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Classic heavy metal fans, your game has arrived.
How many roadies does it take to put on the greatest tour of all time? Only one if your name happens to be Eddie Riggs.
Tim Schafer’s offbeat imagination has given players some of the most unique experiences in gaming over the last two decades whether it is in guiding the dead through a noir-flavored afterlife or burning up the highways in a world ruled by road hogs. Now, he and his crew at Double Fine have come up with the ultimate roadshow where the metal gods live and their music can bring down burning zeppelins to smite the enemy in Brutal Legend.
Ever since I had first heard about this game, I had been waiting for its fan fueled tribute to heavy metal to finally come out and play. It almost didn’t at one point until EA picked it up after Activision had tossed it aside, but with EA’s belief in the property and Double Fine’s perseverance, Brutal Legend is finally ready to melt everyone’s faces.
The menu sequence alone is only the tip of this slam dancing iceberg as Jack Black takes us into the backroom of an unassuming record store, there to witness the greatest album cover of all time right before dumping us into the world of his alter ego…Eddie Riggs. As a seasoned roadie, Eddie has seen metal at the height of its powers only to watch it mauled by the latest boy band to cry about their girlfriend onstage. An onstage accident, the arrival of a fiery god, and a bloody belt buckle later, and Eddie finds himself in a land where every album cover that he may have been behind has come to life.
Eddie Riggs. Roadie, reluctant hero, and one hell of a guitar player.
The menus aren’t the only thing eye-catching about the title as Brutal Legend’s creativity immerses both the language and gore options into the gameplay by unexpectedly asking the player during a cinematic about how they feel about seeing every drop of pus. Do you want to play the game and hear it *BLEEPING* out every vulgar word, or have every drop of naughty gore blacked out? It’ll do both if you want to.
After that, the game takes off as Eddie finds himself with a guitar in hand and a massive axe in another as he takes on the role of an unexpected frontman in helping the chain spike and black mascara wearing rebels free themselves from the clutches of the demonic Emperor Doviculus.
Storywise, Schafer and the artists at Double Fine have fused the mosh pit mythology of heavy metal and rock with plenty of comedic touches…such as a big haired, tiger striped pants wearing villain named Lionwhyte. Seriously. Think about that one for a bit.
The language of heavy metal mania and rock are spoken with every stylized pixel. The expressive faces of its caricatured characters to the spot on voice acting from Jack Black, Ozzie Osbourne, and even Tim Curry who delivers the Demon Emperor Doviculus’ monologues as only someone with experience as a Dark Lord can, have managed to bring out a game paying homage to the glory days of metal by turning it into a boisterous party of blood and steel that might never end. There are a few holes in the plot that are a little jarring or make little sense, but the characters and the dialogue easily make up for these.
Brutal Legend also comes with what some older players might take to be one of the greatest soundtracks ever compiled for a game, steeped in old-school sounds that act as a siren’s call to many of the genre’s greatest hits. Slayer, Megadeth, Judas Priest, Motorhead, Lita Ford, Dragonforce, and many others crammed into Brutal Legend’s holy land of rock have lent their tracks to the game, some of these buried in the very landscape like sacred relics long forgotten.
The guys behind Eddie are true headbangers. In fact, that’s how they beat down their enemies…by headbanging them…TO DEATH!!!
But how does it play? As a third person action adventure, it’s a solid game, and I wish it had stuck to that.
Its heavy metal inspired world has been appropriately tailored to take full advantage of its leather clad and steel-stringed badassery. Eddie isn’t defenseless for long as he quickly comes into the possession of a giant, upgradeable, battle axe and an actual axe whose music can literally rain lightning and fire down upon his foes in combination with its bladed peer. And as the ultimate roadie, he can make something out of anything to keep the show moving forward by building himself a car that he lovingly calls the Druid Plow, or the “Deuce”, which can also be summoned on the fly for those long trips across the battered landscape.
Eddie can’t jump (unless it happens to be part of an axe attack) which is always annoying to see omitted in a game like this, nor can he swim, and the world of Brutal Legend is every bit as brutal as it sounds. There are no edge guides here to keep careless drivers from accidentally veering off into deep chasms, but the title treats death as more of a temporary inconvenience than anything else. Dying spawns you at the nearest finished quest location or saved spot, but it’s not much of a penalty and wannabe rockers will soon be back to rain blood on their enemies.
Hot chicks, heavy metal, and gratuitous violence. It’s just like being at an actual concert! Only without the metal detectors. Oh yeah, and Lita Ford is in the game.
Aside from the main quest, there are a variety of side jobs that Eddie can take advantage of such as racing the Deuce to delivering kegs of beer to a beach party to build up his collection of fan points. Fan points can be traded in for upgrades that unlock themselves over the course of the game thanks to Ozzie as the Guardian of Metal.
These goodies include armor for the Deuce, strings for Eddie’s guitar to enhance its powers, or treatments for his axe to help keep the goths from crowding his stage by making it easier to turn them into sausages. Chasing after points and tooling out Eddie’s arsenal is about as much fun as following the main quest, rewarding players that want to take a break from saving the world and want to do a little sightseeing instead.
