Brutal Legend: A Break Down of a Wonderful, Flawed Game

Thanks to the recent Brutal Legend TNT I found myself with a hankering, a strong hankering to return to the metal fields of yore and tear through some daemons with an ax and a guitar. So I riffled through a box of old games and found my copy, with the intent to play through it in a week or so, but the metal got to me and sunk its molten teeth deep. Two days later I was done with the game and filled with both a deep respect for the game that was and a longing for the game it might have been. Brutal Legend just crushes when it comes to things like tone, open world design, esthetic, character personality, and unique rts gameplay, but it falls short in its pacing and its dialog delivery. As a result I want to examine what this game did terrifically, where it stumbled, and how it may have addressed its issues.

1. Esthetic Cohesiveness- Every locale in Brutal Legend was designed to look like a heavy metal album cover, and it shows. The landscape takes disparate parts of heavy metal lore and merges them into the natural elements of the world we know to create the world that heretofore was contained entirely in 80s high school composition books. The trees are made of exhaust pipes and the stones form natural ramps at every turn and the whole thing just feels right. This is accentuated by the fact that the player is always driving through the world in a sick hotrod that blasts nothing but metal music, the perfect tunes for running over razor porcupines and jumping gorges. On top of the obvious environmental touches there are also buried relics for the player to find which contain new songs to add to the already awesome radio; this buried metal takes what would be a boring collectable and makes it an element of the ambiance.

Brutal Legend: where anvil mountains are normal

2. Open World Design- Brutal Legend is one of the rare open world games that I actually feel compelled to roam around in. This is due almost entirely to the fact that every street and road looks wildly different, and around every corner is some new solo or landmark to discover. By the end of the game I felt like I knew the world of Brutal Legend like the back of my hand because I had spent so long simply driving and enjoying the sites that I did.

3. Character Personality- Each of the characters in Brutal Legend has a unique and well established personality that really made them endearing. From the dim-witted bouncers to the horn-dog bassists I felt like I knew every member of my band by the end of the game. I liked them so much in fact that I felt compelled to talk to every one of them every opportunity that I got. The heroes are just as well-written as the common units and that added personality made the road trip story all the more potent.

What other rts would have a spell called chains of hell?

4. Unique RTS Gameplay- This part of the game is the most derided, but I really enjoyed the stage battles. The interplay between the character action of the main hero unit and the army level battles that were taking place all around it made for as unique an rts experience as I have ever played. It tests the player’s micro and macro level skills at all times, so much so that foregoing one part of the game to embrace the other results almost certainly in defeat. The sheer range of gameplay experiences present in one stage battle is staggering and that versatility is what I love about the strategy in Brutal Legend, sometimes apms are not as valuable as a good ax-hand.

Now that I have covered what I loved I think it is time for some flaw exposure.

Hope you like these guys cause you're going to see a lot of them

1. The Story is Set up for 3 Acts but only has 1.5- The story of Brutal legend is clearly set up for three campaign sections: Ironheade, Drowning Doom, and Tainted Coil. However, after hours of gameplay dedicated to Ironheade fighting Ironheade there are a scant few missions dedicated to fighting the other factions and learning about their mechanics and history. Each Ironheade unit is unveiled with an acquisition mission before joining your army permanently, yet both the Drowning Doom and the Tainted Coil simply spring fully formed from Zeus’s skull with little fanfare. Despite the fact that the player has little knowledge of these armies, and thus needs more experience fighting against them, each secondary army receives far fewer stage battles than the Ironheade army that preceded them. There are two stage battles against the Drowning Doom and only one stage battle against the Tainted Coil, leading the player to have a huge gap in their knowledge about either of those factions. This gameplay shortcoming bleeds into the story as both secondary factions have only one character with any dialog: their leaders. Thus, each secondary faction feels underdeveloped and the story ends without giving them anything resembling equal stage time.

The solution to this problem would be a longer story mode; however, I know that this is unrealistic given the time and monetary constraints the game was under.

2. Dialog Delivery- The dialog outside of battles is delivered by having the player run up to a character and pressing a button to prompt a character to speak. As the game goes on the band grows larger and the number of people to speak to grows unwieldy, resulting in unnecessary time being wasted trying to listen to every line of dialog from each character. This is especially true when characters have multiple lines, thus forcing the player to keep hitting the button prompt until a character repeats a line to know that they are done talking. It is not game breaking, but this dialog delivery system is mildly annoying.

