Five By Five – Brütal Legend

Brütal Legend is the latest off-beat creation of Tim Schafer and Double Fine, alumni of classic strange funny clever games like Psychonauts, Full Throttle, and Grim Fandango. Jack Black stars as Eddie Riggs, an old-school roadie hanging onto the metal of old as the rest of the world seems to move on. One day an accident on stage ends up transporting him to a world that seems formed from the spirit of metal itself, and the locals need his help. Many smart unique games tend to recieve good reviews but lack in sales. Will deployment of star power keep this one in the green?

Stuff That Rocks

Just one more mission… – I’m actually having a difficult time putting this game down long enough to review it. The story takes one strange turn after another, encouraging you to see where it leads next. Through it all, Eddie Riggs rarely seems disoriented by the weirdness around him, and amusingly you can never quite tell whether he actually knows what he’s doing or if he’s just messing with you. The story is a bit predictable at times but it lampshades this by never taking itself too seriously. You know pretty much from the beginning that it’s going to end with good triumphing over evil by wielding the power of rock. The fun is seeing how how they get there.

The metal! – One moment you’re battling a giant robot spider queen to harvest her webs to make a bass guitar to bring people back from the dead, the next you’re shooting machine guns and flame jets at demon bikers as you follow a tour bus through hell. The varied environments and characters would look right at home on any heavy metal album cover. It’s the sort of world imagined by teenage 70’s metal fans, the doodles in the corner of your composition notebook brought to life. In addition to Jack Black’s metal fantasy version of himself, key story characters are represented (and voiced) by big names like Ozzy Osbourne, Rob Halford, Lemmy Kilmister, and more. The soundtrack is equally impressive, fielding dozens of artists with nearly a hundred tracks lisenced tracks in all.

By fans, for fans – Schafer brings forth his trademark talent for mocking and honoring his source material at the same time. It’s clearly over the top and at times quite parodic, but always aiming to give a feeling of epic awesome fantasy. Schafer & co. are big fans of metal and fantasy themselves, and thus aimed (and I believe succeeded) to create a world that can both entertain existing metal fans and serve as a gateway drug for folks who want to step into the metal experience. Additionally, unlike games that pile in lisenced music for little more than product placement, Double Fine has carefully applied the tracks to fit with what’s going on in the game. Many of the tracks are chosen to fit one of the warring factions (each personifying a different genre of metal), and in some cases re-recordings were done to make the songs better fit the game. Both the game design team and the assembled metal talent were excited to work on this project, and it shows in the presentation.

(Im)mature content – This game is rated M for good reason; in addition to the blood gore and cursing (which can optionally be censored), the game is choc full of the sort of stuff that shocked 70’s parents and fueled rebel youth culture. If you’re easily bothered by pentagrams, demonic-looking fire-breathing monsters, or people throwing up the horns, this game may not be for you. However, as mentioned above, I believe it works because nobody’s taking themselves too seriously here. It’s entertaining specifically because it’s so ridiculous and over the top. Rather than directly inserting any religious holy (or unholy) figures the game features an assortment of metal-inspired monstrosities to populate the world, showcasing the improved storytelling Tim Schafer and Double Fine are capable of when allowed to run free with creative ideas. A particular favorite of mine is a bit involving the creation of the world to which Eddie Riggs has been transported, detailing how a giant metal fire-breathing creature called Ormagöden exploded to become the land’s four elements: blood, fire, noise, and metal. That’s the kind of show they’re putting on, and I find it to be an entertaining one.

Leading the charge – Not long into the game elevates Eddie Riggs from a solo hack & slasher to a battlefield commander. The gameplay strongly encourages you to stay close to your troops, as they can only follow orders if you’re within earshot. This also gives a more personal feel to the combat, especially in the multiplayer mode. It’s easy to feel disconnected in a standard real-time strategy game as you passively click and move units around from your omnipotent view in the sky. In Brütal Legend you yourself charge in at the head of your soldiers’ formation, and charging towards you is another real player leading an army of their own, the two of you clashing in combat as your armies do battle around you. The interface could stand to be a bit more intuitive (especially because these battles are such a big part of the later acts of the single-player campaign), but overall I enjoyed it.

Stuff That Doesn’t Rock

Dazed and confused – I’m gonna start with one of my Commandments of Game Design here: thou shalt have a minimap. Even if it doesn’t quite make sense for the game’s setting (and it very easily could be some magic medallion or something in this case), any game that involves wandering a vast landscape should include a minimap or at the very least a compass to aid in hunting down all the hidden collectibles. The landscape is quite diverse with numerous landmarks to help you remember generally where you are, but if you don’t have a good sense of direction you’ll need to pause to check the big map quite frequently during exploration.

Go your own way – While driving the game’s vehicle your turn signals direct you to the simplest route to your currently highlighted waypoint. This could easily help with the above problem except that you can only place waypoints on quest markers and Motor Forges (upgrade houses). The next best thing is to find and unlock the Forges so you can use their waypoints to get to the general direction you want to explore, but placing waypoints anywhere I like would be better.

Dodgy camera – There seems to be a bit of a dead zone when rotating the camera, especially while driving. Often I’ll be heading down the road scanning the landscape for some hidden tchotchkey or another to unlock more bonuses and I want to watch the side of the road as I drive by, but I have to carefully fidget the camera to keep it pointed in the right direction lest it whip back around or not move at all. Additionally, while it’s easy enough to maneuver the Druid Plow in slick U-turns you’ll often be momentarily driving blind until the camera catches up. It’s only a second or two and you’ll barely notice it on the open road, but when you’re trying to get out of close quarters with panthers shooting lasers from their eyes at you it can get hectic.

Here it goes again – A small assortment of secondary missions dot the map that one can complete for extra Rock God Fire Tributes (experience that can be traded for new weapons/attacks/car upgrades/etc.), and the variety in these missions is exceedingly slim. Stand here and kill some enemies. Now kill some enemies from a turret. Now go have a race. That’s pretty much it. Unique secondary missions are few and far between. That said, battling random bad guys with the power of rock is pretty fun.

Gone too soon – If you’re a completionist or just want to level up a bit more before the next big battle the game may be extended a few hours for you, but overall it’s not a terribly long game. Just the same though, that may be for the best because it gets in, tells the stories and the jokes it needs to, and doesn’t overstay its welcome. If the worst I can say about a game is ‘I wish there was more of it’ it can’t be too bad.

The Final Word

This is not the greatest game in the world; this is just a tribute. It is however a rather entertaining one. The story is amusing, the presentation is epic, and the star power is on point. You could probably tear through this in a long rental or by borrowing it from a friend, but it may be worth accquiring if you enjoy the multiplayer, like watching the story play out, or just find it on the cheap. Overall, Tim Schafer and Double Fine have delivered another fun quirky unique game and I look forward to their next project. I haven’t had a chance to play the PS3 version but research suggests they play about the same.

Brütal Legend was played on the Xbox 360, and is also available on the Playstation 3. Initial retail price was $59.99; average retail price at time of review is between $10 and $20. The ESRB has rated this game M for Mature for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, Strong Language, and Suggestive Themes. Brütal Legend is developed by Double Fine Productions and published by Electronic Arts with music from a plethora of artists. All copyrights property of their respective owners.


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