Brütal Legend is much more than an action game with sharp writing and a heavy metal soundtrack.
Double Fine's ability to craft a world out of the imagery of heavy metal helps the game transcend it's genre and potentially deliver an experience that will be as unique as it is memorable.
What glimpses I saw of Brütal Legend brought to mind the sort of worlds I explored in the pages of Heavy Metal magazine in the 70s. Heavy metal, the music, isn't just a cheap backdrop for this game, it's its essence.
Double Fine's Tim Schafer said that Brütal Legend came out of his desire to make a game that played off the feeling and images of heavy metal music and to create a unique fantasy world.
"I always wanted to make a fantasy world that wasn't straight up fantasy and Tolkenesque," he said.
His creation certainly fits the bill.
Game lead Eddie Riggs, voiced by Jack Black, is a roadie. The greatest roadie of all time for the worst heavy metal band of all time.
During the course of his job, Riggs manages to cut himself and spill some blood on his belt buckle, which also happens to be an evil talisman. The talisman awakens the fire beast Ormagöden and sends Riggs back in time.
When Riggs first arrives he doesn't realize he's actually gone anywhere because the new world looks just like the set of the show he was setting up. But then he's attacked and uses an axe to kill off his demonic druid attackers.
Shortly after clearing a few rooms of the druids, Riggs stumbles upon Ophelia, who is in the temple to try and take down the demons.
After taking down some more demons, and freakishly tall evil nuns, Riggs solves and puzzle and plays a riff on his guitar to summon up a hot rod named The Deuce, AKA the Druid Plow.
"It's like your horse Trigger," Schafer said.
One of the few things that Schafer didn't show us during the demo was what he described as an "extended guitar playing mechanic" one that, he assured us, wouldn't use a plastic instrument but added a spell casting element to the game.
After taking out the demon druids, summoning The Deuce and surviving both a maniacal driving course and an impressively large boss battle, Riggs and Lita drive off to meet Lita's brother, leader of the resistance.
Lars Hartford is the epitome of a heavy metal lead singer and leader of men, but he is woefully unsuited to the grunt work required to get his show on the road, that's where Riggs comes in.
Lars tells Riggs that the world's humans have been enslaved by Doviculus and his demon army, The Tainted Coil.
The real first mission of the game is for Riggs to go and free the local humans and raise an army to take on Doviculus' General Lionwhyte. Lionwhyte, a glam metal rocker, is voiced by Judas Priests' Rob Halford, and, Schafer tells us with particular glee, he attacks people with a screaming attack.
Early on, watching the developers, play through the game, it appears to be a straight up action brawler. Riggs rampages through waves of evil druids using his trusty broad axe, The Separator, to tear apart his enemy. He can also use his guitar, Clementine, for ranged attacks.
The addition of The Deuce adds a nice element to the gameplay, but still leaves Brutal Legend safely in the realm of action, button masher. But once Riggs arrives at the mines to start freeing the enslaved humans, things change.
In the mines Riggs comes upon a crew of head bangers, broad-shouldered, long-haired, no-necked humans who literally band their heads into the mine's walls to break rocks.
After hearing some of Rigg's powerful metal chords on Clementine they decide to rise up against Doviculus, but a few resist and a battle breaks out.
Once you recruit some of these head bangers you can start to control them like an army, using the d-pad to issue commands in the thick of battle.
"They'll go completely nut shit on whatever I point at," he said.
Eventually the army you control can grow to 30 people, Schafer said.
The landscape we saw, which is 64-square kilometers of fully explorable space, looked like the sort of scenery and backdrops you might see on the cover of a 70s heavy metal album. The voices in the game, too, lean heavily on the world of heavy metal. Besides the voices of Black and Halford, Schafer says that the game will include Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead, Lita Ford and others.
Through-out the game, players can discover lighter tributes, which can be used at The Motorforge to upgrade Riggs' weapons. You can also unlock new weapons, combos, guitars and t-shirts.
The world of Brütal Legend is a surreal blend of fantasy and iconic heavy metal images: V8 engines and chrome mufflers rise from the ground, guitar necks and amps form mountains. It's pretty bad ass.
While driving through this living album art you can turn on the car's radio, the mouth of metal, and listen to music, a soundtrack, of course, made up of metal. Schafer asked us not to repeat which songs were playing as he cruised the landscape because the developer hadn't yet inked the deal for any of the music.
The game has 23 primary missions and Schafer promises that it also has a lot of open world "stuff" and "30-ish" side missions like races.
The game's multiplayer is versus mode, a battle of the band scenario, but battle of the bands with axes where you kill each other to death. These multiplayer battles can feature armies of 40 on each side, he said.
While there are plenty of things to do in the open world, the story is really about Riggs' unifying all metal music together. And while the plot and look of the game may sound corny at times, it works. There's also the bonus of a script written by Schafer and voiced by Black.
"I had a lot of fun writing this stuff," Schafer said. "There are a lot of little nuggets and references to heavy metal.
"I wrote the script, but Jack Black did a lot of improvisation. He's a lot of fun to work with."
Schafer said he first pitched the game before the original Guitar Hero came out and that there was initially a lot of pressure to change the game, but by the time it made its way to Electronic Arts the look and feel of the game was fairly well established.
Schafer said the game will have a fully licensed soundtrack that will tap into all elements and styles of heavy metal, but Brütal Legend isn't necessarily a game for metal fans.
"It's just a way to have a consistent world with heroes and villains," he said.
What most surprised me about the game was it's ability to so cohesively present a world of heavy metal. Everything, from the voice acting, to the attacks, to the plot and landscape, is metal, but it's done in a way that manages in its seeming absurdity to appear almost subtle.
Brütal Legend appears to have enormous potential, here's hoping that gamers feel the same way when this latest Schafer title is released.