I like to Move it Move it!

51BnFAf-WlL._SX385_A lot of gamers, myself included, have a dim view of motion controls in gaming, and with good reason. The Nintendo Wii shipped with Wii Sports and those games were pretty fun for a while, but the motions needed were very artificial. Sure people did Wii Bowling by stepping up as if they were at a bowling alley, but you could also just pivot the WiiMote with your wrist and accomplish the same thing.

Still Wii Sports was fun, but what followed were all kinds of crappy shovel-ware games that relied on just ‘waggling’ the remote in a way sure to give you carpal tunnel. Most of us moved past the Wii motion controls pretty quickly.

Microsoft’s answer to the Wii is the Kinect. The problem with it, for many of us, is that it requires way too much empty space in front of the TV. (The new Kinect shipping with Xbox One is supposed to address that problem.) If there are great Kinect games I don’t know anything about them because I never had room to get the Kinect working properly. I’d appreciate comments sharing the best Kinect games, though.

Sony has the Move for the PS3, a lighted ball on a stick that, upon being announced, was immediately ridiculed for looking like some kind of weird sex toy (to some people) or at the very least just looking like a toy. The Move works a lot like the Nintendo Wii only with more fidelity. It uses a camera instead of a sensor bar, though.

This year’s E3 has reinvigorated my love of consoles and it has me revisiting some old titles that I played lightly if at all. In the midst of this I decided to give my Move controllers another spin. I mean, I’ve used them in games like The Unfinished Swan recently…games like this use the Move almost like a mouse pointer (and it works pretty well like that). But I wanted to revisit “motion controlled” games.

I’ve been messing around with Sports Champions and the demo for Sports Champions 2 and I have to say, I’d forgotten how well the Move actually works for sports-y games. I’ve played the tennis game on the SC2 demo and a lot of Frisbee Golf in SC1. Both ‘feel’ natural to me. Frisbee Golf in particular…there’s a HUD on screen to help judge how far you’re going to throw, but I don’t need it or pay attention to it. I’ve flung enough Frisbees to know how to throw one soft or hard and the Move translates my ‘natural Frisbee skills’ to the game very nicely.

But the game that really knocks me off my feet is Gladiator Duel. In this one you’re armed with melee weapon and shield, and ideally you play it with 2 Move controllers. One is your shield and the other your melee weapon. This is pretty much the coolest fighting game experience I’ve ever had. You hold up your shield arm and swing it to block attacks while your weapon arm is drawn back, looking for an opening. When you see one, you take your shot. You can do a quick swing for a low power hit to keep the opponent off guard, or you can really haul back and swing as hard as you can…assuming he doesn’t block that can knock him sprawling. And that’s the central game play.

There are some ‘tricks’ to learn. Holding the T button and shoving your shield fowards results in a shield bash, for instance, and when your opponent is on his back, shoving both Moves into the air triggers a scripted jump attack that can do serious damage before he gets up. Worst is the Super Attack mechanic where you fill a gauge by blocking and when you do, hit X and land a blow to do a Super Attack where you have to follow indicators on-screen to do big bonus damage. It’s the Move equivalent of a QTE and it feels cheap.

And the game isn’t perfect… every so often it’ll think your weapon isn’t where you think it is and things get confused. But when it’s working… when you’re standing in your living room in a gentle crouch, left arm holding up your shield while you probe for weaknesees in your opponent’s defense…it can feel pretty damned magical. And it feels even better when you finally land a crushing blow on your opponent’s shield and you shatter it, leaving him or her defenseless.

So I think there’s actually hope for motion controls in a certain context. Or there would be if enough gamers were interested to support this style of game. I’m not sure Sony sold very many Move controllers. We’ll see how Kinect 2 works but somehow I feel better holding something (plus you have button to help supplement the motion controls.. in Gladiator Duel holding a certain button and flicking the control causes you do dodge to one side, for instance).

I’d be playing a lot more Sports Champions except for 2 issues. First is I’m so out of shape that I end up sweating and tired after half an hour or so (of Gladiators and Tennis anyway… Frisbee Golf is pretty mellow). Second, for some reason the dog is TERRIFIED of the Move. Whenever she sees me flailing around with those controllers she runs and hides and when I go find her she is shaking like a leaf! So I have to pick my play times carefully..when she’s on a walk with Angela or is off sleeping in her bed or something. LOL

King Julian

Move over ModNationRacers. LittleBigPlanet Karting is coming

So this is confusing to me.

Over at the Playstation Blog, Sony and Media Molecule have announced LittleBigPlanet Karting. Yup, it’s time to put Sackboy into a go-kart, and of course the game lets you customize karts, create tracks and all that jazz.

