The last thing I expected from a Brütal Legend multiplayer mode was a real time strategy game. The first thing I expected was a battle of the bands. Lucky me, I get both.
According to mastermind Tim Schafer, Brütal Legend actually began as a multiplayer game in his mind's eye where metal bands would battle it out to be the baddest of the bad and the metal-ist of the metal. How we got from there to an open world sandbox adventure is a longer story than Schafer could fit into his opening speech at the multiplayer event – so he just walked us through a demo match and turned us loose.
What Is It?
Brütal Legend's multiplayer mode pits various factions from the game against one another in a battle of the bands where the objective is to amass the most fans to create the most units and have the largest stage. Once you've got enough of everything, you march your units across the map and capture more
resource points fan geysers wreck the other guy's base stage.
What We Saw
On display at this event were three factions – main character Eddie's band, bad guy Doviculus's band and a Goth-inspired band called the Drowning Doom – and only one map, The Bleeding Coast. The game will ship with seven maps and multiplayer supports up to four people playing at a time, although players are still divided into teams each defending only one stage. I plowed through two rounds with Drowning Doom.
How Far Along Is It?
Pretty far along, but still not final. The game ships in October, so there's still tweaking and polishing time for the multiplayer.
What Needs Improvement?
It's an RTS… on a console: I love RTS games, but they have a tough time on consoles – mostly because of the controls and partially because most hardcore console gamers prefer action and shooting to strategy and resource-whoring. Sadly, I don't think Brütal Legend is an exception to this generalization. There's just too much you need to be able to do to manage resources, keep an eye on the terrain and make judgments about when to press and when to back off – so the control scheme comes off as over-complicated and difficult to navigate when you're panicking in the midst of your butt getting kicked. Furthermore, there's this expectation of Brütal Legend that you'll be able to go around and kick ass on your own because you have a huge guitar that can call down lighting. Having to hold back from ass kicking so I can cultivate an army to lead sort of takes me out of the I'm-a-bad-ass-metal-rocker fantasy.
There's No Map: In multiplayer, each faction gets an "avatar" leader like Eddie Riggs or Doviculous. These avatars have the ability to fly around the map with wings at incredible speed – which is supposed to make up for the fact that you don't have an overhead map. However, having wings doesn't make up for the lack of a way to check in with your units that you have scattered throughout the map. When one unit is in trouble, an icon will pop up on the lower right hand screen and flash red, pointing in a general direction to give you a heads-up. Without a map, though, you have no idea how severely they're being attacked, which one of that unit type is being attacked (if you've divided the unit up) and specifically where they are.
What Should Stay The Same?
True To Theme: Turns out an RTS mode is a good way to represent everything Brütal Legend is about. Sure, it simply renames base "stage" and resource points "fan geysers" – but in way, it makes sense that you need to win over fans to be a better band and have a bigger stage. Plus the way you win over bands and manage units is more than just picking an icon off of a menu – you actually have to play guitar solos such as the "fan tribute" to activate resource points and units. These solos are like Guitar Hero mini-games where a bar moves from left to right across the screen and the face buttons appear as notes along a scale. When the bar gets to the note, you have to mash the corresponding button to play the note and if you get more than one wrong, you blow the whole thing and have to start over.
Double Team Attacks: Any avatar can link up with a unit for a powerful double team attack. For example, I was able to pair off my Drowning Doom avatar chick with my gravedigger grunt class for a super-cool melee attack where my avatar popped up from underground and knocked down an enemy mob. Depending on the unit, this can factor into your strategy as a way to break up mobs, block choke points or wade through defenses en route to the enemy stage. Some of the vehicle-avatar pairings are truly epic.
The Stage Actually Does Something: The stage doesn't seem to defend itself when it's being attacked – but if you man it yourself, you can turn the stage into a weapon to beat back enemies and stall for time while the rest of your army arrives. The stage lights shoot powerful beams, the mic and speakers work together as a short range knock-back attack, there's a dry ice effect that debuffs any enemies standing too close to the stage and you can spend fans garnered from geysers to heal the base after its taken damage.
I enjoyed my time with the unexpected RTS, but I'm honestly anxious about Brütal Legend now. The multiplayer mode works just fine, but an RTS is a very niche flavor of gaming. Here's hoping Brütal Legend's appeal can overcome whatever aversion console audiences seem to have toward the genre. But if nothing else, there's no denying that this game goes its own way.