Brutal Legend Review: Testing Its Metal

Join roadie Eddie Riggs on a magical journey to free a heavy metal fantasy world from the grips of demonic oppression in Brutal Legend.

Brutal Legend is the latest game from Double Fine Productions and Tim Schafer, the man behind Full Throttle, Grim Fandango, and Psychonauts. Eddie Riggs is a roadie who fears that heavy metal is dying, until the Fire Beast Ormagöden transports him to a mystical alternate history where heavy metal suffers under the tyrannical rule of the evil Lord Doviculus. Eddie must free this world and its inhabitants from the demon reign, but to do so he's going to need all his roadie skills, and he's going to need an army.

Brutal Legend is a game that is hard to define, mixing several different gameplay styles, from open-world action-adventure to vehicular combat to real-time strategy. Can Double Fine tie together these different threads into a satisfying gaming experience, or do they braid them into a rope and hang themselves?

Loved
The Song Of Eddie Riggs: Strip away the glitz and glam, the gloom and goth, and of course, the metal, and Brutal Legend is the classic tale of a stranger in a strange land, leading a rag-tag band of rebels in an uprising against their oppressors. It's the sort of story we've seen time and time again in books and movies (Army of Darkness comes to mind immediately), though this time around the strange land is far stranger, though at times comfortably familiar. Looking at it another way it could be a forum argument between fans of goth music or glam rock and fans of heavy metal come to life. It's outrageous and over the top, while still maintaining just a bit of humanity, even if it is a more sophomoric, hilarious sort of humanity.

You Can't Stop The Metal: More than an album cover brought to life, Brutal Legend is heavy metal given physical form. Driving your souped-up hot rod across rolling hills with giant monuments to rock jutting up from the ground; navigating jagged cliffs as waves crash against the rocks far below, in search of dragon statues; or running through the swamp as black panthers straight out of a black light poster bound about the twisted trees - it's the sort of place heavy metal fans imagine themselves in when listening to the music. The fact that you are listening to some of the best music the genre has to offer while doing so just makes it that much sweeter.

I'm Free Roaming: While you're not leading your troops into battle or escorting the tour bus to your next gig, you're free to roam about the countryside in your tricked-out Deuce, taking on missions, uncovering secrets, unlocking new music, and earning points to upgrade your powers and equipment at various Guardian of Metal locations scattered across the countryside. Some of my favorite moments in the game were when it was just me and my car, leaping over obstacles while the music blared. Hell, that describes some of my favorite real life moments.

We're The Road Crew: What really makes the story of Brutal Legend work is the amazing cast of characters that Double Fine created and the voice actors behind them. You'd expect a fine performance from actors Jack Black and Tim Curry, but it's the musical talent that steals the show. Heavy metal artists aren't generally known for their acting chops, but for the most part they really aren't acting in the game. They are just being themselves, and it works. From Lemmy Killmister's mumbled comments to Ozzy Osborne's surprisingly un-mumbled quips, their words feel at home because in a way the game is their home. Special props go out to Lita Ford, who actually had to act, and did a surprisingly good job of it.

You Gotta Fight: Whether you're alone against the forces of darkness armed with only your axe and your guitar, or teaming up with the various members of your crew to perform special attacks, combat in Brutal Legend is smooth, fierce, and generally satisfying. Accruing the favor of the gods and spending it at the Guardian of Metal's shop allows you to change the properties of your weapons, granting you special powers, while new moves and new vehicle weapons mean you always have a nice assortment of killing moves at your disposal. Things can get a bit hectic during the larger battles, but all in all I enjoyed killing the various people, places, and things that Brutal Legend pit me against.

Battle Of The Bands: This is where Brutal Legend is going to throw some gamers. The major battles and multiplayer of the game swap out the hack and slash gameplay for what is essentially an action real-time strategy game. You harvest resources in the form of fans, which in turn allow you to upgrade your stage, unleashing more powerful units onto the battlefield as your fan-base grows. Your opponent, be they AI-controlled or another player online, is busy doing the same thing, with the goal generally being to destroy your base before you destroy theirs. You can wade into the battle yourself, playing riffs that buff your forces or debuff the enemy, but later in the game the bad guys get a bit too powerful to spend more than a moment engaged in melee combat. Your job is to fly around the battlefield, guiding your troops as they do the job for you. It's a quick and dirty RTS, and while I had some issues with the overall flow of the single-player game due to the switch in gameplay styles, taken on its own its quite an entertaining little mini-game.

Hated
Record Skipping: The vocal work in Brutal Legend is amazing, but that doesn't mean I want to listen to the same three or four phrases over and over again. Several of the story missions in the game had me gritting my teeth in frustration as the characters repeated themselves over and over as I desperately tried to complete my objectives before going insane.

Re-Mission: The handful of side missions available in Brutal Legend are appreciated for the way they break up the main story and afford opportunity to build up more favor points in order to upgrade your powers, but they could have done with a bit more variety. You can only do so many ambush missions with the same exact dialogue each time before they begin to wear on you, which makes completing them all less of a good time and more of a chore.

An Odd Mix: The game starts off by teaching you the basics of guitar and axe combat. Simple. Then it lets you get used to driving and shooting. Still pretty basic. Then you are plunged into a real-time strategy game, where it doesn't quite feel like a real-time strategy belongs. Until now, my main exposure to Brutal Legend had been funny videos starring Jack Black, so I wasn't quite prepared for a game where the major skirmishes were in RTS form. Double Fine eases players into it as best they can, but it's still an odd mixing of gameplay styles that don't generally get along with each other.

Brutal Legend combines a rather eclectic mix of different gameplay styles. It's an open-world action-adventure game, a squad-based brawler, a driving shooter, and a real-time strategy game. Diversity is its strong suit, but it could also be the game's biggest weakness. Players who enjoy running about, killing creatures with axes might not enjoy suddenly finding themselves in charge of collecting resources and spending points on creating an army to do the work they'd rather do themselves. I really enjoyed the RTS portions of the game, but a part of me would have rather Double Fine had just thrown in a traditional boss fight rather than have me shift gears so abruptly.

In the end, Tim Schafer's trademark wit, an amazing cast of characters, and an unforgiving faithfulness to the heavy metal culture that Brutal Legend celebrates helps bring together what could have wound up a disjointed mix of clashing genres. It's a game that is worth experiencing, even if you have to call in a more strategically-minded friend to ease you through the hard bits.

Brutal Legend was developed by Double Fine Productions and published by Electronic Arts for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on Rocktober 13th. Retails for $59.99 USD. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played though the campaign mode on normal difficulty on Xbox 360 and participated in several online multiplayer matches, kicking ass in the process.

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