At this point, I just feel like a jerk for ever assuming Brütal Legend was going to be a simple level-based hack-and-slash game in the God of War vein. A hilarious, headbanging hack-and-slash game from the prodigious pen of Tim Schafer, of course, but a hack-and-slasher nonetheless.
Au contraire; the more I see of Brütal Legend, the further from the truth I realize my initial suspicions were. When Double Fine and EA first took the wraps off the game, it became clear that Eddie Riggs' romp through rock revolution was drawing design elements from all kinds of successful genres. It's got the open-world elements of a Grand Theft Auto, the squad-based troop-commanding of an Overlord, and some controller-based shredding a la Guitar Hero and its ilk.
At this point, actually, you can scratch the Overlord reference. After seeing Schafer demo a large-scale battle from midway through the game, I'm starting to think real-time strategy would be a more apt comparison for the kind of broad tactical action that will underpin Brütal Legend's combat.
Prior to swinging your mighty axe in some of the game's biggest battles, you'll construct an RTS-like base of sorts nearby, consisting of a gigantic, arena-worthy stage (complete with big flood lights, pyrotechnics, and a metal documentary-style time-lapse construction animation) and the requisite merchandise table. These are the buildings that will generate the resources--represented by ethereal, ghostly fans--that you'll use to purchase reinforcements.
The RTS comparisons come in when you see that you (as Eddie) can order up more units mid-battle by literally popping up a rotary menu where you select and queue up the new troop types you want to bring into battle. The game has a rock-paper-scissors balance mechanic going on, with infantry dudes, ranged units, and other archetypes.
Of course, Schafer's brand of gleefully clever humor influences all these combat elements. Headbangers are your basic infantry, and they can do a special move called the mosh pit where they encircle Eddie and run around, bashing all the enemies that get in their way with their thick noggins. There's a special unit called the runaway who's basically a 15-year-old girl in a tight metal t-shirt who rides on Eddie's shoulders--just like all runaways do at concerts, right?
I feel inadequate writing about this stuff, because it's way funnier than I'm capable of conveying. Just trust me: if you've ever expunged your teenage angst to the strains of Iron Maiden or Slayer or Metallica, you'll click with this game's humor, bigtime.
And how do you get a handle on all this action, considering you can summon up to 40 troops to fight on your side at once? By taking to the skies. I can't exactly call this a spoiler, since EA is putting out screenshots of it: Eddie turns into a demon at some point via infernal poison. In gameplay terms, that gives him giant wings that lets him fly around during these big battles, letting him attack from the air but more importantly giving you a bird's-eye tactical view of the battle. Plus, Eddie looks pretty wicked and gnarly when he's all red and winged. (I'm pretty sure he'll revert back to human form in between battles, only sprouting those wings when it's convenient.)
The sky-high perspective is especially useful when you consider that you've got rudimentary control over the behavior of your rock minions. You can set beacons and have them move to them on command, as well as telling them to gather toward you and so forth.
The sample battle Schafer showed off was set against the forces of the foul General Lionwhyte, the leader of Eddie's enemy glam rockers voiced by Rob Halford. There's not much I can say about Lionwhyte that the included screenshot you see to the right there doesn't already say for itself. I do have to mention that he uses his hair like giant angel wings to fly around, which is pretty much hilarious whenever you see it in action.
Not to harp too much on the same point I made in my first look at this game, but I'm so pleased Brütal Legend looks like a game I really want to get my hands on and play, rather than simply a vehicle for Schafer's reliable hilarity (though it does seem to be that, too). We're hoping to get our mitts on the game ourselves at E3, so check back for more in early June.