published Saturday, Jan 05th
Just days after Minecraft creator Mike “Notch” Persson publicly announced an interest in funding a sequel to Double Fine Productions’ 2005 game Psychonauts, a funding project was created to make an all new adventure-game from Tim Schafer’s studio a reality.
Few game designers have the honour of getting their name on the front cover of a game. That’s because only a few designers have the solid reputation and overall influence to sell games on the strength of their involvement in a project. Tim Schafer happens to be one of those designers, having worked on and headed some of the finest adventure games ever made. Alongside Ron Gilbert, he became one of the shining lights at Lucas Arts during their golden-age in the mid-to-late nineties, bringing his distinct sense of humour and unique visual style to the Monkey Island games, Full Throttle and Grim Fandango. It’s no coincidence then that Lucas Arts’ descent into mediocrity began shortly after Schafer left to form his own company Double Fine, which went on to produce the hugely overlooked platformer Psychonauts (check it out in Xbox Originals section on the XBL Marketplace).
Rock and Heavy Metal have rarely been used as inspiration for games, outside the obvious rockstar titles such as Guitar Hero, Rock Band and Schafer’s own Full Throttle. Brutal Legend however, sweats the rock-and-roll lifestyle from every pore. The main hero Eddie Riggs, voiced superbly by Jack Black, vanquishes demonic foes with the swing of an axe and the strum of his sacred guitar Clementine; from which special moves can be pulled off with a quick guitar riff. Allies include brainless head-bangers, who attack by, surprisingly, banging heads or forming deadly mosh pits on command. In addition to the head banging army, Ozzy Osbourne and Lemmy Kilmister from Motorhead, both of whom make several cameo appearances as the upgrade-wielding King of Heavy Metal and the health-restoring Kill Master, respectively. To top it off there’s a great soundtrack featuring over 100 tracks from renowned rock bands like Black Sabbath, Slayer and naturally, Tenacious D. In terms of overall presentation this is one of the most polished games of this generation.
It also manages to be one of the funniest releases in a long, long time. This is thanks to a great script that zings off the screen right from the opening cut scene thanks to some great voice work and direction. If the Spinal Tap team ever made a video game, this would be it. The story follows Eddie Riggs, a road manager for the world’s worst rock band, who is killed during one of their gigs and sucked into a medieval heavy metal world. Eddie joins forces with a band of resistance fighters battling against oppression at the hands of a demon and his glam-rock general Lionwhyte. It may sound over the top, but the story really keeps you sucked in and never misses a chance to throw an in-joke or biting piece of satire at every turn, so much so that it almost seems a shame when a cut scene ends and the game kicks in.
Unfortunately the gameplay never hits the heady heights achieved by the story and presentation. That’s not to say it’s a bad game – it’s incredibly fun to play through – but Brutal Legend tries to juggle too many game types, and ends up being a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. The worst element, although the concept is certainly fresh and original on paper, are the real-time-strategy (RTS) style ‘stage battles’. In these missions you’re charged with protecting your rock stage from enemy troops, while attacking theirs. In order to train extra troops you’ll need to mine ‘fan geysers’ using merchandise stands; get enough fans buying merchandise and you’ll be able to summon extra resources to bring to battle. These stages are weak only because they fall in the same pitfalls as other console RTS games, limitations when using a control pad. Targeting enemies and doling out commands from the ground is frustrating as you can never be sure troops will do what you require them to do, which will result in a lot of unnecessary restarts. On the upside, the combat is the strongest aspect of the game by far – it’s smooth, easy to get to grips with and pretty deep; whilst driving around in Eddie’s customised ‘Deuce’ hot rod is fun in a GTA sort of way, but the car-based combat sections can get frustrating, again due to control issues.
Without the excellent script work and generally high production values, Brutal Legend would have been written off as an average action title, but these attributes do undoubtedly paper over the cracks and turn this into a must-play title. Fans of Heavy Metal bands will love the constant in-jokes, along with the fact that their favoured genre is finally being treated with a little more respect than those other titles that just reduce musical masterpieces to simple coloured-dots falling down a TV screen.