Catching Up With 2009: Brutal Legend

The first time I saw anything about Brutal Legend was when it graced the cover of an issue of Game Informer. My first thought was that someone had gone and made an awful “hard” version of Guitar Hero. Needless to say, I didn’t give the game much thought at first.

However, as the buzz for the game began to build, I started to see some promise. There seemed to be a lot of talent converging on this game from both the video game and music industries. From the earliest videos and screenshots, it was clear that the people making this game were deeply passionate about it. A game may have its shortcomings, but when passion is put into it, a game can overcome those failings and become something memorable. This tale about a roadie transported to a land of Metal seemed like it could be one of those kinds of games. I was intrigued.

My biggest trepidation about the game was the star, Jack Black. I find his music to be funny and at times quite good, but I have a hard time liking him in pretty much any of his acting roles. I was bored by School of Rock and nearly put to sleep by Year One. I pretty much vow to never see Kung Fu Panda, though that is as much because of my hate for the commericialist crap that is Dreamworks Animation as it is because of his involvement. (Those bastards put a black mark on the animation industry with their lame attempts at cashing in on Pixar’s success. The awful Shrek sequels are a perfect example.)

Anyways… I kept my eye on the game. Then, I found out that it wasn’t a straight up action game as it appeared to be. (The demo was especially misleading about this.) It was in fact, an RTS hiding behind a mask of action/adventure. This pretty much killed any desire I had to play the game right then and there. Console RTS’ are a BAD idea, and I may never forgive the world for Starcraft 64. So, when I got my PS3, I passed over this game without much though.

How did I get from ignoring the game’s existence to covering it in my column?

Let’s Catch Up!

What’s The Game?

This week’s game is Brutal Legend, a genre busting game for multiple platforms. I’m covering the PS3 version here.

Who Made It?

This was the second effort from Double Fine Studios, who also developed the ridiculously critically acclaimed Psychonauts in 2005.

When Did It Come Out?

The game was released on Rocktober (October) 13th, 2009.

Where’s The Review?

Unbeknownst to me when I picked this game, we don’t actually have a review for this up. You know what that means, right? This IS the review!

Why Didn’t You Play It In 2009?

I’ve mentioned this before, but I only got my PS3 this year, so that’s the biggest reason I didn’t play this last year.

The real story is why I waited so long after I got the system to get the game. The truth is, I lost my interest in the game because of the RTS elements. However, because of the praise the game got for its presentation and story, I still had an iota of hope. Then, the game dropped in price to a mere twenty bucks. I resisted for a few months, but ended up giving in on an impulse buy. Had the price not dropped, I definitely wouldn’t have this game now.

So, What Did You Think?

First off, the presentation, in terms of concept, graphics, audio and the like is flat out epic. The setup is a tad ridiculous. Career roadie Eddie Riggs works for a crappy pop metal band and longs for the days of the early seventies when the music was poor. A stage accident causes blood to fall on his belt buckle, which turns out to be an image of the fiery deity Ormagoden. This summons the beast, and he takes Eddie to the land of Bladehenge. Here, metal is a way of life. Guitars have magical qualities when played, everyone has spikes on their clothes, and a demon emperor oppresses the human masses. Eddie joins up with the charismatic Lars and starts on a quest to free the land from the rule of Emperor Doviculous. You get the love interests, big surprise twists, and a happy ending of sorts that leaves some wiggle room for future installments.

What makes this work is the performances of the actors, the killer soundtrack, and the colorful world. Despite my normal disdain for Jack Black, I can’t imagine this game functioning without him. He makes Eddie into a character you can relate to as well as someone you’d actually like to see win. He also provides countless laughs throughout with jokes that feel perfectly timed, thanks in a large part to the rest of the game as well. It goes beyond just him though. Ozzy Osbourne is awesome as the Keeper of Metal, Lemmy Kilmister from Motorhead plays an amusing healer called Kill Master, and even Tim Curry gets in on the action. When you’ve got Tim Curry, you know things are going to turn out well.

The game features a soundtrack that boasts over a hundred licensed songs. These cover a broad range of metal, even giving hair metal and goth metal a chance to shine. There’s nothing quite as cool as racing through a collapsing building to Dragonforce or watching a dramatic cutscene to the opening bits of “Mr. Crowley”. On top of that, when you’re driving your car, you can select any song you’ve unlocked or have the game chose one at random. No matter what song ends up playing, it will fit and it will rock.

While perhaps not technically all that remarkable, the art design in the game is really nifty. The open world is littered with statues depicting iconic rock images, there’s a cliff-side made entirely of amps, some of the wildlife resemble motorcycles with fur (it works, trust me), and character designs are exaggerated and fun. The coloring, for the most part, is the real star of the show. The world of Brutal Legend finds ways to use a large color palette and has areas that fit their respective music genre to a tee. In the land of black tears, you can feel the mascara running down your cheeks. There are some framerate issues though. I found the game would chug along at an anemic pace when too many units got onscreen. It doesn’t kill the game, but it does take away from what would otherwise be a near flawless artistic presentation.

