There's no doubt in anyone's mind that Brutal Legend rocks, but how does it play?
Brutal Legend creator Tim Schafer is known for his humor. The musical talent in the game are known for their metal. The game's star, Jack Black, is known for being Jack Black. Combine all of those elements together and you have a funny game about good heavy metal with Jack Black in it, but that's only a part of picture. It's pretty safe to assume that Brutal Legend is entertaining, but is it entertaining to play?
To answer that question, we throw up horns and bang our heads to the assembled video game critics.
It's pretty clear within the first few minutes of Brutal Legend that the folks at Double Fine have a deep, profound love for heavy metal. There's a reverence here, not necessarily for the reality of heavy metal, but for the gleaming, violent, sexy, and well, brutal power fantasy that a wicked Judas Priest album cover, and the contents within it, might inspire in a 13-year-old boy. And while heavy metal has a tendency to be pretty self-serious, Brutal Legend is anything but, taking all of the demonic imagery, S&M gear, hot-rod fetishism, closeted druidic fixations, and ultra-macho barbarian warriors, and blowing it out to its logical and absurd extreme. This is, far and away, Brutal Legend's biggest strength: its ability to be both giddily ridiculous and fist-pumpingly badass, often in the very same moment.
Based purely on Brütal Legend's premise - a heavy metal roadie played by Jack Black is transported into a world based on the imagery of metal album covers - I expected nothing more than farcical comedy from the game. What I got was an impeccably crafted, surprisingly human tale of love and death that had me playing and playing to find out what happened next. The thing is, after a while, the story was the only reason I was still playing. While Brütal Legend is set in a cohesive, tightly written universe, the gameplay never settles down into a coherent experience. The game mixes elements of many genres, with none pulled off particularly well, and delivers an astoundingly complex design instead of a simple one that would have sufficed and better served the engrossing story.
Threaded inside the main narrative - and becoming an increasingly regular occurrence as the game continues - is a surprisingly elaborate RTS: the characters you meet en route double as traditional unit types, and the open world you explore on foot or behind the wheel of the Deuce is built to pull back into a smart arena of capture spots and choke-points. It's all rather elegant; as the game's dual nature starts to take shape, it's fascinating to watch how Double Fine gets the videogame equivalent of overtime out of the same small handful of elements. That said, it may come as something of an annoyance if you were expecting a few hours of soothingly simple hacking and slashing only to find yourself leading troops into pitched combat instead.
Visually, however, Brutal Legend is pretty impressive. It doesn't sport next-gen effects like you'd find in Uncharted 2, but the game's personality really comes through, which means much more than I can express. From the crackling lighting on Eddie's flying V to the gaudy amount of make-up caked onto General Lionwhyte's face, you feel like you're really in Brutal Legend's inventive and oftentimes insane world. Occasionally players are bound to come across some murky textures or a few of the previously mentioned graphical glitches, but the moment they find themselves flying through a swarm of Spark Plug Bugs after blazing over a cracked canyon via an off-road ramp, they're bound to look past these minor hiccups.
Like all of Tim Schafer's games, the heart and soul of Brütal Legend is its story... And while Brütal Legend may start out seeming decidedly straightforward for a Schafer yarn, the first kiss changes everything, but nothing will prepare you for the twists ahead. By game's end you'll feel like Brütal Legend is home and home will seem empty without it. You might not expect much from a story about an old-school Metal roadie transported to a parallel universe where his skills turn the tide in humanity's struggle against its demonic oppressors (unless of course you know the Milkman) but between the writing, acting and the performances Double Fine manages to pull out of their real-time characters, it's, well, it's just the best there is.
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.
I completely agree with that last guy...