Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Brütal Legend: A review with many images

Prepare yourself for a world of heavy metal
I have many reasons to love Double Fine Entertainment: They made Psychonauts, one of the best and most unique 3D platformers I've ever played. They're a Bay Area company, so they're local boys. They are run by the immensely likable Tim Schafer, and they used to (but no longer) employ Scott Campbell (and Scott C did a large chunk of the concept art for Brütal Legend). I recently added one more reason to like them: they made Brütal Legend, a game that allowed me to spend more than 20 hours exploring, fighting in, and ultimately saving a heavy metal world.

Brütal Legend is famous for a very mixed reception at its launch. Commercially, the game was a failure, and it led to Double Fine shifting their focus from AAA titles to smaller, less expensive projects. Gamers didn't know what to make of the hybrid tactical/action game, which combined elements of Real-Time Strategy, open-world exploration, and hack-and-slash fighting.

I had the (somewhat dubious) advantage of waiting several years before playing the game because it took that long for a PC port to come out, but that meant that I had a good idea of what I was getting myself into. I played Brütal Legend on its own terms, and I found myself loving almost everything about it. It's not a perfect game, but it's so relevant to my interests that I don't even care.

(Brütal Legend has such a cool-looking world that this review called for a lot of images, some of which are a little spoilery but presented without context.)

An early-game ride on a walking altar down a bridge of bones helps set the tone for the rest of the game
If you have been reading my blogs since I was still on the old Lord Admiral site, you may remember my heavy metal album project (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4). I celebrated my love for metal by going to the Metal aisle at my local album store (Amoeba Records), and buying an album by a band I hadn't heard of before based solely on the artwork on the cover, the band's name, the album's title, and the song titles on the back. It was a fun project, and it familiarized me with many different sub-genres of heavy metal. Some metal has demons and anti-Christian imagery all over it. Other metal is simply grotesque, with blood and gore smearing the album artwork. But the best kind of metal is the kind that is all about fun: it focuses on swords and sorcery, dragons, often with a Norse flavor, and while it may do so with a straight face, you can sense a smile and a wink underneath. That is the metal world that Brütal Legend creates.
Eddie Riggs, the game's protagonist
The game tells the story of Eddie Riggs, a heavy metal roadie living in an age where bands that call themselves metal bear little resemblance to the metal gods Eddie grew up listening to. During one cringe-inducing concert, Eddie is injured saving the life of one of the members of the band he works for. Some of Eddie's blood drips onto the belt buckle Eddie got from his father, and he is taken to a heavy metal world. He finds that the world is in danger from demonic forces, who have allied themselves with hair metal traitors among the humans. It is up to Eddie to rally humanity's forces and save the world!
Eddie Riggs, metal enthusiast
Eddie is voiced by Jack Black, who does an excellent job. Jack Black channels his inner enthusiastic fanboy, and that's one of the best things about Eddie Riggs: he thinks that the world he is in is great, which is one of the reasons he wants to save it. Also, he's in no hurry to get back to the "real" world, because the Brütal Legend world is so much cooler! But Jack Black isn't the only famous voice in the game...

This guy is in the game...
...as is this guy...
...and this guy.
(who also voices this guy)
All of the voice actors do a good job. Ozzy shines as the Guardian of Metal, a lovable underworld-dweller who helps you unlock upgrades. Lemmy Kilmister is appropriately mumbly as the Kill Master, a legendary hero who plays bass with strings of spider-thread that can heal grievous wounds. I was not totally enthused by Rob Halford as the Fire Baron, who came across as too growly. I enjoyed Halford's other character more: General Lionwhyte, the leader of the hair metal faction.

The gameplay features several elements:
  • Eddie's combat ability: He can wield either a literal ax  to chop up enemies, or get out his other "ax," a guitar that, in the Brütal Legend world, allows him to hit his enemies with lightning or fire.
  • Solos: Eddie can play guitar solos in a Rock Band-style quicktime event that lets him create various effects from summoning ferocious beasts to fight alongside him to literally melting his enemies' faces.
  • The Deuce: One of Eddie's solos allows him to summon the Druid Plow, aka the Deuce, a heavy metal hotrod that Eddie uses to explore the world of Brütal Legend looking for hidden objects and sidequests.
  • Troops: Eddie can command nearby troops of the Ironheade faction (they added the extra 'e' at the end to prove they're not messing around), whether by telling them where to go or by temporarily joining a friendly unit to unlock a special Double Team attack.
  • Stage Battles: The Ironheade will sometimes fight 'Stage Battles' against enemy factions. Eddie then has to gain control of 'fan geysers' by building 'merch booths' on them, then use these fans as currency to build and upgrade troops and attack the enemy's stage, while protecting the Ironheade stage.
Each of these elements are fun on their own, but when taken together they don't fit quite right. For instance, Eddie has a large number of fighting moves he can do with his ax and/or guitar, but it's usually a bad idea to try to do so, because he fights so much better by doing Double Team attacks and solos. He can summon the Druid Plow in a Stage Battle, but it will probably be destroyed very quickly by the enemy's anti-vehicle troops. When exploring the world, Eddie can still Double Team with any Ironheade troops he runs across, but he can't give them commands on where to go.

This cool-looking character is voiced by Jennifer Hale, who also voiced the female Shepard in Mass Effect
The Stage Battles were the most controversial part of the game, to the point that Tim Schafer had to release a statement telling gamers how to play these parts. He also had to make it clear how players should not be playing the game: though it has RTS elements, trying to play it like an RTS would only lead to frustration. Luckily for me, I read Tim Schafer's post before playing the game, and I found his advice invaluable in beating almost ever Stage Battle.

I say almost every Stage Battle because, unfortunately, I got stuck on the next-to-last fight. I didn't realize that I was at a major disadvantage because I was lacking a certain, very helpful guitar solo, so I played that stage over and over again and lost every time without knowing why. I got so frustrated that I wrote a post about getting frustrated in video games. This may be a little spoilery, but before you go to the Sea of Black Tears, make sure you have all of the guitar solos. (That's not a huge spoiler because the characters mention very early that the Sea of Black Tears has been sealed off and nobody can get to it, so you know you'll be seeing it before the game is over.)

Despite a few missteps, the game is still excellent and well worth checking out if you're into heavy metal. In addition to the great setting, fun characters, celebrity voice actors, and enjoyable story, what really gives it that Double Fine spark is all the touches. Like when you earn Fire Tributes, the currency of the game, you see a bunch of hands holding lighters rise up from the bottom of the screen. Or, if Eddie dies during a Stage Battle, ghostly fans come and lift him back up as though he were crowd-surfing to bring him back to the stage. And I loved the scattered legends, which are pictures (I believe drawn by Scott Campbell) narrated to provide backstory on the creation and history of the Brütal Legend world.

If you need more convincing, here are some more of my brütal screenshots from the game. And if you think they look metal here, wait 'til you see them for yourself in the game!

1 comment:

  1. I didn't know the game had that much heavy metal royalty. I'll definitely pick it up if I see it on sale.