But…isn’t that what Mod Nation Racers is all about?

Does the Playstation ecosystem really need two “Play, Create and Share” karting titles?

It does look a bit more flexible than MNR (the tools I mean, and I base that on some of the 2D levels we see in that video) and we can hope that load times are a little better, but I can’t help but think the MNR creators are going to feel vaguely betrayed. [Edit: I think I should clarify that I’m referring to the fans who’ve spent so much time learning to create awesome tracks in MNR, not the actual developers of the game, who’re actually working on LBP-K.] I’m not one of them, so maybe I’m just projecting.

Bitch of it is…I’ll dutifully go out and buy LittleBigPlanet Karting when it releases. I cannot resist the Cute of Sackboy.

Starhawk [PS3] offers Dual Log-In. Is this a first?

Sony just put up a new Starhawk post on the Playstation Blog that talks about the ways of playing Starhawk with other people. The game had a split-screen option that lets each player log into his or her Playstation account:

Dual Log-In: Yes, two players can sign into on one PS3. You can sign in using your PSN ID on the same machine and retain the XP you earn at your friend�s house. And you can still take that hard-earned XP home with you and apply it to your character there. Although, if you�re Player Two, you can�t earn Trophies or character customizations (outfits, paint jobs, decals) as these are saved directly to the PS3. It�s not perfect, but it�s way better than Warhawk where Player Two couldn�t level up at all. You can play Co-op off-line as well, but no stats get recorded.

This is the first time I’ve heard of a game letting players log into two accounts on one console, but then I don’t follow multiplayer that much. So my title isn’t rhetorical: does anyone know if this is a first?

Also kind of refreshing to read “It’s not perfect…” in a post like this. Honesty…what a refreshing concept!

Journey [PS3]

I finished Journey last night. It sounds kind of funny to say that, as if it were some kind of accomplishment when it really isn’t. Journey is a very short, very easy game. I think my playthrough was about 3 hours. Certainly not more than 4, and I finished the game in 2 play sessions. Finished it, but not finished with it. It’s short enough that I’ll probably play through it at least one more time.

The contrarian in me didn’t want to like Journey. When it first came out the gaming blogs seemed full of gushing praise for the game. No game is that good, right? I tried it, thought it was OK, but then I put it down for a couple of weeks. I’m glad I did because when I returned to it last night it was as if I’d cleared my pallette and was approaching it fresh. And last night, I loved it.

The mechanics of Journey are so simple that it’s almost not even a game. You need to travel from point A to point B, running, sometimes jumping…and that’s about it. Your other control is a kind of “pulse” that you use to activate things. As you travel you’ll pick up emblems that add a scarf, or a scroll, to your character. Maybe its a scroll that looks like a scarf. I dunno. There’s definitely a paper motif going on. Every emblem you find adds to the length of your scarf, and your scarf holds energy you use for jumping. So the longer the scarf the farther you can jump. You replentish your jump juice by moving close to various paper creatures.

It’s all kind of soothing and relaxing, at least at the start. There’s some basic platforming to do, areas where you’ll essentially snowboard down sand dunes and sections where there’s almost a liquid feel to the air. It’s fun and it’s pretty and it’s very obvious this is the same company that made Flower.

What makes the game really interesting is the addition of a 2nd player. While (I think) you can turn off multiplayer, the default Journey experience has you paired with another player. This other player (always just one) looks exactly like you. There’s no character customization and no name. There’s no chat interface and no collision detection between the two characters. In fact the only way the two characters ‘physically’ interact is that when they come together they charge each other’s jump juice. The only way to ‘communicate’ (and I use the term loosely) is to fire off your ‘pulse’. I suppose if you wanted to get hardcore you could communicate via Morse Code!

What amazed me was how positive the experience of sharing the Journey with another player was. It turns out if a person can’t grief you and can’t talk, they’re actually good company! My first session was when the game was new and the other player(s) and I tended to trade off leading and following. Last night I encountered someone who was clearly experienced with the sections we were playing through. S/he was very patient, waiting for me at each step of the voyage, sending out pulses so I could see where s/he went. Even when I fell from a very high place and had to spend a good 5 minutes working my way back up to where I had been before my fall, my companion waited.

I was touched and grateful that some complete stranger would be so kind to me. That feeling, more than anything else, is what I took away from playing Journey. It isn’t like you gain points or karma or experience for helping another player (though there is a Trophy for playing through a majority of the game with the same partner) it was a person being nice to another person.

