Brütal Legend
Video Game Review

For the three of you out there that haven’t yet heard about Brutal Legend, here’s a quick summary. You play as Eddie Riggs (perfectly voiced by Jack Black), a heroic roadie who’s transported into a legendary World of Metal that’s like every Frank Frazetta painting, every Judas Priest album cover and every hot rod magazine come to life as one epic fantasy landscape. You’re thrust into the middle of a ongoing war between the forces of classic heavy metal – neanderthal-necked Headbangers, shotgun-toting babes, fucking Lemmy Kilmister – and armies of poodle-haired glam rockers and S&M-robed cultists. You have a badass hot rod that you use to tear across the landscape, blaring an amazing metal soundtrack that ranges from Slayer to Sabbath to Skeletonwitch (over 100 expertly chosen tracks!). And the game features the voices of metal deities like Rob Halford, Lemmy, Lita Ford and yes, Ozzy Osbourne as the Guardian of Metal.

No surprise that I have been feverishly waiting for this game ever since it was first announced. It also comes to us from the devilishly witty, brilliantly demented game designer Tim Schafer – a name that might not be familiar to you casual players, but he will be after this. Schafer’s well-known for off-kilter, hilariously inventive classic adventure games like Maniac Mansion, Grim Fandango and Full Throttle, as well as the criminally underappreciated platformer Psychonauts (play it!!). The guy is a creative inferno, and with his phenomenally talented team at Double Fine, he’s turned out what is sure to be his biggest hit, not to mention his most personal and ingenious experience yet. It’s also his most unusual and inspired game design, a hybrid of open-world adventure, hack n’ slash action, and most surprisingly, real-time strategy.

The open-world aspect is a no-brainer: a massive, go-anywhere Metal landscape, studded with belching volcanoes, gleaming chrome skulls and monstrous stone guitar megaliths. The world is gorgeously realized thanks to some truly jaw-dropping art and design, with a full day/night cycle and roving bands of spiked and Kiss-painted enemies to mow down – or to battle hand-to-hand. There are plenty of open-world activities and secrets to hunt for – gigantic buried metal relics to raise with your mystical guitar (more on that in a bit), beer runs to make, ball-gagged serpent statues to free, even a fascinating legend (of the Fire Beast Ormagöden and the birth of this metal universe) to piece together, bit by bit. It’s all stunningly immersive, and exploring the world in your Deuce hot rod (fully customizable with everything from machine guns to souped-up engine blocks) while blasting Judas Priest has to be one of the most uniquely satisfying gaming experiences that any self-respecting metal fan will ever have.

Action is bloody and well, brutal, as Eddie is not only armed with a huge axe, but also a mystically-charged Flying V named Clementine that you use to string together all sorts of fiery combo attacks. You can also plant your feet, raise your guitar to the heavens and crank out Solo spells that summon your sweet, sweet ride, raise buried monoliths and melt the faces of your attackers. And as you build up your Metal army throughout the adventure, you can team up with any of your allies to launch even more destructive Double Team combo attacks. If you’re looking for tons of ways to kill hair-sprayed glam rock assholes (or giant bosses) while “Am I Evil?” blares in the background, you’ve got plenty of options.

Now, Schafer and his team could have stopped there and just delivered an open-world hack n’ slash adventure – basically GTA meets God of War – and that would have been just fine. But they pushed it much, much further, folding in a fast-paced real-time-strategy game that unfolds on giant battlefields themed like epic rock concerts. You’ll summon squads of headbanger infantry, chick rocker long-range attackers and more, then command them to follow you into battle, attack the enemy, or defend the giant merch-booth towers that house glowing geysers of spectral fans. If this all sounds deliriously bizarre, it is, but it’s also a very clever way to take the basic elements of the genre – resources, troop classes, commands – and frame them in a way that not only fits the metal world, but also makes each function instantly recognizable to veterans and noobs alike.

To be honest, I’m not the biggest RTS fan, and so there’s definitely going to be a learning curve if you’re not accustomed to this style of battle. It’s all a bit chaotic at first – especially given that it can become difficult to distinguish your troops from enemy attackers (something that could have been assisted by more on-field UI indicators, though I’m guessing they were left out for cleanliness’ sake). However, where conventional RTS games handle gameplay via a removed perspective above the battle, you’re free to run Eddie around in the thick of it, firing off strategic commands and then turning to join the melee with all of the axe attacks, combos and Double Team mayhem at your disposal. That alone makes this a much more visceral and satisfying experience. There’s even a robust multiplayer RTS mode that accompanies the lengthy single-player adventure, where you’ll take all of your epic metal battles and make them even more… epic. Definitely a lot of bang for your buck here.

