Written by: Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer
Do the Gods of Metal bestow their favor upon Tim Shafer's latest effort? CC2K offers up an answer with this review.
Regardless of your opinion of Brütal Legend, I think you have to admit that if nothing else, this is definitely a unique game. As we enter deeper into the most exciting time of year for gamers known as Q4 (the fourth quarter of the year including the vaunted holiday season where most of the big releases drop) Brütal Legend stands out in this or any other quarter. Let's recap what is and will be out there: sequels to Uncharted, Assassin's Creed, Modern Warfare, Left 4 Dead, Marvel Ultimate Alliance, and others. Borderlands, a game some think a little too similar to Fallout 3. An expansion to Halo 3. Another fantasy-setting RPG from Bioware with Dragon Age: Origins. Certainly there's some variety to be enjoyed, but no developer is going where Shafer and his team at Doublefine have ventured in Brütal Legend.
I can't think of a game that has featured music so prominently as Brütal Legend without going the Guitar Hero/Rockband route. Shafer & co. have created a world in Brütal Legend that melds the genre of heavy metal and all of its fantasy related mythology (dragons, demons, barbarians and the like) so successfully it invokes equal measures of amazement at just how damn-near perfect their creation is, and incredulity at the fact that no one has thought of this before.
You play as Eddie Riggs, the world's greatest roadie who when we meet him at the beginning of the game is trudging through a tour with the latest "it" tween rock band. From the very beginning Shafer renders judgment against the Good Charlotte's and All American Rejects of today's music scene, and looks to the heyday of heavy metal for salvation. Eddie is killed during an onstage accident, and as his blood drips onto his chrome belt buckle, which turns out to be an ancient talisman of the god Ormagoden, Eddie is transported to the fantasy world of metal, music, and mankind enslaved.
Upon awakening in this alternate world, Eddie is quickly ensnared in the midst of a conflict between a few resistance fighters and the Demon Emperor Doviculus and his human minion General Lionwhyte (a token of the disliked and rejected glam metal AKA hair metal AKA hair bands of the 1980's). Eddie quickly allies himself with (and takes a liking to) Ophelia, and she in turn introduces Eddie to Lars and his sister Lita, the leaders of the rebellion against Doviculus. Though at the beginning of the game there is little in the way of real opposition. Though suggested to be the fulfillment of an ancient prophesy heralding the coming of a savior (or destroyer?) of the world, as the consummate roadie Eddie defers to Lars, preferring to operate "outside the lime light as organizer of the resistance.
Toward that end, Eddie undertakes a number of "missions" to begin building the ranks of their new army. In the early going Brütal Legend plays as a third-person action/adventure game with a lot of hacking and slashing that Eddie executes with the mythical axe "The Separator," mixed with ranged attacks launched from a guitar Eddie brought with him from the "real" world, "Clementine" that has mystical powers in the alternate world.
Whether you're venturing to and from missions or just out exploring, Eddie traverses a large, open world environment. Expediting the journey is an ancient relic known as "The Deuce" AKA "The Druid Plow", which is in actuality a hot rod that Eddie builds after raising it from the ground with a short rift on Clementine. In addition to the primary missions you can engage in a number of mapped side missions that include things such as launching sneak attacks on Lionwhyte's patrolling regiments and racing The Deuce against another hot rod and driver.
As you complete missions and Eddie helps to build up the newly monikered "Ironheade" army, the gameplay of Brütal Legend shifts dramatically. Instead of the usual third-person action, Eddie must command Ironheade in large-scale battles against the forces of General Lionwhyte, i.e. Brütal Legend shifts to a real-time strategy mode of play such as found in Age of Empires or Command & Conquer. This is probably the one aspect of Brütal Legend that has received the most and harshest criticism, with reviewers saying things like "it's the most tedious, least fun, and most broken part of the game," and it "feels like Double Fine tried to force the RTS concept it had come up with into an adventure game."
I can't disagree with these sentiments. I do applaud Doublefine for having the daring to try and incorporate such an unexpected left turn into the gameplay. And in terms of the story at least, it makes perfect sense. Eddie is risking life and limb to build an army that can stand up to Doviculus, so why not actually have him lead that army into battle? Given Shafer's track record (however short it is) I would like to think that this is a case of falling short of one's ambition, rather than sloppy/lazy development. I really hope the reality is the former. Because if that is what happened, well, it's hard for me to fault a guy for swinging for the fences.
The biggest strengths of Brütal Legend are its story, the world that story is set in, and the characters that drive it forward. On a similar note, Brütal Legend just has (and I admit this is a strange thing to say about a video game) a really great attitude. It is genuinely funny, and that's quite an accomplishment. Humor in video games is likely more difficult to do and do well than horror.
Jack Black has probably garnered snickers among Hollywood with how much he's put into promoting the game, but I guarantee none are coming from gamers. Black turned in an outstanding performance in this game, and kudos to him for helping to bring attention to a great game (albeit one with a few flaws) developed by one of the most original and independent minds in the business today.