I throw up the horns and salute.
Story: Everybody knows the basic plotline by now. Eddie Riggs is the greatest roadie in the world, but he's stuck working for the worst "metal" band in the world, Kabbage Boy, who completely dismiss the great metal of the past. Fortunately, they're swiftly killed off by a demon made of chrome, summoned to this world when Eddie gets some blood on his belt buckle. The demon saves his life and brings him to a surreal world where engines grow out of the ground, cactus needles are made of steel, and heavy metal isn't just treated with more respect than on our world, it's the binding force that life revolves around. It's not all sunshine and guitar solos, though, as the human race is viciously oppressed by sadistic demons known as the Tainted Coil, and the closest thing to an organized rebellion consists of three people. Eddie discovers that his skills as a roadie make him the perfect man to help save the human race, and soon enough the freshly-named Ironheade faction is a force to be reckoned with, and the battle for freedom begins.
There's a lot to love in the storyline, whose references to metal are varied and many. But you don't need to be a metal fan to enjoy them. It's not necessary, for example, to know that the hermit with the healing power of bass, the Kill Master, is named after Ian "Lemmy" Kilmister, who provides his voice, to enjoy the character's laid-back attitude towards the war. Most of the references are more obvious anyway; your basic melee infantry units are men who were forced to mine car parts from rock walls using only their thick skulls. Not knowing any better, they use this same motion to attack their enemies. Naturally, they're called "Headbangers". Brütal Legend's storyline starts out somewhat goofy, with jokes and such flowing freely, similarly to the pace of Double Fine's previous game, the excellent Psychonauts. However, despite the bizarre, surreal setting, the plot takes some fairly serious twists and turns along the way, showing Ironheade gaining strength and defeating its enemies, though not without cost, ultimately leading up to a final confrontation with the sinister Emperor Doviculus (played delightfully by Tim Curry) that is quite satisfying and wraps up the plot nicely. Just as with Psychonauts, the writing is the best part of Brütal Legend, and while it doesn't quite reach the emotional depth of Double Fine's last game, it still had me anxious to find out how it all went down. Not to give away the details in any way, but I was pleased to see that Double Fine learned a specific lesson from Psychonauts: Although the game's ending leaves the possibility of a sequel open, it doesn't do so by creating a sudden, unsatisfying cliffhanger.
I did have one fault with the storyline, and it was more of a personal opinion thing than a real flaw. Apparently the magical world of metal is actually just Earth in the past, with characters continually referring to Eddie as being from the future. My personal suspension of disbelief was just strained to its breaking point with this, expecting me to believe that this land of magic and music, unlike anything anyone has ever seen, is going to become our dismal, boring-ass world someday. Not to mention that it would have been dead simple to replace every reference to time travel with a reference to Eddie being from 'another world', and it wouldn't have effected the overall plot.
Sound: I'm not normally one to care about the sound effects, I don't really notice them unless they're actively bad. However, the sound work in Brütal Legend is great, with all kinds of delightfully weird creature noises and characters spouting hundreds of lines of dialogue depending on the circumstances in-game. I particularly enjoy that there are lines specifically written for multiplayer mode, such as when the enemy chose the same faction as you. Hearing Eddie say "Oh yeah, this doesn't feel like symbolism or anything." as he fights another Eddie always put a smile on my face. However, some of the more common lines tended to repeat more often than I'd like; Eddie spouts off a few lines at random just for engaging in combat, so hearing him say "That hurt, but you admired the technique, am I right?" was funny at first, but it rapidly lost its appeal, especially when I realized that he'll say it whenever he hits anything, including inanimate objects, with his axe. In particular, the line "We're just marching around, kicking ass!", spoken by your soldiers as they patrol the land, was repeated so many times it actively bothered me by the end of the game. At least the voice acting is uniformly excellent. Jack Black gives a great performance as Eddie Riggs, and I was genuinely surprised at how good a job Ozzy Osbourne did as the Guardian of Metal, the game's equivalent to a shopkeeper. Brütal Legend's soundtrack features more than one hundred metal songs from the last few decades, and yes, a lot of that soundtrack is awesome, though admittedly most of it was lost on me. It does, however, include the song Master Exploder, by Jack Black's band Tenacious D, which I think sums up the game's slightly parodical reverence for metal quite nicely.
Graphics: The graphics in Brütal Legend are good, all the characters look extremely unique and are identifiable at a glance, although I wish it were easier to see some of the smaller enemies from the air during Stage Battles. The game also has a fairly major problem with pop-in: expect to see things magically appearing by the side of the road pretty much constantly while you're driving Eddie's personal ride, a car called the Deuce, around the Brütal World. At some points, it bordered on ridiculous: I would drive up to the area where Ironheade was camping out, and even when I was standing right next to the spot where they were supposed to be, the characters and objects other than the tour bus would take upwards of thirty seconds to appear. Though it never got that bad, the stage battles also have an issue with pop-in, since you're very high in the air and can move quite rapidly. Other than the pop-in, the only thing I really have to complain about is that it kind of breaks the immersion when some of the larger creatures in the world rotate instead of actually turning, looking quite silly in the process. Just watch the chrome-tusked Hextadons in the snowy areas and you'll see what I mean.