But my biggest surprise? Once you complete the game (and I found the ending rather moving, personally) you are told who you’d been partnered with. Turns out I’d had 8 different partners along the way and their PSN names surprised me. Some of them were exactly the kinds of names that I’d normally avoid/disregard if I encountered them in a lobby. From memory there were names like xXDirgeXx and KleenexUser, for example. What’s in a name? I guess not much. I felt a little ashamed of myself, knowing that I probably would’ve avoided interacting with these players had I been able to see their names. This made me realize how petty and prejudicial I am when it comes to gamertags, PSN names and character names in games. Interacting with these players had been a very positive experience for me in Journey; I would’ve cut myself off from that experience due to my own small-mindedness had I seen their PSN names ahead of time.

It’s not often that a videogame can cause you to take a long hard look at yourself. For me at least, Journey held up a mirror and showed me something about myself that I didn’t like. That’s quite a feat. I’m sure not everyone will have this kind of epiphany due to playing the game, of course, but as a worst case you’ll get to experience a beautiful, mystical world. Recommended, with the one caveat that it is very short for a $15 game. I found it absolutely worth it but if money is real tight you may want to wait for a sale or a price reduction.

Two nights with Dungeon Hunter: Alliance (PS3)

Gameloft’s Dungeon Hunter: Alliance hit the Playstation Store on Tuesday. It was exactly the kind of game I needed. I’ve been really itching for an action-RPG dungeon crawler and although a bunch are headed our way (Daggerdale, LOTR: War in the North, Hunted: The Demon’s Forge and Dungeon Siege III, all off the top of my head) none of them are here now, when I needed them!

It didn’t hurt that Dungeon Hunter: Alliance cost me less than $10 ($12.99 for plebes, $9.74 for us elite Playstation Plus members).

I played for a few hours Tuesday night, single player using a traditional PS3 controller. Then on Wednesday Angela and I did some couch co-op using a pair of Playstation Move controllers. Here’re my thoughts so far.

Let’s start with what DH:A isn’t.

First of all, it isn’t a $60 game so I didn’t have $60 worth of expectations. I was looking for a few nights of amusement and that’s what I got.

Second, it isn’t customizable. You pick a class (Mage, Warrior, Rogue) and you get a character. You can name your character (they’re all male) and then you’re done customizing.

Third, it isn’t fast loading. Level loading takes forever, but once you get into a dungeon you can play for a long time without another loading screen. Early on there’re a few of them and they can make a bad first impression. I don’t mind a long loading screen if it comes once an hour, but when they come 5 minutes apart they can really put you off.

Fourth, it isn’t original. It’s a port of a Gameloft mobile title (Dungeon Hunter) that I played a bit of on the iPad. The story, such that it is, seems the same, the dungeons seem to be the same. And frankly, the original wasn’t very original to begin with. It’s all familiar terrain to anyone who has played Diablo or any other hack & slash 3rd person isometric dungeon crawler. That doesn’t mean it isn’t fun, though.

The worst aspect of it being a port is the inventory system, which must’ve been designed for iPhones or other tiny screens. Instead of a “Paperdoll” and a backpack, the inventory system here shows you each “slot” as a separate screen. So there’s a Left Hand screen and a Right Hand screen and a Chest screen and a Gloves screen, etc, etc. Each of these screens shows the inventory items you have that go with that slot. It all works, but it can be kind of tedious flipping through all these screens. It is, however, quite compact so probably worked well on a phone’s screen. But my 52″ TV isn’t a phone and a new inventory system would’ve been welcome. Happily there’s an “Auto-Equip” feature that will choose the ‘best’ bit of gear for each slot, if you don’t want to be bothered.

So that’s my grumping out of the way.

On the first night, as I said, I played alone. Using the Dual-Shock controller means you have direct control over your character. I picked a Warrior and with almost no thought started playing. That’s one of the upsides of it being not-original: you already know how to play this game. As I leveled up I put points in Strength since I was a Warrior (Rogues get Dex, Mages gets Energry, then there’s a Vitality or Endurance or something that gives you hit points). Most of your gear is class-limited via these stats. So it isn’t that a Mage can’t use a big-assed 2-handed axe, but in order to do so he’d have to put a lot of points into Strength that he’d probably really need in Energy.

DH:A has a gear and stat system that we don’t see often enough, and I’m going to illustrate it with an example. Say you’re a warrior who wants to use a bow as a backup weapon, but the bow requires 12 dex and you only have 10 dex. Since this is a backup weapon you don’t want to spend attribute points on dex. If you can find a pair of +1 dex rings and put them on, you’ll have your 12 dex and you can then equip your bow. Once the bow is equipped, you can swap out those rings for more appropriate Warrior-type rings (strength or extra HP or whatever). You can still use the bow, as long as you never unequip it. This sounds subtle but as anyone who played Anarchy Online can tell you, it adds a neat dimension to gear collecting.