There are also plenty of hidden extras buried throughout the game, most especially the solos that Eddie can belt out like magic as long as the player can match the buttons onscreen in a short rhythm game. With these, Eddie can raise ancient ruins from the ground to summoning a burning zeppeling to crash down and lay waste to all who oppose his awesomeness. The more powerful the “spell”, the longer the rhythm solos that players will need to keep up with to trigger it, but the results are almost always worth it. The action doesn’t stop while Eddie is playing, either, so timing your solos with the onscreen action can often keep him from making it his last performance during a mission.
Eddie can often link up with his allies to help crush his foes by using their special abilities, such as riding on these speakers or having a razorgirl ride on his shoulders. As for these, lead them to a merchant booth or an enemy stage and watch them destroy both with epic feedback. FEEDBAAAAAAAACK!!!!
But as fun as the basic adventure elements are, the RTS minigames that stand out like the crusty sores of calloused fingers are far less enjoyable. Asking players to wear a general’s hat in a game that has had them racing, slashing, and blasting enemies and bosses into fiery chunks in third person is about as jarring as asking GOW’s Kratos or DMC’s Dante to play a game of Command and Conquer in the jungle.
At certain points, big battles force Eddie’s crew and the enemy hordes into massive, grinding melees. Eddie, thanks to wings that now sprout from his back, can fly over the battlefield and direct his allies to harness fan geysers with merchant booths to buy more units and eventually send them over to destroy enemy booths, defend what he has, or destroy their stage to win the match. As the game goes on, more and more units become available including powerful vehicles. Dying isn’t the end in these battles as the spirits of fans pull Eddie back to life, but at the same time, it also awards the enemy with additional energy giving death a little more meaning here.
This is Tim Curry as Doviculus. His demonic laugh is the stuff baby nightmares are made of.
To anyone that has played an RTS, much of this will be familiar stuff. Pop caps need to be watched, resource allocation is required waiting, squad mixes depend on the job at hand, and watching your own HQ are only a few of the key considerations to make. Unfortunately, for anyone that has had more than a passing experience with an RTS on the Xbox or the PC, Brutal Legend’s interpretation is an aggravating pain to work with. You’re just kind of thrown into it and if there was a way to repair structures, I must have missed that lesson.
Giving orders isn’t as simple as drawing boxes over your units and then sending them forth. Eddie has to fly over each army and give them the orders once he has marked wherever he wants them to go. Sending individual unit types and squads requires you to mark the target, swoop down to the units you want, holding the “Y” button to pick them, and then hitting ‘right’ on the D-pad to execute the order. You can’t simply separate and create specialist squads and with everything kind of spawning together in a clump, it can be tricky getting the units you want out from the rest while the AI relentlessly pushes forward.
Eddie’s ride can be tricked out with weapons, armor, and nitrous. For example, Bolt Throwers allow the Deuce to shoot lightning. ODINNNNNN!!!!!!!
Doing this piecemeal felt too much like a chore, so I ended up with simply building large squads with a heavy mix and just using those. Most of the time, that’s all that’s really needed. But until you figure out what you should be doing, don’t be surprised in spending twenty or thirty minutes on a single fight in the later game as the AI starts sending in waves of enemies and aggressively begins building merchant booths to check your progress.
Failure restarts the whole battle. There is no “skip” option and more than anything else, felt as if these battles slammed the brakes on the otherwise smooth pacing of the rest of the production. Asking gamers that may never have gotten into RTS titles in the first place to do so in the middle of an adventure game just felt wrong.
Finishing the campaign on its normal difficulty won’t take much time, either, which is somewhat surprising for an open-world title like this, clocking in at less than ten or so hours of play with a few more on top of that in case players take the time to find every Legend marker, dragon statue, solo, and landmark view in the game. The bosses aren’t particularly tough, many of the missions can only take a few minutes to plow through, and there really isn’t that much of a variety of side jobs to get into. Once you’ve seen one ambush, you’ve pretty much seen them all creating a bit of repetition.
As the Guardian of Metal, Ozzy will hook Eddie up with everything he needs to eviscerate, burn, electrify, and run over his big haired, glam rock and graveyard goth foes.
At the end, the game allows you to explore the world and tie up any loose ends that might still be around and the climactic finish is worth working through the annoying RTS mini-games. And just as the menu pushes the creative envelope, so do the credits which actually run like film credits without listing everyone in obnoxiously long single columns that more than a few games tend to do. Thank you, Double Fine, for making your credits fun to read and watch.
Multiplayer, which takes the form of the stage battle RTS game, is also available, but it’s pretty thin without a lobby to pick through games and only automatic matching pitting you against whoever. It does have strong support for friends and invites, I didn’t encounter any noticeable lag, and you can play the AI to practice your skills before heading into the world. If you’re not a fan of the RTS elements of Brutal Legend, though, you might not care anyway.
Only in Brutal Legend can big hair, mullets, chrome spikes, and headbanging celebrate a brash world where the metal gods have left their mark and the wattage can strip the skin from the bones of raging goths filled with black tears. If you love the bands on this label, it’s even easier to like the game. But even though it’s not a perfect set thanks to a few sour notes, as a living album cover backed with plenty of axe swinging, guitar slaying gameplay, players with a little metal in their blood could find it to be as unforgettable as a headless bat.