Brütal Legend

Another gaming deluge is upon us and cresting the wave is Tim Schafer's Brütal Legend a story of Action, Adventure, and Metal!

I've been looking forward to this for a while now I loved Schafer's previous works from the lucasarts classics Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle, and Grim Fandango and the under appreciated gem Psyconauts that was the first title of his own company Double Fine.

His humour and gift for compelling characters makes his games great fun to play and adding to the mix a heavy metal inspired world seemed like a perfect match.

I have to say this isn't the game I thought it was going to be, I suppose knowing how Double Fine tend to cut against the traditional grain of video games I shouldn't have been surprised. But then the demo and the previous footage all gave the impression of a fairly standard third person action game which it both is and isn't ... but I'll get to that.

Brütal Legend had a somewhat rocky road to release originally going to be published by Sierra who were bought out by Activision who then dropped the title, They looked for another publisher but Activision were blocking the process then eventually picked up by EA and then sued by Activision who claimed they still had the rights to publish, Double Fine counter sued and evetually the legal wrangling was settled out of court with legal beagles saying Activision likely got nothing and settled to avoid losing in open court.

So when Rocktober 13th (or for the UK 16th) rolled round and the game actually came out it was something of a minor miracle.

Anyway the game Brütal Legend is about Eddie Riggs (named after Eddie iron maiden's mascot and David Riggs the artist who created him and voiced by Jack Black) who is the worlds best roadie. He is injured in an accident and inadvertantly sent back in time to the Age of Metal.

Mankind is enslaved by the tainted coil, demonic beings rulled by the emperor Doviculus (voice by Tim Curry). Only a few resistance fighters remain Lar Halford, his sister Lita Halford, and Ophelia. Eddie joins them to fight against Doviculus and his human cronie General Lionwhyte (voiced by Rob Halford).

The landscape is like the cover of a heavy metal album piles of bones, huge swords sticking out of the ground, massive V8 engines growing out of mountains, trees that have exhaust pipes for branches, huge skulls grinning out of the hillsides, freakish S&M demons, glam metal human armies. It's all very visually impressive and it sets the scene for the game wonderfully.

This is all set to a sound track of metal classics old and new and this is one of the best facets of the game racing through this wonderful vivid fantasy landscape in your tricked out fire spewing car with some heavy metal blaring as you run down beasts and demons alike.

At the very begining of the game your acquire an Axe (an actual axe) and an Axe (a guitar) in this strange metal world the guitar has supernatural powers allowing you to perform stage pyro like effects sending enemys exploding into the sky or call down lightning. You can also perform solo's (with a sort of tablature influenced guitar hero style button press minigame) that are special powers that do a variety of things and more are unlocked as the game progresses. The basic starting one is the relic raiser which allows you to raise objects left by the Metal Gods from out of the ground the first one of which is your car the deuce aka druid plow, which is a sort of hotrod which can by upgraded by spending fire tributes (awarded for missions, viewing stations, finding various hidden items, and for doing jumps) with the guardian of metal (Ozzy Osborne). So as the game progresses the Deuce becomes like a red neck batmobile with various weapons and upgrades to speed and armour.

Some of the solos are attacks and some are buffs for allies the one you will likely use the most is Summon Deuce solo which makes your car appear where ever you are. Quite a few are heavy metal inspired like the wonderfully graphic "Face Melter".

Gameplay wise initially its a fairly standard third person action game your run about attack with your weapons deploy specials and drive about the metal themed open world picking up missions and side missions. As the story progresses it begins to change the way things work first you get followers initially head bangers which are your standard Melee troops, with all characters you can perform a double team adding yourself to them for more devastating attacks. In this case you form the mosh pit where head bangers surround you in a head banging ring of death.

You gain basic command abilites to get units to follow, wait at a given point, or attack a designated target though it is set up so it only works if your units are in vocal range. So it goes to a more squad based combat model with you moving about your followers and having them maim various things.

Gradually you free more of the humans and pickup more allies including the healer Kill Master (voiced and styled after Motorhead's Lemmy Kilmister) and the game shifts to a more RTS style while still maintaining the action roots so you can still leap in to a fight and pummel your foes even summon the Deuce and drive around blasting and crushing foes but you can also act in a more strategic role deploying forces and ordering them around.

It is all set up with the same metal theme with the bases being stages resources being fans who have to be acquired by merchandise stands placed on fan geysers. The stage spotlights can be used as turrets speakers can stun and so on.

It works pretty well though in a fairly simplistic fashion. It was a touch unexpected to find that sort of gameplay in there.

The issue I found is the limitations of the command system make the tactical element a touch difficult, mostly you can only command units in vocal range so to move units about you have to go to where they are order them to do something and them go back to the action if you need reinforcements it's a case of having to head back to base and order them in. Having said that it is fairly quick for you to traverse the battle field due to a power you gain for just that. It's also a fairly simple sort of RTS it's a matter of eliminating the enemies resources then just smashing them into submission. It's still quite fun at times with large scale combat with lots of enemies and allies all going at it.

Where the game really shines is the story and characters. Jack Black's Eddie is wonderful and the animation and character design really capture elements of Black's normal performance with little touches like the eyebrows and eye movements and various mannerism they've woven in. In fact the little touches in the animation really make it stand out every little scene has lots of touches that make the characters really jump out and seem real, and the voice cast is truly superb. The Heavy Metal legends Rob Halford, Lita Ford, Lemmy Kilmister Ozzy Osborne and then voice actors supreme. Tim Curry is perfect for the role of the evil emperor his delivery is wonderfully measured mocking and superior. Voice acting super star Jennifer Hale showing up as Ophelia (if you've not heard of her think of a great female voice acting role in a video game and chances are it was her she was Bastila in KOTOR various voices in Baldurs gate 1 and 2 the female commander Sheppard in Mass Effect to name but a few roles).

Graphics wise it's very impressive the open world is vividly rendered and it looks fantastic with wonderful creatures wandering about enemies roaming the countryside. Most of the wildlife is usable as a mount so you can come striding across the landscape on a horned goat or race along on the motorbike like razor boar or a laser panther or a fire breathing cat beast thing or a giant mammoth like beast. This scattering of enemies and fauna makes it feel like a more living world. The different areas with their different look a feel is good all sorts of art styles from the apocalyptic volcanic landscapes to the snow covered wilderness to the tangled swamp and the creepy haunted forests. The game has superb atmosphere.

Side mission wise it can get a touch repetitive there is variety in there but for all the good missions the bulk is made up by ambush or turret missions. It didn't get tiresome like assassins creed but still a bit more variety would have been nice.

It's also not very long even if you are completing the majority of the side quests and doing a lot of exploring for the various collection tasks you'll maybe get 10-11 hours out of it.

Still it was a lot of fun it's certainly the most fun I've had playing a video game recently and I think a lot of that has to do with the humour and script keeping me interested coupled with a fairly fun sand box world you can have a laugh just driving around or riding some crazy fire breathing animal all to a excellent heavy metal sound track.

So in summary good story excellent characters great humour and superb cast incredible soundtrack. Good graphics and action with wonderful environments to play in but somewhat repetitive side quests, and the RTS elements felt like they could have done with a touch more work maybe some additional challenge to it with better strategic control. And it's a little short though it does have multiplayer (though Any game developer that relies solely on multiplayer to make up for shoddy single player should be ritualistically flayed, Bungie I'm looking at you!). It's another quirky gem from Tim Schafer with some interesting mix of game types and wonderful story and characters. It's well worth a play and it's flaws are not so glaring that you won't have a lot of fun with it.