Who we ambushin'? BAD GUYS, wanna help?
Let's get this out of the way right up front. Brutal Legend is an open world game with heavy real time strategy elements... I know, some of you may not get that feeling thanks to the very linear demo presented but this is much more Giants: Citizen Kabuto than a straightforward hack n' slasher. You're placed into the skin of roadie Eddie Riggs, who works for a faux-metal band and feels that he should have been born in a different time. Eddie is crushed by a collapsing stage during a botched concert stunt. When a bit of his blood drips into his totally wicked belt buckle, it summons Ormagoden, a giant beast made of chrome and awesome who transports and revives Eddie into a land of Metal.
You'll start off the game without anything on your person, but quickly locate a large axe and your guitar. The axe is your primary method of attacking and your guitar is used to basically cast magical spells. Eddie can combine the two forms of attack into different types of combos to deal out the death. Soon, you'll build Deuce, your totally sweet ride that Eddie quickly dubbs "The Druid Plow" due to its ability to run over evil druids lead by the game's main antagonist, Lord Doviculus (voiced by Tim Curry who seems like he's doing a reprisal of his role in Legend). All of your implements are upgradable through the Motor Forge where you meet The Guardian of Metal (Ozzy). You can buy new combos, upgrades for Deuce and a bunch more stuff with the wold's currency, Fire Tributes, which can be earned by hitting jumps, completing missions, and visiting a multitude of interest points throughout the world.
During your journey, you'll encounter some well crafted characters who are also extremely well voiced. Along with Tim Curry and Ozzy Osbourne, you have Eddie Rigs who is voiced by the divisive Jack Black. You'll also run into Rob Halford, Lemmy Kilmister, Brian Posehn, and Lita Ford as well as plenty of other interesting people as you try and stop Lord Doviculus' evil plans. The exceptional voice work is complimented by one hell of a metal soundtrack, featuring over a hundred different songs that blend perfectly with the world. Much like other open world titles, you'll be able to cruise along in your car and switch between what song is playing and even customize which songs are in the playlist.
Not only is the audio top notch, but the visuals are as well. The world certainly feels like some sort of heavy metal universe. You've got metallic spider lairs, ridiculous rock formations in the shape of guitars, a raging volcano, and a wall made up of nothing but amplifiers and speakers. Each specific location has a viewpoint you can find to get a better look at the splendor around you and it's fairly clear that a lot of love was put into making this world what it is. Character models are well defined, detailed, animated beautifully with wonderful facial expressions, and they even managed to avoid the "dead eye" look many games have trouble with.
Considering the open world nature of Brutal Legend, one of the strange omissions is any sort of mini-map. Instead, you're supposed to bounce to a full world map by hitting the select button to get a overview of the land and see where points of interest are around. This is most likely done to free up the screen from any sort of constant HUD while driving, but when you're just having fun tooling around and fly off a cliff into the water because you didn't see it coming, it's frustrating. Instead, your primary objective is highlighted in the distance by spotlights giving you at least some indication about which direction you should be headed. If you'd like, you can drop into the full map and place a marker to highlight one of the side missions to get you aimed at that one... but marker placement is limited to specific points. You can't just select a random spot on the map and throw down a marker to go check out what's over there. Once your side missions are gone in a specific area, there are no guiding lights available.
In regards to the side missions, Brutal Legend falls into trappings presented by many other open world style games. You only have a handful of mission types to choose from and whenever you try a particular type, your task is the same as the last one in that grouping. You'll engage in checkpoint races with Deuce, fight mini battles on foot or in a turret, or go on kill missions to destroy X amount of a certain animal, very standard and uninspired stuff. Not only that, but even the interaction to kick off the mission will reuse audio bits too frequently forcing you hear some Headbangers say "BAD GUYS, wanna help?" multiple times. Funny at first, hearing the same audio over and over isn't ever fun. While there are a few deviations, in general the side missions feel largely like an after thought intended to pad the fairly short single player and really don't add anything to the game.
Large scale battles are played out like huge rock concerts dubbed Stage Battles where you command troops to take on opposing forces, as well as get down into the thick of things to bust some heads. Brutal Legend was conceptualized as a multiplayer title, and it is clear that a lot of work has gone into this part of the game. For the most part, it works. Not only will you encounter these battles in single player, but it is the driving force behind the online component. Having no mini-map to indicate where bad guys are attacking is a bit strange at first, but then you get used to on-screen indicators that point them out. For example, the Drowning Doom faction all have rain clouds floating high above the ground so a quick spin of the camera and you'll know where they're coming from. Additionally, if any of your "Merch Booths" (resource gatherers) or troops are under attack, an icon will pop up in the lower right corner of the screen to let you know the general direction as to where the trouble is. Even further, you'll eventually get the ability to zoom up into the sky and fly around the battlefield with speed.
The more resources you have, the more units you can call forth to wage war (until you hit the cap). Holding down the right bumper will bring up a radial menu allowing selection of units as well as viewing available resources. Holding down the right trigger will bring up yet another radial menu that throws you into guitar solo mode. Pick a solo and play the song much like how the Ocarina of Time worked, but using proper time instead of just hitting the proper buttons. This will build Merch Booths on top of "Fan Geysers" (which is the only construction you'll deal with), unleash attacks, buff your troops, or even set rally points. Issuing commands is fairly simple as well. Its broken down to four directions on the D-pad which are just attack a direction, attack a point, defend, or regroup. You can also select a few units, to split off from the heard, but I felt this particular control wasn't very accurate.
While the RTS aspects of the game are simplified from what you would find on a PC, it will certainly be a "take it or leave it" kind of thing. The single player really ramps it up slowly allowing you to get a feel for each aspect on the battlefield, but I can certainly see people being turned off by it... and considering towards the end of the game all you're doing is engaging in these epic battles against the Tainted Coil or Drowning Doom, your enjoyment could potentially fall off after several hours of play.
It has been a long, hard road for veteran game designer Tim Schafer. Most of his games while critically applauded, never sell very well, so it's a nice change of pace to see Electronic Arts putting a bit of marketing muscle behind this one. Much like other Schafer titles, the strongest aspects of Brutal Legend are the writing, humor, and story despite having a large emphasis on multiplayer. As long as you're willing to overlook some annoyances and typical trappings of the open world genre, you should have a lot of fun throwing up your horns while Jack Black drives Deuce into the sunset.
- Exceptionally polished from top to bottom.
- The story is great, as is the humor, voice acting, writing, and of course, the soundtrack.
- The RTS elements have been simplified and work well on a console.
- RTS elements will really be hit or miss with people, and therefore BL may not have staying power.
- Side missions are very repetitive and often not very fun.
- Where's my mini-map?