Gameplay: This is the tricky section. You see, the gameplay is good, but it's not amazing. Pretty much every mission boils down to killing a whole bunch of dudes and not being killed yourself. The Deuce is hard to control, and even though I got better at it over time, it never quite felt natural. The third-person action controls are tight, with the A button dedicated to axe attacks and the X button being the designated Guitar Magic button. The simple combos were surprisingly easy to remember, which is a good thing, since just mashing A all the time would get old very fast, not to mention that many enemies are annoyingly resilient to axe attacks. (The Ratguts from the Drowning Doom stick out prominently in my mind. Those things just won't die!) I also liked that every new aspect of the gameplay is introduced to you piece by piece, battle by battle. You're only taught how to give movement orders, for example, when you get your first unit, through a tutorial that manages to be simple and straightforward without being condescending. Your first RTS-like Stage Battle is crazy and very hard to follow, and while it's so easy I didn't really have trouble winning, it had me worried that I would have no idea what I was doing in the more difficult fights. Fortunately, the next time you do it, the game grants you the ability to fly during Stage Battles, which is a godsend. The game does this kind of thing pretty much the entire way through the campaign, to the point where it gives you one last new unit in your final showdown against Doviculus.
On the other hand, certain things just aren't explained to you. For example, did you know that you can fly to the top of your Stage, jump on a spotlight, and use it like a defensive turret? Not that that's a particularly useful attack, but the game only tells you this on a randomly-selected loading screen tip. Not to mention the Bound Serpents. These are the obligatory open world hidden items, one hundred and twenty statues scattered throughout the Brütal World which have been done up in S&M gear. Eddie can free these statues and receive a bonus, like improved health or quicker regeneration, from every ten he frees. The problem is that the game never tells you how to free them until you've already done it once. For the record, you use the Pyro ability, by holding down X until Eddie sends a large fireball up from the ground under the statue. I read how to free them in the manual, but if it hadn't been in there, or if I hadn't checked, I don't know how long it would have taken to figure it out. I had actually beaten the game before I learned that you use Earthshaker to listen to Legends (chained-up thingies that Eddie describes with "Looks like something's dying to get out"). Fortunately, this problem only applies to peripheral things, the main gameplay elements are all thoroughly explained.
I disagree with the general consensus that the Stage Battles are badly handled. In my opinion, it's the best translation of the RTS experience I've ever seen on a console. Halo Wars was the most recent game to try to make a console-exclusive RTS, but while they did an admirable job, Brütal Legend does it better. Sticking the player to an avatar character makes all the difference. At first I thought it was annoying that it was only possible to give orders to the units in the immediate area (apart from one guitar solo that orders every unit under your command to move to your position) until I realized that this allowed me to separate my troops and have strategies other than just throwing a whole bunch of units at my enemies. If there were two paths to my base, I could leave a bunch of guys in one of them as defence, and focus on another group pushing forward through the other path. And even if you're undermanned when you come under attack, the avatar characters are amazingly powerful. Sure, the Bouncers may be more effective on vehicles, but Eddie can still bring the pain with his lightning should the need arise. It also made it thrilling whenever the enemy avatar made an appearance, as they are truly a match for the player. I also loved that there's mid-combat banter dialogue between them, having Eddie make fun of Doviculus even as they tried to kill each other was always good for a laugh. There's only one resource to keep track of (Fans), and the Fan Geysers that create them never run out. Plus, with a population cap of only 40 and most units taking up 3-4 spots, even the most chaotic battles are never too crazy. I also appreciated that you can order new units from anywhere on the map, especially since the tide of war can turn on a dime. I once slaughtered my way to the Drowning Doom's stage only to have them tear my forces asunder with their Reapers. I wisely got the eff out of Dodge and ordered up a new army to defend against the inevitable counter attack.
Most missions were easy enough, I only had to try a few of them more than once, most notably the surprisingly difficult "Dry Ice, Wet Graves" Stage Battle mission and "A Number of the Beasts" which I had to do twice, but that's more understandable because animal-herding missions in video games always suck. Other than that, the game was somewhat short, but having heard that going in, I took my sweet time with it, enjoying hunting down Bound Serpent statues, completing side missions, and just generally taking in the sights in the world of metal.
The Bottom Line: When it comes down to it, Brütal Legend is a good game. In terms of what you actually do, the gameplay isn't particularly varied, certain aspects of the game are glossed over or simply not explained at all, and there are a few truly frustrating missions, but then, nobody remembers Psychonauts for its platforming or action. The storyline is truly unique, and should not be missed. The voice acting has an impressive cast and an equally stellar performance. The Stage Battles, although confusing at first, are a genuinely refreshing take on the Real-Time Strategy concept that I find myself revisiting again and again. And the game's devoted adoration to heavy metal made even a non-fan like me throw up the horns now and then. This is a game that includes a sequence where you desperately drive a tricked-out hot rod through a collapsing stadium, racing for the exit for your very life while demons literally rain from the sky, all while Through the Fire and Flames by Dragonforce plays on the radio. If that doesn't sound at least a little fun to you, then don't bother with this game. But if the idea of a dedicated roadie exploring a heavy metal world populated by demons, chrome-boned animals, and an army of evil goths sounds appealing to you, then I wholeheartedly recommend that you give Brütal Legend a try.