Bring the Metal!
Posted 3 years ago By - Curtis McDonald
Even in Hollywood, the practice of preceding a film’s title with the name of its creator is fairly rare. Few film makers are so well known or respected that they are given this honour. In the world of video games this concept is even less known, the only real exception up until now being Sid Meier, a name generally considered synonymous with quality strategy games. Now we can add another name to that highly honoured list, and perhaps it is an honour that is long overdue but the title of the game in this review is, in full, A Tim Schaeffer Game - Brutal Legend.
Tim Schaeffer has spent years crafting (yes, crafting, not just making) high quality, story driven and entertaining games. Brutal Legend has been considered Schaeffer’s Magnum opus in that it is likely to be his, and by extension his studio, Double Fine’s most commercially successful game. This is partially in thanks to the huge advertising and marketing campaign supplied by EA, partially due to the star studded cast and lastly by the critical success of Schaeffer’s last title, Psychonauts, winner of multiple ‘Best Game Nobody Played’ awards.
Where does Brutal Legend fit into this? Is it yet another Schaeffer hit or does it’s metal fall short of epic?
Eddie Riggs is a roadie, he knows it is his job to make other people look good, and to be invisible while doing it. But during an otherwise normal show Eddie spills his own blood on his belt buckle. As it turns out, this buckle is an artefact of Ormagöden, the Fire Beast, the Cremator of the Sky. The spirit of Ormagöden is brought forth from the blood and transports Eddie to the time of Metal, a world who’s very landscape is inspired by the covers of classic heavy metal album covers. Eddie soon learns that the humans of this time are enslaved by the demon Emperor Doviculus. Eddie joins the human resistance at Bladehenge and using his unique ability to understand the language of the Titans, his axe (guitar) and his axe (big sharp double headed blade on a short pole), Eddie helps lead the resistance against Doviculus and his human minions.
The basic gameplay is that of a third-person, open world hack’n’slash adventure. You can use your battle axe to chop up baddies and use your guitar to fire them up with pyro attacks. You can also unlock powerful combos that combine both weapons. Your guitar also gives you access to solos, heavy metal riffs that can melt the faces of your enemies, call the beasts of the land to your aid or your first learned and probably most important solo, you can call the Deuce (aka the Druid Plow) to you at any time. The Deuce is your own personal Hot-rod that you’ve built with a small amount of the fire and steel of Ormagöden himself.
You accept missions from your fellow resistance fighters and these missions are fairly basic. The story missions start off strong with some great variability and include some really cool boss fights, after you have gathered the start of your resistance army the missions become more rote; stage battle, get tour bus to new location, stage battle...etc. Fortunately the story is actually quite good and the action is quite fun which helps to carry the game forward without seeming too repetitive. Exploration is also a huge part of the game as you need to explore the land to find solos, legend alters and new songs for the mouth of metal, the Deuce’s radio. You can also find side missions, like ambushes where you join a small band of resistance fighters who are ambushing a patrol, races against a demon hot-rod builder and turret battles where your car is jacked into the air on a lift and turns into a turret to stop incoming waves of baddies. All of these side missions fast become repetative but they net you Fire Tributes, gifts from the gods of metal showing their approval. The Fire Tributes are also the in-game currency that can be used to upgrade all your gear, the Deuce and learn new combos at the Motorforge.
The last major part of gameplay is the aforementioned Stage Battles. These battles place you in charge of the resistance army against an enemy general in a kind of real time strategy battle. The stage acts as your base and fan geysers are the resource that you need to tap to build new units. To do this you must build merchandise booths on top of the fan geysers, often you must send your troops to fight off a fan leech before a booth can be built. For the most part the RTS battles play out like a regular, if sparse, RTS. You need to upgrade your stage to build the better units and you can only build so many units at once. The unique part of the RTS elements of these battles is that you still have control over Eddie, and still have at your disposal all his attacks, solos and, most importantly, The Deuce. The Deuce, properly equipped can be a major deciding factor in how a battle turns out. You also have some solos that are specific to stage battles, like the block of rock, which keeps your enemy from building any units for a short time. Each one of your units can also be used in a special double team attack, like the Headbangers can form a protective mosh-pit around you or hop on the back of the Metal Beast and torch your enemies with its fire breath!
The stage battles are a very interesting twist in an otherwise uninspired open world adventure. While the mechanics are not overly complex, trying to manage your army while fighting battles and playing solos at the same time can get incredibly hectic. The tides of the battles can shift incredibly fast as well so you have to keep on your toes at all times.
Graphics and Audio
While the graphics of Brutal Legend are not necessarily the strongest part of the package, the art style is incredibly apt for the game and as such helps tie together the entire work. The characters, models and animations are all high quality, well implemented and extremely unique and despite their cartoony appearance, all of the main characters and even the back-up cast are all bursting with personality. It should also be noted that since the game is in fact meant to be humorous throughout, the high quantity of blood, gore and demon slime would probably be a major problem if the art style wasn’t so cartoony. This makes it clear that it was a style decision and not a technical limitation.
The audio department is where we really get to hear the quality in Brutal Legend, although this will strongly depend on how much you enjoy serious heavy metal music as the genre plays a key role throughout the game. While the music is not necessarily to everyone’s liking it is enough that it fits in extremely well with running style of the game and the game has surprisingly good and well stocked licensed soundtrack.
Brutal Legend also hosts one of the best casts in a game this year, including Jack Black as the leading man and Tim Curry as the main villain. Also making appearances are many Metal icons including Ozzy Osborne and Rob Halford. All of the voice actors do an incredible job and even Ozzy managed to be mostly coherent for his lines. Of course, Black and Curry are the real standouts and carry the game.
Brutal Legend also includes a multiplayer mode that allows you to partake in online stage battles, you can even team up with friends to take on opponents. This multiplayer mode coupled with a fairly large number of unlockables and collectables in the story mode mean there is some reason to come back and keep playing Brutal Legend. Although after finishing the main story, the likeyhood of the additional content keeping your interest for any real length of time is pretty slim.
Brutal Legend is likely to be a bit of a reversal from Tim Schaeffer’s previous games in that it is very likely to achieve great commercial success but probably will not garner the type of critical scores that Double Fine’s previous games managed. Brutal Legend is a solid and entertaining game with an entertaining and interesting story with some of the best audio, soundtrack, sound effects and voice acting, seen this year. Unfortunately the game itself is lacking in variety and innovation. Perhaps the massive marketing blitz provided by EA simply drove expectations to unreachable heights. Regardless, Brutal Legend is at least a must try for any fan of open world action.