acquire from the Prince of Darkness himself, Ozzy. The problem is that most of the important ones are obtained rather quickly and the rest are just plain novelty. This gives little reason to go back once you finish the campaign unless you want to explore the world or earn the rest of those Achievements/Trophies.
One of the areas that the game really shines though is the visuals. Tim Schafer has always had a unique perspective on character design. BL could be the most inspired to date as you will find one army of headbangers that have their eyes covered and sport an almost Neanderthal-like appearance, as well as an army of Goths that carry shovels and vomit rats as their attacks. I absolutely love the enemy designs as well as the level layouts. Some of the areas are so well detailed and constructed they feel pulled straight out of a big-budget animated film, albeit an extremely gory animated film. There are some glitches here and there and the frame rate is known to dip, but for the most part the game retains the aesthetic appeal.
Now for my list of complaints, first up is the lack of direction. The map system works well enough, and events can be highlighted by a giant beacon of light, but oftentimes I found myself driving into a bottomless pit as I attempted to drive towards the light. Let that be a lesson to you. Next up not being able to jump will present itself whenever you get stuck into a tight area. Another gripe is that whenever a cut scene is over or I finish a mission, I have to summon the Duece again, even if I was driving it in the mission. Some of these complaints can be overcome with patience and practice, but it feels almost like the team at Double Fine knew their game was directed at a hardcore audience, so they decided to omit some of the basic instructional features and functions.
In one of the most surprising features on the back of the box, the game does have multi-player. As you can imagine it is focused around the RTS elements, and there are three different factions to choose from. All of what you have learned in single player is crucial as there is no tutorial. Also I recommend refraining from opening the menu until you beat the game as some spoilers may be ruined before you would like. As far as performance goes the game runs smooth and is actually a lot of fun. The amount of depth that each faction carries is deep, so expect a lot of trial and error. The online is a nice diversion, but don’t expect it to be anything more than that. Overall it adds to an already impressive package, and should definitely not be overlooked.
Brütal Legend is a fantastic game that mixes three different genres into one cohesive experience. Lack of tutorials in some areas and a poor navigation system are the biggest deterrents, but they are certainly not game breaking. If you are fan of Schafer and his team at Double Fine’s previous works, you will no doubt find plenty to enjoy here. The side missions may be repetitive, but the story is interesting, the characters are great, and the atmosphere is encompassing. Brütal Legend is definitely one of the better games I have played this year, and I look forward to seeing what the guys at Double Fine come up with next.