Insanely Funny and full of style let down by lackluster gameplay.
I wanted to love Brutal Legend, even before it was released. I fought with myself, trying be converted by the game, and although there are many part I do indeed love. Ultimately the game here is a failure.
Tim Schafer is a genius, and a personal hero of mine. A long storied career including true classics, Monkey Island, Full Throttle, and Grim Fandango. Retuned to the scene after a long absence in 2004 with the incredible Psychonauts. With Brutal Legend we see him team with actor Jake Black in a love story to Heavy Metal. Jack plays our hero Eddie Riggs; a roadie working for a new age metal group. He is the best in the business and has a true love of his work, despite the realization that metal is dead. Trust soon enough into a Medieval Metal world in peril, Eddie must use his roadie talents to lead a rebellion against the Evil Doviculus.
Beginning on a high note, the story weaves a surprisingly deep tale of War, betrayal, and the way of metal. Our hero joins forces with the people of Bladehenge, and there courageous leader Lars Halford. They fight back against the forces of darkness, and along the way battle armies of Glam Rockers, and Undead Goths. Much time and effort has been taken in designing the many characters and units, everything is ripped from the Metal and rock and roll world. Glam warriors sport long flowing hair, headbangers well bang their heads on the attack. The World is right out of an Album cover, Giant swords and skulls. Everything feels right, the atmosphere is so good it almost got me into metal.
Visually brutal legend is quite impressive. A massive overworld teaming with style and great designs, walls made of amps and speaker wire little the roadside, giant statues and twisted mountains on the horizons, this is Metal in all its glory. As the game progresses the sear variety of locals is impressive. From the Medieval world of Bladehenge, Eddie travels to great glam pleasure palaces, mystical swamps, through spider invested caves, and fog machine graveyard’s. The look and feel of these places in tangible and incredibly well crafted.
Characters look and sound great, facial expressions and movements, particularly in the case of Eddie, show great emotion and almost a hint of acting. There is something about the eyes, showing feeling and mood. Voice acting cast read like a who’s who list of Metal, Ozzie Osborne partially is fantastic as the Guardian of Metal, along with Lemmy, Rob Halford, and Lita Ford, who all turn in great performances. Jack Black is surprisingly not over the top in his role, and shows restraint in playing Eddie. He truly becomes the character and brings some honest acting to the show.
Tim Schafer again shows us the he is among the funniest men in the business. Hilarious throughout, sharp dialog and witty one liners along with over all great writing. Obviously a true love of metal was present.
Unfortunately I was forced to play Brutal Legend in order to see the next cinematic. And this is where things start to go sour. There are essentially three gameplay types, basic god of war inspired action, free rooming and driving, and RTS stage battles. Some fair better than other but in the end non were engaging or fun enough for me to fully enjoy.
The Fighting is basic and at first seems fairly strait forward, and even fun at first. As the game progresses, and the enemies become more powerful, the action becomes a bit too difficult for its own good. With no HUD to speak of, I was constantly unaware the I was even being damage. Eddie dies with great haste only careful blocking and dodging will keep him alive, but with the sheer amount of enemies appearing in battle, this becomes a difficult task. Dying without knowing why or how is not a present experience. The Fighting is not without its charm, the great style carries on, with over the top violence and some impressive kills. Not enough time was spent fleshing out the mechanics of the combat and it shows.
Driving was the most fun I had actually playing. The world is so full of character and style. It looks a feels right, and riding the Druid Plow through the fields blasting wildlife into chunks and speeding after demons is genuinely fun. Controls are a bit flout, take some getting used to, plus the lack of any HUD makes navigation difficult. I found myself pausing and bringing up the map constantly, blinking turn signals did a poor job of directing me. The other forms of gameplay overtake the entertaining driving in sheer quantity.
The meat of the game is spent in the Stage battles. Each side has a Rock stage as a base and unit construction point, racing to capture wells of fans, building merch booths to harness resources. As before the army of Metal heads and there various foes are great looking and have a great style, from gigantic speaker packing roadies, to the hugely powerful yet small brained bouncers. Eddie can send his forces to follow, attack and hold position easily enough, and once you gain the ability to fly over the field of battle, this does become easier. But it is at its core an RTS and no one has quite figure out joystick controls with the same easy as a mouse. Awkward and too basic for their own good, it became a constant struggle to get my troops where I wanted them to go. Almost impossible to successfully give individual orders beyond one or two units. Constantly flying back to the stage roping up more men, as they assemble waiting for orders.
As if it was not enough to have bad unreliable control, you must face stiff resistance. Rivals raise hordes of fast effective troops. Without constant vigil and physical resistance on Eddies part, my armies were crushed and scattered. Especially later in the game, the stage battles became extremely frustrating, repeatedly flying back to base, gathering up men then soaring back to the fray only to have my combatants devastated by my lack of assistance in battle.
My resolve was being tested, just slog through one more battle, and get my reward of a cut scene or a driving section. Anything to get away from RTS. The game seemed to want me to fail, dying in an instant during the larger battles, over and over again. Again no HUD or indication of Eddie being damaged, simply running into the fight and perishing rapidly.
The rewards for suffering through stage battles is to glimpse at the games superb writing and voice acting. Forcing my way through the frustration to see just a little more of the story.
I did fall in love with Brutal legend, fell in love with its style and remarkable cast. Marveled at its sights and bizarre creatures. Chuckled at its comedy and the sheer absurdity of the world. Tim Schafer again proves himself the funniest man in gaming, such great personality is present in his writing, no other game this year has as many genuine laughs. But the effort of the RTS combined with speedy deaths bog down the experience. But worth it in the end, so much atmosphere and the genuine love of metal almost overshadows the gameplay troubles. But a game this is and the game of Brutal Legend fails. They tried too hard, spent too much time developing the stage battles and there multiplayer counterpart.
In the end Brutal Legend is worth experiencing, a game with this much hilarious dialog and personality is rarely seen. If only the team at Double Fine had focused on a simpler gameplay and not tried to master the console RTS, this could have been a landmark, but instead stands as a disappointment.