And of course, being that this is a Tim Schafer title, story is king. Beautifully realized cut scenes, spot-on vocal performances (if you’re still bitching about Jack Black, just play the game and then have a nice cold bottle of STFU), and oh yeah, it’s funny. Laugh out loud funny. It also has one of the best intro sequences and front-end menus ever. Top-notch production and presentation all the way – this game had a shit-ton of money poured into it, and it shows.

Basically, Brutal Legend is a metalhead’s dream come true – especially you old-school guys. Thanks to a huge marketing push from EA, I sincerely hope Brutal Legend does well with mass-market audiences, even if they can’t tell Saxon from Slough Feg (yes, they’re on the soundtrack too). If it does perform, I can only imagine the sequel, which has to take Eddie Riggs to the frozen northern wastelands to battle the black metal hordes. (Horgh can cameo as a giant pro wrestling troll). If you’re any kind of metal fan and you don’t pick up Brutal Legend, you might as well hang up your horns and start listening to Kabbage Boy.

Developed by Double Fine Studios http://www.doublefine.com
Published by Electronic Arts http://www.ea.com
Available for Xbox360, Playstation 3

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
October 16th, 2009

Comments

  1. Commented by: blighty

    played the demo on 360. Really liked it. When I first picked up the axe and started cleaving druids in half and “Paranoid” started playing it was hard not to smile. Sweeney is the man for sure. Between the classic lucas arts adventure games(Grim Fandango ftw) and Psychonauts(can’t believe this sold so fucking poorly. a brilliant 3d platformer) he has contributed some seriously good shit.


  2. Commented by: Shane

    Jesus Jordon. I’m surprised the page could handle all that info. LOL! Amazing review. Obviously, the right man for the job.


  3. Commented by: Staylow

    Holy shit man, nice review! I knew it would be good, detailed and well informed, but I didn’t expect all that. You just sent my anticipation to play this that much further through the roof.


  4. Commented by: gabaghoul

    cool thanks guys. that’s the type of review that’s a pleasure to write. hopefully you guys enjoy the game. I am jonesing to get in there again and just drive around and play music. it’s relaxing. unfortunately my wife is watching some shit on TLC right now.


  5. Commented by: vegard

    no review of this game will ever top this one, great work! going to download the demo


  6. Commented by: elguerosinfe

    Apparently we have the guys at Aquarius Records to thank for some of the more obscure tracks in the soundtrack. TS himself called them up for a consultation.


  7. Commented by: Nick Taxidermy

    I’m amped on this.


  8. Commented by: gabaghoul

    @ elguero – that’s pretty cool. back when I used to live in SF Aquarius didn’t have much of a metal section, at least not compared with Amoeba, who had an entire section just devoted to Black Metal. but Aquarius now comes up a bunch on searches so I guess they got on it.

    I am also impressed that EA’s marketing didn’t make them add in a bunch of crappy current Hot Topic stuff in an effort to move more copies – they shipped with the bands that properly fit the game.

    Now, when we we getting Brutal Legend Rock Band? :)


  9. Commented by: Cynicgods

    Itching to write this review, eh, Jordan? ;D . I think this might be the finest and most detailed piece of writing concerning this game I’ve ever seen. Hats off, dude. Hats off.


  10. Commented by: elguerosinfe

    Andee, one of the owners of Aquarius, also runs the label Tumult, which if you’ll remember, introduced the world to Leviathan. Those guys are true believers.


  11. Commented by: gabaghoul

    and Weakling!!!


  12. Commented by: Desperado

    Great review dude!!! I love this game, and all of Schafer’s other works. The man is a genius, and this game is great. Best Menu Evar!!!!


  13. Commented by: gabaghoul

    @ Desperado: how far are you? I generally don’t review stuff unless I go through the whole thing but in this case I was too excited.

    seems like now the farther I get into the game, the less I enjoy the RTS elements. kinda wish the game were just a straight-up action-adventure.


  14. Commented by: Apollyon

    Just finished this and got mixed reactions. I somehow think it didn’t quite go as far as it could have gone and the ending felt kind of rushed (“That’s it?”) and the whole thing with Ophelia was, well, kinda lazy.

    On the other hand, it did brought a smirk on my face quite a few times, the world was indeed entertaining and the menu is definitely one of the best things I’ve ever seen. Also thought Jack Black was quite fitting.

    The RTS elements weren’t as bad as they were made out to be and frankly, I didn’t there was too much of it at all. Most of the missions could be beat just by building a few units and rushing to the enemy’s stage right after you personally took out the initial opposition. A light, much streamlined version of the legendary Sacrifice.

    A mixed bag and I hope EA drops the soap in a prison shower for the PS3 version. Out of the box, the sound quality is horrible. They fixed it with a patch. Then they released another patch that broke it again and introduced a new game breaking bug. Double Fine finished a third patch months ago, but that hasn’t been published for reason or another. Yay! So if you’re on a PS3, be warned.


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