The graphics are cartoon-ish rather than realistic, but I really like them. My Warrior’s sword swinging animation felt right. I could see how heavy that two-handed sword was. The controls can feel a little laggy at times but they still feel right. You need to get a kind of cadence going with your melee attacks. I’m not sure if this lag is by design or not, frankly, but I feel like it really adds to the game. As an enemy charges you, you need to anticipate by a heartbeat and get that big iron swinging at the baddie ahead of time. The first levels have you fighting goblins and you’ll seem them climbing down chains that hang over head or scaling up walls from some undetermined pit that you’ll never visit. You can’t hit them until they’re on the floor, but you can wind-up to meet them with cold steel the second they get there. There’s no blood or gore but melee combat still felt satisfying. [Update: Doh! I was playing tonight and realized there *is* blood but it fades away very quickly.]

In addition to stat points, you get skill points as you level up. You spend these in a fairly typical skill tree manner. You assign these skills to the face buttons and I’m not sure what happens when you get more than three (a basic attack and a skill for each of the other 3 buttons). By the end of the night I had a strong attack, a sweeping attack that knocked back a bunch of baddies, and a charge attack.

You also get a fairy companion who has an attack of her own. That gives everyone some magic. Her attack has a fairly long cooldown so its kind of your “Oh shit!” action.

Potions restore both health and mana and are bound to one of the shoulder buttons. You have have 2 sets of weapons and toggle between them via another shoulder button.

Let me cut this short (?) and say the damned game had me up until 12:30am that first night. I was very pleasantly surprised.

On to night 2. Playing co-op and with the Move controller felt like a totally different game. I chose a Rogue and she a Mage. Playing co-op wasn’t as immersive for me, but it was a ton of fun in a different way. Loot (did I mention loot? There’s a ton of loot in this game) is color-coded to let you know who can pick up what. Coins are a free for all and I’m not sure if they were split or not. You can trade loot back and forth. We probably should’ve had a tank since the game scales difficulty according to the number of players and we were both kind of squishy.

Using the Move controller is similar to using a mouse. You kind of point and click to move. There’re all kinds of gesture controls, like twisting the Move will switch between weapon sets, and shaking it will trigger your fairy’s attack. Angela picked up on it really quickly but I must confess I found myself struggling with it. I *think* that you can mix and match controllers though, so if we play again I’ll use the Dual Shock and let her enjoy the Move controls.

We got to the final boss of the first big quest line and wiped 3 or 4 times before we packed it in for the night. My solo Warrior took this guy down on the first try. I’ll have to play more to see if this was about class, about numbers of players, or about me sucking with the Move controller!! 🙂

For $10-$13, I’m finding this to be an awesome value. In fact I feel like I’ve already got my money’s worth out of it, and Angela claims she had fun. (I’m constantly trying to get her to play games with me on the PS3!) As long as you come into it with reasonable expectations (and a bagful of patience for when dealing with the inventory screen) I’d say this one is well worth the cost of entry.

Playstation Move in this month’s Qore

In the run-up to E3 I was pretty excited to see what Sony was going to show with regard to Move, their new Wii-like motion controller.

At the end of E3 I was asking myself “Why was I ever excited about that product?” The offers on display were pretty mediocre. There was that Sorcery game which looked fun, and the possibility of playing Socom with it, but most of the rest of the stuff just looked like higher res Wii games.

Then this month’s Qore came out and I remembered why I’d been excited. Move at E3 2009 was more interesting than Move at E3 2010 (and I’d honestly say the same for Microsoft’s Natal/Kinect). The July Qore has the same boring games on display, but then a series of tech demos which we (or at least I) haven’t seen since E3 2009. They have me interested in the potential (at least) of Move again. Whether any game developers ever use that potential is a very big question.

As a worst, and most likely, case most gamers, having seen the dull E3 2010 coverage of Move, will stay away from it in droves, and so developers will see no reason to support it, and it’ll end up another withered branch of the Playstation tree.

But before I gave up on Move entirely, I wanted to share these videos. (We’ll see how long they stay on YouTube before Sony has them removed.) In video 1, skip to the 5 minute mark if you’re not interested in seeing Veronica Belmont spew happy marketing-speak about the Move. The rest of video 1 and first half of video 2 are kind of interesting Move tech demos. The 2nd half of video two is a developer visit with the people making Move Sports or whatever their Wii sports clone is called.

