Like a porcupine...
It's been a long and strange trip to get here, but Brutal Legend, a game about a heavy metal fantasy world created by the master of underappreciated games, Tim Schafer, is here. Between its subject matter, its inherent humor, and the man behind the scenes, there is an overwhelming desire to want this game to be something special, to succeed above everything else and there are certainly some things Brutal Legend does well; the problem instead seems to be that Brutal Legend tries to be EVERYTHING, and any successes it might have in providing satisfying gameplay are quickly forgotten when the game attempts to force another half-baked idea upon its player.
The star of our game is Eddie Riggs, a roadie for the nu-metal band Kabbage Boy. As he laments the death and castration of the genre he holds so near and dear, a horrible stage accident transports him into an age of metal, a plane of existance where tailpipes sprout from the ground, where demons are the ruling class, and where the power of metal itself is the deadliest weapon. From here, Eddie must lead a resistance of humans against the oppressive Hair Metal Militia and Tainted Coil, gather an army of followers, and free the brutal land of its oppressive masters. The story is
funny and the world itself is extremely creative. There is certainly a point in the game where the humor takes a back seat in favor of exposition, but this never becomes much of a problem. This is a story, however abrupt the end, that is worth experiencing; it is just too bad that what the game makes you do to advance this story is only occasionally fun.
The main issue that the game has is its use of several genres without truly committing to any one. It begins seemingly as a hack-and-slash game where Eddie uses his axe and guitar in conjunction with one another to dismember enemies. This gameplay is a lot more stiff than others in the genre, and although new combos can be unlocked, there are likely only a few that you're going to remember/think are effective enough to use consistently. The game then abruptly breaks out into a driving and open-world mechanic. Because of the ease/fun of driving the Deuce (Eddie's hot rod) and the excellent heavy metal landscape, this was by far the most enjoyable aspect of the game, although it suffers from a lack of things to do within the game itself. There are story missions and a handful of repetitive secondary mission types. Although the beginning of the game promises great variation of gameplay and fun mission structure, by the time the game introduces the predominate RTS aspects, the variation is pretty much gone.
Yes, the great divider seems to be the inclusion of RTS elements in the game. For those completely oblivious, this can come as a bit of a nasty shock as indeed, despite extremely simplified and streamlined mechanics, it is still a pretty tough genre to get a hang of. It isn't that they are inherently bad, as they can be quite enjoyable once mastered, but the RTS battles which populate the greater portion of the game's second half really do a lot to drag down the pace of the overall game. I won't bother explaining the entirety of the RTS sections here, but essentially it boils down to you spawning units to capture neutral resources. These resources can then be used to create more units or upgrade your stage which in turn, lets you create better units. The end game is essentially to lead your army to your opponent's stage and bring it down, utilizing commands and double team mechanics to gain tactical advantage. Where this good idea gets mucked up, however, is in the way it is played. You're still meant to be a force on the battlefield, but also to command units effectively, but ALSO make tactical decisions on which units to create, but ALSO ALSO to use the game's variation on spells to sway the battle in your favor, but ALSO ALSO ALSO play a rhythm game whilst the battle wages in order to get the desired effect. Now, the game's multiplayer centers around these mechanics, but if you're not tired of simply reading about what the game wants you to do to succeed in them, just imagine how much you'll be sick of the chaos by the time you've completed the game's campaign.
And that is a shame, because you can see the care and attention to balancing that went into these stage battles. If this was the entire game, and it was made clear that this was all the game was going to be, I believe they would have been better accepted as they can indeed be fun especially when facing another human opponent. However, as it stands, Brutal Legend's campaign tries to entertain you with diversion, but also tries to teach you the ins and outs of the multiplayer, often feeling like a tutorial in spots. Try to actually play these stage battles consistently with the skills only learned from single player, however, and you'll soon find yourself getting spanked. It is this kind of thing that not only makes me disappointed with Brutal Legend's gameplay, but also entirely confused. Indeed, if you made it such a point to try these stage battles that you put so many of them in the campaign, then why in the blue hell are things like summoning a rally point, upgrading your units, and defending your stage barely and/or not even explained in the single player? I suppose that is the best way to sum up Brutal Legend's gameplay; simply baffling.
The presentation half of Brutal Legend is equally lop-sided. On the one hand, the visual style is great; characters animate and express perfectly and the world itself is amazing. The soundtrack of metal classics only helps to set the
mood, and sometimes you feel like just driving around to finish the current song rather than to go and do another mission. The voice-acting, filled with metal legends, is equally fantastic, with Jack Black's Eddie Riggs leading the way. There are also great performances here by Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy Kilmister, and Rob Halford, not to mention veteran voice actress Jennifer Hale voicing Ophelia. However, the amount of technical hiccups, from pop-up to a framerate that redefines the term "janky", just drags down the presentation to a sub-par level. There are some pretty aged graphics going on here, which isn't surprising knowing how long the game's been in gestation, but still, better should be expected from a current gen game. Excellent style and heart, but technically sloppy.
Sloppy is a word that can kinda describe Brutal Legend as a whole. Although the quality of the game's high points drags it up from being a mediocre title, the uneven gameplay, poor pacing, and taped together presentation keep it from greatness. Brutal Legend is a legend worth being heard and shared, but perhaps should be passed down rather than kept and cherished.