Game: Brütal Legend
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Publisher: Double Fine Productions
Available on: Windows PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Reviewed on: Windows PC
“God gave Heavy Metal, and he saw that it was good” is a line from a Manowar song, but if The Almighty actually did give the world the joyous sounds of Heavy Metal, then he would have done so in a world that looks quite a lot like the world of Double Fine’s Brütal Legend. On paper, this is a game that would have found it difficult to do anything wrong: the comedic talent of Jack Black, the quirky humour of Double Fine, the vocal stylings of some of the greatest Heavy Metal artists of all time and a music catalogue straight off of a ‘Best of Heavy Metal’ album. What could go wrong? Well, my friend, sit down and let me tell you a story…
STORY: The story in Brütal Legend follows Eddie Riggs, the best roadie in the Heavy Metal business, who is deeply wounded when trying to save a member of the worst Heavy Metal band in the world from plummeting to his death. A piece of the stage falls on Eddie and blood from his wounds falls onto a Motörhead inspire belt buckle summoning Ormagöden, The Eternal Firebeast, into our own realm. Ormagöden proceeds to send Eddie to a totally new realm, one that’s fully inspired by Heavy Metal and could very well turn out to be Mr. Riggs’ personal heaven.
The story, as a Heavy Metal fan, is one of the most impressive aspects of Brütal Legend. Broadly speaking, the plot has been done before in many other genres, sometimes even done better, but there’s nothing quite like seeing how the developers have managed to twist and turn your favourite Heavy Metal songs, albums and artists to suit their own terms. The first time you visit the in-game shop only to discover that the Prince of Darkness himself is going to be helping you upgrade your items is one of the most mind-blowing moments of this console generation; you’ll constantly be questioning if you really just saw what you think you did.
GRAPHICS: The visuals in Brütal Legend were another aspect of the title that were always impressive, as seeing the small references to all the music you grew up listening never gets old – even seeing something as simple as those telescopes that dot coastal English seaside resorts, only this time styled as the head of Iron Maiden’s mascot Eddie. The quality of the character models doesn’t disappoint, and while the animations could have done with a little touching up in certain areas, you’ll never be let down by any of the characters that you come across while you’re driving across the landscape.
Speaking of the landscape, Tim Schafer has been quoted as saying that the world of Brütal Legend is over forty miles square, and while you’re driving around it it certainly feels like it. However, despite the size of the environment, you’ll always find something to look at. A couple of times I found myself simply driving around, looking at all of the things on offer, uncovering different parts of the map and finding out what interesting, humorous and downright fun references the game had in store for me next.
SOUND: In a game that’s so heavily influenced by the musical genre of Heavy Metal, it’s obvious that the sound design is going to be absolutely the best thing about the entire title. The music, from the moment you start the game (with the exception of the band Eddie is the roadie for) you’re treated to excellent music from a variety of decades and a multitude of metal sub-genres. Listening to the game as you’re driving through the environment is like a visual representation of the entire Heavy Metal genre, and it’s glorious.
Even the voice acting essentially works as a who’s-who of the Heavy Metal world. Everyone from Ozzy Osbourne and Rob Halford all the way through to Lita Ford make appearances in some way, shape or form. They’re not all great performances (it’s not their main job after-all) but they don’t take the player out of the game experience at any point – and listening to Lemmy step in and voice one of the characters, or any other artists for that matter, never gets old. It must be said, however, that Rob Halford, lead singer of Judas Priest and someone you wouldn’t expect to deliver half decent lines in any narrative piece, does a particularly stand-out job in Brütal Legend as not one, but two, characters.
GAMEPLAY: The main aspect of the gameplay, and the part you’ll start out with, is the hack and slash element. As the game starts, and Eddie wakes up in the strange new Heavy Metal inspired land, he’ll grab The Separator – a gigantic battle axe – and Clementine – a Flying V that has found it’s way through with Eddie and is now imbued with extra awesome in the form of lightning powers. The player, through Eddie, will use these two weapons to bring death and destruction to the people who aren’t as versed in the ways of metal and to, eventually, save the people of this land from the clutches of the evil Emperor Doviculus.
This section of the game plays like a traditional hack and slash title, complete with combos that the player is able to learn which make use of both The Separator and Clementine in equal measure. When the player is teamed up with another character, such as Ophelia, they are able to perform team attacks. These are much more powerful than a normal singular attack but, due to the fact that there aren’t many opportunities to perform these types of moves, the player will often forget about them in the heat of battle. I know I did.
These first sections of Brütal Legend give a bold and positive outlook for the rest of the game, and if the entire game was purely a hack and slash title with masses of Heavy Metal influence and an open world aspect, I would probably be here telling you that it’s the best game ever created and that Double Fine should be crowned the Gods of Gaming. However, that’s not the case. Part way through the story of Brütal Legend the player will be forced to take part in RTS-style game scenarios. These sections fit in with the story of the game, as you’re asked to protect a stage from various enemies (with Eddie being a roadie), but they do little more than jarringly remove the player from the experience they were previously having.
These RTS moments aren’t particularly badly-made and they work well for what they are, they just have no right being in what was shaping up to be an open world hack and slash game with RPG elements and plenty of humour about it. Every single time I had to do one of the RTS sections I would audibly groan, and each one of them felt like a chore to get through. Most of the time the only reason I would get through them at all was because I wanted to get to the next “good” part of the game and be done with an element that, frankly, felt unfinished and shoehorned in.
There are no two ways about it, the RTS elements of Brütal Legend take what was fun, humorous and enjoyable and beats it into a barely recognisable mess on the floor. Think about what “Nu Metal” did to the world of Heavy Metal and you’re just about there.
LONGEVITY: Brütal Legend is a pretty long game when it’s all said and done, but a lot of that will just feel long thanks to the RTS sections that most players will want to leave as soon as they’ve started. This new PC version of the game includes the two pieces of DLC that were released for the previously-available console versions and, coupled with the multiplayer, there’s a good chance that you’ll find enough reason to keep popping back every now and then. Tim Schafer has even said that, if there’s enough love for the PC version, Double Fine may add some more elements that they never got the chance to make the first time around so, who knows, there might be life in the game yet.
VERDICT: Brütal Legend is a difficult game to play, not because it’s bad, nor because it’s literally difficult to play, but because it’s obvious to most players that it could have been an absolutely astounding game. We all know about the legal battles surrounding its development, and the time it spent in limbo unsure if it was ever going to see the light of day, but there’s no excuse for a game that, at times, feels unplayable. The voice-acting, the humour, the visuals, even the story and the hack and slash gameplay, are all excellent and will keep the player wanting more,you’ve just got to push past the RTS elements if you actually want to get there.