A lot of this stuff boils down to using Move as a 3D mouse, really. I just think about the potential for using it in strategy games or RPGs, rather than silly Wii Sports wannabe titles.

Sony gets down and dirty

This made me chuckle.

Look, I know there was immediate internet hate directed at Sony when they announced the Move. *waves hand dismissively* Whatever dudes, let’s wait until we see release hardware and software before we decide. I’m not a huge fan of “waggle” gameplay, but I am a huge fan of “pointing” gameplay and split controllers. Playing point and click-ish games on the Wii, stuff like Harvest Moon, is really comfortable for me. So I’ll probably at least give Move a try.

Anyway, didn’t mean to go on about it. I’m just loving Sony’s marketing department these days. Remember the creepy crying baby and stuff that we used to get for ads? Kevin Butler is so much simpler, more entertaining and, I think, effective.

3D Dot Game Heroes (PS3)

Playstation blog has a post up with a couple of videos of this retro celebratory May 11th release. “All your childhood on a single disk.” as Atlus’s Aram Jabbari says. Well, he says something close to that anyway.

I love Atlus PR’s sense of humor. Heck I just kinda love Atlus all-around.

The video focuses on gameplay, but you need to read an earlier post on how the game lets you heavily customize the hero you play as.

It’s all about the retro, including the price, thankfully ($40). I’m looking forward to playing this one.

Heavy Rain (spoiler-free)

I just finished my first play-through of Heavy Rain and wanted to capture some thoughts while they were still fresh in my mind.

My inner cynic really wants to tear the game apart. The controls are clunky in that survival-horror kind of way (not that the game is survival horror, mind you). Walking a character around can be really cumbersome, the mostly-fixed cameras (somethings you can pan a bit, and there’s always an alternate views) can make navigating even an open space tricky (particularly when the camera view changes unexpectedly, leading to disorientation) and OMG six-axis controls FTL. I hate it when a game makes me tilt, shake or yank my controller around. In general, the mechanics of the game are kind of janky.

And had I written about the game after the first 30 minutes I wouldn’t have had a thing good to say about it. And y’know, I still don’t have much good to say about Heavy Rain, the Game. But I *loved* Heavy Rain, the Experience.

Quantic Dream has really nailed graphical interactive fiction in this product. The varied pacing can frustrate you in a good way. The first hour or two is actually pretty slow but then there’s a payoff. And that happens throughout the game. Deep into the plotline you’ll have to do some really mundane action that’ll be ‘boring.’ That’s kind of unheard of in a game where the intensity generally ramps up from start to end. But in a movie or a book, having quiet times in between high action points is basic plot development 101, and it works well here.

There’s something about the way they make you hit QTEs that really makes the whole story compelling. For example, I tend to semi-recline a lot while I’m playing a video game. And I did so in some parts of Heavy Rain but when the tension mounted I had to sit up to be ready to shake my controller around. I know that sounds dumb and/or annoying but it really added to the feel of the game. I was leaning forward, attentive, a bit tense, waiting to do whatever I had to do, and that make the whole experience feel different.

So it’s definitely a game that’s worth a play-through. But what about replayability? I definitely plan to play through it again, though not right away. I’m both interested to see what will change if I make different decisions, but also hesitant about how engaged I’ll be by making them. In my first play through I made the decisions that I felt were correct. To go through again and make different ones might weaken my connection to the narrative in that I’m doing things I don’t really believe in. We’ll see what happens when the time comes. I won’t be replaying it soon. Like a book or a movie, I’ll put it on the shelf to enjoy again sometime in the future after my memory of events have faded a bit.

I got up at 7:30 am on a Sunday to jump back into Heavy Rain. I can’t remember the last time a product had engaged me on that level. And after I finished, I just had to sit and think about it for a while. I had to ponder what I’d just experienced. Again, that’s a rare feeling.

Heavy Rain isn’t perfect; there were some plot connections that didn’t make sense (a few times a character referred to another character that, insofar as I know, s/he’d never met…maybe a branch of storyline I somehow skipped?) and the controls were frustrating at times. If the story had been in a movie it wouldn’t have been *that* special (and in fact someone just snapped up the movie rights to the game). But your interaction with the story gives it more power than it would have as a passive experience. There are decisions you have to make that are…disturbing, and you don’t have a lot of time to make them.

In spite of the flaws, Quantic Dream has created something pretty special here. If you decide to play it, just go with it. Set your skepticism and cynicism aside and just experience the ride. I think you’ll really enjoy it. I know I did.

Brutal Legend Single Player review

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.