It's rare that a game comes out that combines the power and awesome of heavy metal with open world hack'n'slashing.
It was with some caution that I picked up Tim Schafer’s (of Psychonauts fame) Brütal Legend, fearful of what kind of a coalition it would be, only to be pleasantly surprised to discover the ultimate combo of music and hack and slash game-play ever to grace my mortal hands. Hours had gone by before I even realised that the game had completely taken a hold of me. Even the inclusion of Jack Black, whom we’ve been seeing more and more of in recent years, only added to the experience, which was a great surprise.
Brütal Legend follows Eddie Riggs, a roadie for a heavy metal band. Eddie is voiced by Jack Black, and looks like a much buffer version of him as well. Essentially, as Eddie is working as a roadie (the worlds best roadie, no less) there is a terrible accident, and Eddie is summoned to what can only be a heavy metal fantasy world, in an environment inspired by heavy metal album covers.
Eddie has been brought to this place by Ormagöden, the Fire Beast, to liberate humanity from the demons which have enslaved them, armed with only music as his weapon (his guitar Clementine). Oh and a battle axe (The Separator). Not to mention a pretty sweet hot rod (The Deuce) which spits flames and tears up tracks as you cruise through the open environment. The world was conceived by the Gods of Metal who created everything, even heavy metal music. In this world Eddie meets up with Lars and his crew, who are already battling the demons.
The world is a gorgeous mix of heavy metal scenes, head bangers and wacky demonic creatures. The dark and brooding colours and exciting creatures set the mood incredibly well. The creatures that roam the world are all a spawn of flesh and metal, and some of these creatures you can even ride once tamed with your electric guitar attack. The Nordic influence in the graphic style really comes across well, and everything looks polished and awesomely presented. The humour that is in the game is clever and frequent, and suitably presented when combined with Jack Black’s voice acting. It's all typical Jack Black material, with a School of Rock touch. It wasn’t until Brütal Legend that we realised how funny heavy metal can actually be. The game, due to the high quality voice acting and some even more stellar cut scenes, plays out in parts more like an epic movie.
The controls are as straight forward as can be, making them easy to use and easy to remember. Most attacks are simply a matter of pressing or holding a button, with combos often requiring only two or three presses and yet unleashing some amazing attacks. Where the game becomes trickier is when you use your electric guitar special attacks, which is sort of like a mini Guitar Hero on steroids. Here Brütal Legend requires you to hit button combinations on queue to activate special attacks, like the "Face Melter" which is as awesome to watch as it is effective. The world is also dotted with artefacts that when discovered need to be activated with a tune, and these assist Eddie to understand why he is here, and why this place exists. As you play, you will unlock more and more attacks and special guitar riffs that will keep the game exciting, however you will have to live through some of the simpler attacks for some time. But believe us when we say its really not a chore.
As the game progresses, you will increase your force by recruiting enslaved humans and others into your army to battle the demons. These can then be controlled by using the d-pad to send into battle, defend a position or rally around you. This works really well and while it sometimes feels unnecessary due to the lack of a health bar it really does help against some of the more powerful bosses to have a few extra attackers aiding you. Eddies' health will drop until the screen flashes violently red, at which point you need to quickly pull back and avoid being struck for a short period, allowing for your health to regenerate. This is a nice effect as it means the GUI is completely bare, allowing you to fully engross yourself in the on-screen action.
When recruiting head bangers and groupies to fight for you in your heavy metal army, the game turns into a mini RTS with you wheeling and darting your units around, defending positions and rallying the troops on you. This is possibly the only area of the game that can be a bit tricky, as its sometimes quite difficult to gauge what your troops are doing at any given time, and sometimes due to the dark lighting it is even harder to identify them from the enemies units.
Although Brütal Legend is an open world title, it's certainly no Grand Theft Auto. But the open world means you can spend a considerable amount of time travelling around in The Deuce exploring and finding your way to your next destination. The world is surprisingly big and diverse, and driving around in it is fun enough. But completing the quests, as well as the side quests (such as delivering beer to a heavy metal beach concert before it gets warm) are just entertaining and do a great job in encouraging you to explore to the far edges of the world. As you explore you also gain access to new areas and can earn Fire Tributes from the Gods of Metal. These act like a currency and can be spent upgrading The Deuce as well as your weapons and attacks. The story is really well driven, and the opponents are hilariously caricatured, with a wide range of enemies and bosses to battle, each one very different from the next, from giant spiders to winged rockstars, to pit-bosses. Most will likely result in a chuckle from the player due to their outrageousness.
What would a heavy metal game be without a solid heavy metal soundtrack? Brütal Legend truly lays down the law here bringing the likes of Motörhead, Judas Priest, Ozzy Osbourne, Scorpions, Black Sabbath, Kiss, Cradle of Filth, Mötley Crüe, Tenacious D, Marilyn Manson and much, much more. Ozzy even makes an appearance at one point, which was pretty epic to say the least. The music is perfectly intertwined with the ocular bliss and presentation that is Brütal Legend and adds to the feeling of awesome you get when taking enemies down and leading your army of head-bangers into battle. I can honestly say I have never played a game with the music so in tune with what is going on around you. Every mission, every battle is finely accompanied by just the right songs to get you into that axe-swinging guitar-jamming mood. I'm no metal head, in fact probably the opposite, but the game simply makes you love it. Its such an excellent combination and the presentation is utterly top notch.
With such a solid single-player storyline and gameplay, it's surprising the developers have found time to even include a multiplayer. In the multiplayer, you can take on the form of most of the bosses that you battle in the main game, and fight against an online opponent, or decimate the AI in the included practice mode. Depending on which character you choose the units you can command will change. You need to capture "fan geysers", out of which the souls of fans pour. These inhabit your concert stage, which is where you spawn units to fight for you. The more souls you access the more you can recruit, and the aim here is to destroy the opponents stage first, and claim yourself victorious. It's certainly a fun approach that involves much jamming-out button combos on the electric guitar to build merchandise stalls on the fan geysers, and to pull off heart stopping solo attacks. The unfortunate aspect of this mode is that its focus is almost entirely on the unit creation and commanding units around the battlefield. This is fine, but it isn’t the games most pretty side. It can be very confusing to determine what units are doing sometimes. Particularly as units need to be within shouting distance of your character when giving commands, and its difficult to gauge whether or not you were close enough.
Its still really fun, but a little more fine tuning here would have made quite a difference.
Brütal Legend could be a contender for best title of 2009, and we will definitely welcome another game with Tim Schafer’s characteristic style. This game will appeal to non-metal fans and metal fans alike. Not only is it an amazing open world hack and slash (and drive) experience, its also an excellent addition to the music genre with the guitar solo attacks which require precision and speed to get the button combination just right. The missions and quests are very entertaining, and the environment that Schafer and the team have created is engrossing. If there is just one game you get in the next few months, make it Brütal Legend, you will not be disappointed.