A possible alternative would be to have characters display some sort of prompt over their heads when they have something new to say which goes away when they are done talking. This would limit the repeated dialog problem and inform he player of who to talk to before each battle.

I hope you all play this great, flawed game and enjoy the sheer ridiculous fun of it all.

23 Comments
23 Comments
Edited by The_Laughing_Man

The game started to go down hill when they started to force on the RTS way to much. The first few times where ok..but 4th time i was like "err...wait...is this gonna be it?"

Posted by thatpinguino

@the_laughing_man: Their answer was yes, this is going to be it. When you bought the game did you think it was an rts or did you think it would be an action game the whole way? It seems to me that half of the bad rap Brutal Legend gets is that it misrepresented what it was and people who do not like rts games bought it under the false pretense that it was an action game.

Posted by The_Laughing_Man

@the_laughing_man: Their answer was yes, this is going to be it. When you bought the game did you think it was an rts or did you think it would be an action game the whole way? It seems to me that half of the bad rap Brutal Legend gets is that it misrepresented what it was and people who do not like rts games bought it under the false pretense that it was an action game.

All gameplay I had seen was action. In truth I do not even recall seeing any of the RTS till I ran into it myself. Sadly it seems once the first one happened it slashed into the action gameplay and all real battles happened in that RTS stuff.

Edited by joshthebear

I loved everything about this game, until the RTS missions came into play. If it had been more like the first parts where it's more a character action game, I think it would have fared much better.

Edited by granderojo

Brutal Legend was my favorite game of 2009. I really enjoyed that game at the time & it holds up really well.

Posted by bobafettjm

I absolutely dreaded playing the RTS sections. Not only that I got completely stuck on the last battle, got incredibly frustrated with it and never went back to it. Then I had an issue where I lost every save file I had on my Xbox and that pretty much sealed the deal on me never finishing it.

Posted by Hailinel

@the_laughing_man: Their answer was yes, this is going to be it. When you bought the game did you think it was an rts or did you think it would be an action game the whole way? It seems to me that half of the bad rap Brutal Legend gets is that it misrepresented what it was and people who do not like rts games bought it under the false pretense that it was an action game.

The thing is, the game was in no way marketed as an RTS game. Very little about the game mentioned by the press even hinted at the RTS element. A lot of people were under the impression that the game was something it obviously wasn't because of a marketing effort that some might choose to label as deceitful. And as much as I was interested in playing a metal-infused action game, I'm glad I skipped out on it because RTS games are the one genre above all others that I have never been able to enjoy.

Edited by eskimo

@thatpinguino: Thanks man, I love that game so much. Your critique is spot on, and makes me sigh wistfully and remember my time with that game. Not many games have that much heart.

Edited by thatpinguino

@joshthebear: I think the game would have fared much better as an action game simply because action games are so much more popular than non-Starcraft rts games. Though it seems like Double Fine was never making a pure action game, instead choosing to design a metal-themed action-rts hybrid with open world elements. With such a specific focus on such a small audience I don't know that it ever could have had a huge mass appeal, but for the metal loving rts fans the game is close to ideal.

@bobafettjm: The final stage battle is more than a little messed up, unlike every other battle in the game the enemies in that battle increase in strength after every bit of progress you make on the giant, three headed enemy. Which means that the best and almost only way to play that battle is to wait until you are fully teched up to kill either of the heads, otherwise the Tainted Coil gets way too strong way too fast and kills you.

@hailinel: I think the marketing did a disservice to what that game actually was in favor of increasing sales. What it is is a very unique rts, similar is some ways to Herxog Zwei. But, that genre does not sell as well as action games so the game was marketed based on its opening rather than its full gameplay.

Edited by Mustachio

I really wish they'd focused on the RTS aspect more and marketed it as such. EA releasing that incredibly deceptive demo might have gained a few sales initially, but in the long run they just shot themselves in the foot. And I agree about the 1.5 acts; I could have forgiven that game if the characters I'd gotten invested in had received any tangible narrative payoff. I have to wonder how much of the blame is on the publisher debacle and how much is on Double Fine for bad planning. All I know is that thinking about Brutal Legend never fails to make me sad, as I really, really enjoyed facing off against the Drowning Doom and Doviculus was a fantastic character with a plot line that was naturally escalating towards a grand finale.

