This afternoon I finished Brutal Legend’s single player campaign, and figured that was enough to do a review.
By now you undoubtedly know the background. Tim Schafer game, voiced by Jack Black and a bunch of great heavy metal musicians. The game world is like a death metal album cover come to life, all chains and giant bones and piles of skulls.
So rule #1: If you hate metal music, stay away from this game. There’s a lot of it both in terms of actual music and in the imagery. You’re going to get sick of the game really fast if metal isn’t your thing. This is a world where wasp-waisted, large boobed blonde chicks with feathered Farrah Fawcett hair get their weapons by ripping the skull and spine out of boars with razor (literally) tusks and wheels instead of hooves. (These “razor girls” are your basic ranged troops.)
The actual gameplay consists of mediocre third person action sequences, mediocre driving sequences, and kind of annoying RTS sequences. Now that sounds pretty damning, but all these gameplay sequences work to tell a pretty interesting, well executed story.
Eddie Riggs (Jack Black) is a roadie born into the wrong time. During a stage accident, his blood drips onto a demonic belt buckle his father gave him, transporting him to a world of metal where the few remaining humans are enslaved by a demon (wonderfully voice acted by Tim Curry). Early on, Eddie encounters Ophelia (Jennifer Hale), a metal/goth chick who leads him back to a band of free humans. Eddie then finds himself helping Lars (Zach Hanks), the blond-haired, open-shirted leader of the resistance, in his fight to free his enslaved people.
Brutal Legend is an open-world game with lots of side-missions that you can take whenever you feel the need to gain a bit more power before moving the main story forward. You gain currency for completing missions and sometimes just for killing enemies in the open world (I never quite figured out what conditions were required for you to get credit for open world kills). There’s also lots of stuff to “collect” (dragon statues to unchain, relics to uncover, sights to see, and so forth). Some of these improve your character, some just unlock new songs for the stereo in your car, and some just seem to be there for the purpose of Achievements/Trophies. It can be fun just cruising around exploring the world and finding these hidden items, though.
The other way of improving your character is to head down to hell to the Motorlodge there, where Ozzie Osborne lends his voice and likeness to the God of Metal. He’ll sell you weapon and car upgrades. Some of these are ‘toggles’. So your axe can have a fire attack, or a lightning attack, or a soul sucking attack…but not more than one of these, and you have to head back underground if you want to switch from one to the other, even after you’ve purchased several.
Eddie’s axe is used for melee and Clementine, his guitar, is used for ranged attacks. There’s a bunch of combos you can unlock, but I had trouble pulling them off and wound up button-mashing through most of the game. Clementine will ‘overheat’ if you use it too much and you’ll need to let it cool off (a gimmick to keep it from being too powerful), but the 3rd person action stuff really never gets too difficult on the ‘Normal’ difficulty setting.
When it comes to driving, the “Deuce” is a pretty neat vehicle that you can upgrade to have rockets and mines and all sorts of stuff. I finished the game with basic machine guns and extra armor. Even though the Deuce looks like an open-topped coupe, it steers kind of like a tank, which makes the driving parts a bit more frustrating than they should be, but just cruising around for the hell of it, trying to jump through clouds of fireflies (for some easy $$) is pleasing enough.
After you’ve gotten a ways into the game, you end up building a stage and start to put on shows. This is the RTS portion of the game, and it is by far the weakest of the three aspects of gameplay. The stage is your headquarters, and there are ‘fan geysers’ scattered around the landscape and to draw in these fans you have to build a merch booth on top of them. Then you spend fans to build or upgrade troops. Neat motif but this is gameplay you’ve seen dozens of times. What makes it really clunky is that Eddie has to be near a squad of troops to give them orders (the exception being a “Rally to me” command that draws all troops to your present location). Eddie, after a few missions, learns to fly during these stages so you can take to the air and scoot back and forth pretty quickly, but it never felt natural to me and I always felt like I was fighting the controls. On the plus side, Eddie can (and should) mix it up with the troops to tip the scales in favor of the good guys. He can cast buffing spells or directly attack the enemy. He can even do combo attacks with every troop unit and these are often both silly and powerful.
Clearly a lot of work went into the RTS portion of the game, but I still feel that Brutal Legend would’ve been a stronger title if those resources had gone into polishing the 3rd person combat and driving sequences. What’s really curious is that the somewhat weak other two aspects would probably be fine for a casual gamer who is a fan of metal, but the RTS stuff is going to be pretty unfriendly to that same casual gamer.
In the end, I have to say I enjoyed Brutal Legend, but that was based on the devotion to the metal theme and a pretty good story. Top notch, really fun voice acting added to the experience as well. The great production value extended even to the ‘menu’ system: the game boots into a video of Jack Black escorting the player into a used record store, where he presents an album that winds up being the menu interface. Neat touch. Another feature that stands out is the hint system, where Eddie offers hints that at first aren’t even recognizable as hints, but eventually get more and more specific until he tells you exactly what to do.
But this is one of those games where you play through the missions mostly to get to the next story segment; to see what happens next. The actual gameplay is pretty forgettable, and that’s a shame because it provides very little incentive to replay. And the game is fairly short. It doesn’t track your time but it certainly wasn’t more than 10 hours and was probably closer to 8.
Multiplayer is all about the RTS game, which I found more frustrating than fun, so I can’t see doing much of that. But generally speaking I’m not very interested in competitive multiplayer games so I’d suggest you check some other reviews for opinions on the MP here.
If Double Fine had lavished the same attention to the gameplay that they did to the art and sound, this might have been a very special game. As it is, definitely worth a rental or scooping up out of the bargain bin, but not worth buying at the $60 price point. While the story doesn’t end with a cliffhanger, there are definitely some hooks there for a sequel, and I’d look forward to seeing what a second iteration of the IP played like.