Double Fine’s “Brutal Legend” is one of those rare games that takes a concept and utilizes it in nearly every available aspect of both gameplay and presentation. Tim Schafer’s latest takes us to the idealized Nordic garage world you see on the covers of heavy metal albums, and the ridiculous epic-ness that results is the life-blood to “Brutal Legend”. It’s a good thing that its execution matches its most awesome aspirations.
Eddie Riggs is the best roadie in the modern metal scene. But his acute fixing and tuning abilities don’t stop him from feeling isolated in a music business that has gone glitzy and pop since its 1970s glory days. After an on-stage accident nearly kills Eddie, his blood drips onto his mystical belt-buckle – inadvertently summoning a brutal Norse god.
The fire beast-god Ormagöden transports Eddie into a medieval world drenched in heavy metal paraphernalia, which, despite its glory, is currently at the mercy of a tyrannical Emperor Doviculus (voiced by the always delicious Tim Curry).
Eddie, recognizing the task before him, must amass and train a massive army of heavy metal caricatures, using his modest roadie skills to combat the demon emperor.
The overarching plot is the epic melodrama one might expect from the source material. The sheer manliness of the narrative is matched with a pervasive wit, lead by the mumbling improvisational riffs of Jack Black as Eddie Riggs, who is more in his element here than ever.
The rest of the cast is brought to life by actual metal performers – like Rob Halford of Judas Priest and Lita Ford of The Runaways – and their emotional performances are an impressive shift from their screeching and/or shredding work on stage.
The fact that “Brutal Legend” has understandable, competent voicework from Ozzy Osbourne and Lemmy Kilmister is even more unbelievable.
The comedy does run out of gas towards the story’s end, but on the whole, “Brutal Legend” hits a new pinnacle in video game. Every cut scene will make you laugh, sometimes with just the expressive reactions from the characters. You’ll find yourself actually looking forward to story segments instead of skipping over them.
The meat of the gameplay is pretty evenly split. There’s open-world exploration aboard your car (alternately referred to as “Douche” and “Druid Plow”); straightforward hand-to-hand combat; and, when the game’s many armies clash, real-time strategy battles.
This game suffers from the common video game ailment of getting your car stuck on rocks and trees after blazing through giant beasts with no problem, but driving is still very fun – mostly due to a truly massive selection of metal tracks on shuffle.
Hitting the road will also afford you a more intimate look at the world’s album-cover design. True appreciation for the manliest of music is evident in the smallest detail: from trees made of tail-pipes to gigantic rock formations in the shape of a guitar.
The world also sports a variety of (admittedly stupid) wildlife, who seem to exist solely for the simple joy of getting run over – or, later in the game, to be spell-casted into submission so you can ride them.
Brutal Legend takes a heavy metal approach to even the smallest controls. Hand-to-hand attacks come from a combination of magical elemental attacks from your “axe” (Clementine, a guitar from the modern world) and basic melee damage from your axe (an actual axe).
Using your guitar’s magic attacks too often will overheat the instrument, forcing the player to adopt a more strategic approach to hack-and-slashing. Both methods of damage-dealing control relatively well, barring the occasional sticky execution. A basic lock-on system is on hand to help you slash through the bigger groups of enemies.
Both Eddie and his car can have their skills and components upgraded with various effects and skins with a trip to the Guardian of Metal – voiced by the aforementioned Ozzy Osbourne. The game’s rotund menu of expansions go from the periphery to the center of this world.
The real-time strategy component takes over when the story reaches its climax, and control with similar simplistic ease to direct combat. You can summon and control ally forces with guitar solos (which play out as quick button-pressing mini-games). Further instructions pop up as you battle on, mapped to the directional pad.
While easy to use when the time calls for it, you have to position Eddie close to the units you want to control in order to be heard, which can get frustrating when battles become multi-faceted affairs.
The RTS segments also take up the bulk of the game’s multiplayer options, with up to four players selecting their own heavy metal cliché to battle it out against friend and foe alike. They control similar to the single player missions, and are just as frantic and fun – if not more so – than their in-game counterparts.
The three-sided gameplay divide fits well together, each element mixing well without overstepping the others. However, each element does suffer from oversimplification on an individual level, feeling truncated compared to games just focused on melee combat or real-time strategy.
Even at first glance, “Brutal Legend” doesn’t visually impress on the same technical scale as most AAA releases coming out this holiday. Character models lose an immense amount of character and complexity outside cutscenes, Rough textures abound, and the occasional pixilated shadow or shoddy animation will pop up – but it will never draw you out of the experience. That’s mostly due to the strength of the game’s metal aesthetics and consistent comedy.
There are few games that work with such an enthusiasm for its source material, and this fandom, although simple in gameplay, creates a riotously funny experience. The gods of metal are strong with this one.