And then it just sorta ends instead.

Edited by Rebel_Scum

I thought the dialog was great. Good taste of humour thoughtout the game.

Posted by thatpinguino

@mustachio: Yeah I can't hep but wonder what the game would have been like if the Drowning Doom and Tainted Coil had the slow roll out that Ironheade had. I would really love to see some story scenes wit the goth zombies and the weird leathery things acting like people, rather than like rts units. Though I do think that black tear Ophelia has a full story arch, Doviculus definitely gets the short end of the stick when it comes to stage time.

Edited by GunstarRed

I felt completely unprepared for any of the RTS sections. I stumbled my way through to the goths and had to drop it down to easy because I was no longer having any fun. I just wanted the game to be a hack and slasher. I adore the setting and the music and the characters... It breaks my heart that the game with two characters voiced by Rob Halford is a game I don't really enjoy playing.

The final boss soundtracked to Painkiller is pretty amazing though.

Edited by thatpinguino

@gunstarred: I think that playing through a second time really changed my appreciation for the game because by my second playthrough I had played several online multiplayer matches and the campaign. With that experience, every stage battle up until the final one were cake. Though the rts sections do have a learning curve I think the game that is there is worth giving another shot.

Edited by EXTomar

I believe the RTS stuff was derided because marketing emphasized an open world game with driving and hack/slash adventure where on occasions there are missions that sometimes make you use armies in an RTS system. This turned out to be far from the truth where not only did you do a lot of it but it did a poor job of letting you explore the RTS units and systems where it turned into more trial and error than learning.

Posted by thatpinguino

@extomar: Yeah the rts sections kind of just jump you into the thing with little guidance. They basically just say STRATEGY GO! and expect the player to properly use each of the units when the tutorials for those units do not really include battle situations. Like the mosh pit attack with headbangers is great at leveling infantry, but in the tutorial it is used to defend against a herd of deer or the roadie team attack that is great at clearing crowds, but in the tutorial it is used to kill birds. Maybe if the tutorials were more couched in real combat situations people would have felt more prepared for the stage battles.

Edited by sixpin

The bait and switch that is Brutal Legend really killed my enjoyment of the title. Thinking you are getting an Action/Adventure game, then getting a poorly balanced and frustrating RTS game instead is quite the shock. I played through the battle with goths that opens up the final battle, but never finished it. I was so frustrated after finishing that stupid goth fight that the dread of the last fight caused me to turn it off and not go back. Just typing this has riled up old feelings.

Edited by thatpinguino

@sixpin: But the main campaign does not really have balance issues from what I've experienced until the last battle, and that problem is one of scaling (the enemies instantly tech up to level 3 tech after you get halfway through the battle). The other battles can be won by spamming infantry units and then building your level 3 unit. Did you find that the earlier missions did explain the rts battles well enough or do you just dislike the genre entirely?

Posted by Wrighteous86

I played it as a GTA/Zelda hybrid the whole way through. I didn't play the "RTS" everyone says they hated, I played the way I wanted and got through just fine. Just pause every now and then to build a bunch of dudes, and keep the rally flag on you as you go from place to place effing things up yourself.

Posted by sixpin

@thatpinguino: Well, like I said the bait-n-switch set me against it early on. I'm not a huge fan of RTS games. I play Starcraft sometimes, but it isn't my genre of choice (I'm more of a Civ kinda guy). As someone with limited interest in the genre, I suppose that the game did a poor job of explaining basic tactics. After a while I would just build crap loads of units and throw them at the enemy hoping for the best.

Edited by ProfessorEss

I think adding the RTS element was a big mistake but not a big enough mistake that I didn't love playing it.

The RTS side of things may have bothered me more if it ever got difficult but I don't recall playing any of the RTS skirmishes more than once (except for maybe the last one).

Edited by thatpinguino

@sixpin: I can definitely see the lack of explanation as a problem; I really learned the rts mechanics through the multiplayer more than through the campaign mode and I think I had to look up a guide to finish the final stage battle because it jumps in difficulty so radically half way through. Though after playing the multiplayer I gained a real appreciation for how fun the rts battles can be, especially playing as the Drowning Doom. Ratgut for life.

Posted by thatpinguino

Testing to see if this thread is still disconnected from the general discussion forum.