How does the gameplay fare in comparison? It doesn’t do nearly as well. The problem for me is that the game goes through a bit of an identity crisis. It starts out as an open world adventure with classic action/adventure style combat and exploration. Eddie has a host of combos and upgrades he can get, the best of which is his car. Donned the “Deuce”, Eddie’s car can be upgraded over time with new weapons, upgrades, and paint jobs. It’s also a blast to drive through the world, whether you’re mowing down enemies or simply exploring. There are tons of side quests to complete, including ambushes, turret missions, and checkpoint races. Thanks in no small part to the great presentation, this part of the game is awesome. You even get a few boss fights that punctuate the action and require some more thought.

Then, inexplicably, the game turns into an RTS. Eddie gets wings that he can only use in these sections, and he drops the combat in favor of resource management, troop command, and large scale battles. All of this is from a typical 3D camera perspective. Hopefully you can see the folly in that.

The RTS gameplay isn’t all that bad really. This is mostly because of how it is integrated into the story. Starting a battle is equivalent to putting on a rock show. Green souls, dubbed fans, pour from geysers which must be capped with merchandise booths in order to harvest the fans as resources. These fans are then spent on summoning units and purchasing upgrades. You can command troops by using the d-pad and the game features a nifty way-point system to allow you to set a target. The trade off is that you need to be near troops so they can hear your command, and it is difficult to select a single troop, even if you desperately want to. Eddie can perform a double team move with every unit. He can form a mosh pit with the headbangers, encircle enemies with flames when teaming with the fire baron, and even drive a massive vehicle called the rock crusher to perform a devastating area of effect attack. It’s a nifty concept that provides you some tactical options. Eddie can jump in the fray himself in need be, but he rarely feels all that strong, except when he uses a guitar solo to melt the faces off of weak opponents.

The big problem is that the game completely shifts focus. Rather than interspersing stage battles with on foot action, it turns into a full on RTS. After an early boss fight, you don’t get another one until the final boss himself. By that time, it has been so long since Eddie has gone solo that you’ll have forgotten a thing or two about going one on one.

Still, the game can be awesome at times. Eddie has a bunch of nifty combos that can stun enemies, set them on fire, and the like. Using the guitar for ranged attacks or playing songs that boost your troops make Eddie a tangible member of the army. Teaming with a roadie to take down an enemy merchandise booth is a blast, as is creating a massive army and watching them tear the opponent to shreds. It just isn’t that fun throughout, making the game very inconsistent. In the end, it’s what keeps the game from becoming truly great.

Believe it or not, the game has a multiplayer mode, and it’s online to boot. Using one of three different army types, you can choose to battle an AI opponent on one of three difficulties or play against other humans online. I didn’t really get to try this out so much, mostly because I wasn’t that interested in the RTS gameplay. I did play a battle or two though, and it’s functional, so there’s a plus.

The story itself is rather short, clocking in at well under ten hours. The real length of the game comes from completing side quests and searching the world for all of its secrets. That’s also where all of the trophies are, so if you’re hunting for them, prepare to do a lot of exploring. At full price, the setup was probably not worth it, but for how cheap the game is now, it isn’t a bad deal.

Overall, when the game is firing on all cylinders, it is pretty awesome. The passion for music and gaming that went into it show very well and it manages to entertain far better than I thought it would. If the gameplay were more consistent, it would be a pretty sweet game. As it is, it is still very enjoyable and worth it for fans of metal. The soundtrack alone is freaking sweet.

What Score Would You Have Given It?

Let’s take a look at the scores, shall we?

Story/Modes: Very Good
Graphics: Good
Audio: Unparalleled
Gameplay: Enjoyable
Replayability: Decent
Balance: Very Good
Originality: Above Average
Addictiveness: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Decent
Miscellaneous: Enjoyable
Final Score: Good Game!

Would It Have Made Your Top Ten List?

While a good game that I enjoyed more often than not, Brutal Legend wouldn’t have made my top ten list. That has less to do with its quality and more to do with the overwhelming affection I have for the games already on that list. It would definitely make my top twenty, and possibly top fifteen.

How Much Does It Go For, In Case I Want It?

Good news. You can find the game new for a mere twenty dollars all over the place. Go used, and you can save a few bucks, but the price of a new game is more than worth it.

Final Thoughts?

Boy howdy. I didn’t think I would end up liking this game as much as I did. I heard a lot of bad things about the game when it came out, and despite some solid reviews, I was extremely skeptical. It’s amazing how far a lot of heart and passion can take a game. Were a single element of the game worse, the score would drop exponentially. This is the kind of game that works because all of the elements work together, and they work together well. If you can spare a little cash, don’t be afraid to give this game a try.

Next Time: I take a break from catching up with 2009 and instead start off on a three part special edition. Why? Because I really need to get around to playing the Ratchet & Clank games for the PS3. See you next time!

Tags: , , ,

3 Comments

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *