Review – Brutal Legend
RTS/Hack ‘n’ Slash
Maybe it’s more poetical/political.
Death to false metal!
Some of you young ‘uns won’t have a clue about metal. All you’ve known in your short lives are things like Korn, Limp Bizkit and… hgnhhh… Lost Prophets (I FUCKING HATE LOST PROPHETS YOU ARE A DISEASE WORSE THAN EYE AIDS). These days it’s all namby-pamby crunchy guitars and melodic power-ballad choruses. It all sounds like bum-fucking to me. Dress up like a girl, Rohypnol your own drink and get fucked… in the bum. By the lead singer of My Chemical Romance probably. Whilst he’s being fucked, in the bum, by the ghost of Barry Manilow. It doesn’t matter if he’s dead or not at this point.
Unfortunately for the denim-clad thirty-somethings out there, the ‘true guardian of METOLLL’ these days is the chronically unfunny Jack Black. He’s out there with his School Of Rock/Tenacious D bollocks, acting like he’s Gene Simmons and now he’s in Brutal Legend, the latest game from the celebrated pen of Tim Schaefer (the warped brain behind the likes of Monkey Island and Psychonauts).
Of course, like the hard rock Tom Hanks that he is, Jack plays the same role every single time. A rough diamond hard rocker. This time it’s Eddie Riggs, a legendary roadie whose considerable talents are being wasted on the road with some nonsense emo band who happily meet the overblown death that we’d wish on countless acts these days.
As a result, Eddie wakes up in a strange land full of all sorts of metal iconography from strange metallic wildlife, huge steel road vehicles and all sorts of dragons, statues and other assorted staples of Saxon album covers. He soon finds himself fighting in a war between humans and demons. A war where his ability to swing an axe, play a guitar and build stage sets makes him the figurehead of the entire human resistance.
At first the gameplay seems to be straight out of the button-mashing fighting game book of fun. Light attacks, heavy attacks, basic combos et al. As far as the fighting goes, it’s pretty ordinary (even if your heavy weapon is a guitar) although you can unlock new attacks as you go along and if you’ve played the demo you’ll have seen that they throw in the odd driving section. These are pretty good, even quite epic at times.
The thing is, this isn’t a straight-up brawler. Far from it. Once you get the formality of learning your moves out of the way, you are introduced to this game’s main gameplay element. Realtime strategy. Yep, the genre least suited to a console. Thankfully, the devs decided to go with a direct approach to the action, style over true strategy. Once you translate all the gameplay elements – your base (stage), resources (fans), collectors (merch booths) – you are left with an incredibly simple RTS game, which is good as the engine is far too clumsy to support anything more complicated.
Eddie himself can direct the action from above or throw himself into battle. He has the option of doubling up with any unit type to create new attacks as well. So if you like the idea of being a midfield general so to speak, you can do that. Selecting, and directing, individual units is a completely horrible chore though. As unintuitive as is possible. However, on Normal difficulty at least, these battles are fairly forgiving. Assigning individual units to guard your resources whilst sending others off to attack is beyond awful though and in the end you’ll be mopping up the baddies yourself rather than deal with the user interface. Lucky you can do that though as when you’re in the battle, everything is pretty exciting.
Once you’ve beaten the game you are allowed back into the world to mop up the collection achievements. Unfortunately, the game really has far too many collectibles for its own good which smacks of very lazy design. 120 dragons can fuck right off for a start and when I tell you that I completed the game with less than a quarter of the overall gamerscore you’ll know that this game isn’t afraid to bog you down with arbitrarily choresome achievements.
If you choose to ignore them, fine. Enjoy your very short, not very varied Dynasty Warriors type game. If you want to get the 100% completion achievement and extend the life of your game then you’re looking at at least ten hours to get all the collectibles (dragons, solos, relics, jumps and vistas). Another five or six to get all the side-missions done (a bunch of copied and pasted fights, some awful turret sections and some reasonably enjoyable races). Another couple of hours to do the hunting. It adds up and once you think you’ve done it… TOUGH FUCKING SHIT. You’ve still got a load of concept art to unlock (by building 20+ of each unit in multiplayer).
Playing the game this way is about as rock and roll as listening to fucking Coldplay and it’s a crying shame that the wit of Tim Schaefer and the brilliant art design has been wasted by such thoughtless game design. You can see that they wanted you to see everything in the game world but after completing the main story, vast chunks of the map were still blacked out for me. Evidently, Double Fine would rather you see the world with one eye on a map and guide rather than letting the story take you there. Fuck, just thinking about it makes me want to score this game lower.
This was a game that I wasn’t entirely sold on until the demo was released. This is mostly because of Jack Black. I don’t mind him in Tenacious D, but as an actor he quite often is too OTT, yet as Eddie Riggs he’s actually fairly subdued. Add to this the sense of humour involved with the game and I was intrigued enough to order it.
The one thing that the demo didn’t really give away is the fact this is really a RTS lite. The RTS elements are gradually introduced throughout the single player game. These tend to be broken up by action segments. Be they beat ’em up segments, races or missions where you have to escort the bus. As much as the RTS elements are simplistic and light, the same unfortunately goes for these sections as well.
This comes down to what is essentially the biggest problem with the game. Its all spread to thin. The RTS segments often come down to having more/better troops than the enemy. Meaning that the strategy in these segments simply comes down to rushing the enemy. The fighting sections are never very complex either.
Saying all this though the game was enjoyable to play. If only because of the good story and interesting landscapes. I loved exploring the countryside if only to see the excellently designed â€œvistasâ€. These are landmarks that look like they were ripped straight out of various metal album covers. Another big plus has to be the soundtrack, this game has more licensed songs on it that your average Rock Band game. The songs also cover a lot of the various sub-genres, so there’s bound to be something for most people.
Secondary Score: 6/10
To his credit, Jack Black does a decent job with the script. The story raises a few chuckles and does a good job of mocking the ’80s rock culture whilst simultaneously treating it with some affection. Presentation is top drawer throughout. The game world is suitably wacky and rocking, with a huge amount of neat graphical touches and some superb vistas. Character designs are superb throughout, as are the cameos from Lemmy and Ozzy Osbourne among others.
The soundtrack is pure studded-belt metal mayhem with a host of NWOBHM ‘favourites’, 80s glam nonsense and modern stuff from bands who shamelessly ape the old days (Dragonforce and other bands that I’d rather not listen to again in this lifetime, thanks). However, given the setting and the storytelling, it’s somehow fitting to hear the likes of Diamondhead on there rather than the usual modern soundtrack favourites.
They’ve even thrown in multiplayer stage battles for those of you bothered enough to suffer the indignities of playing with randoms. These are straight up stage battles (the RTS bits from the game) and as such the clumsy controls stop them from ever being particularly enjoyable. The units from the other factions are worth a look though.
Fans of the culture will get a kick out of the game, other gamers will also – at least at first. If you can forgive everything that happens outside of the main campaign, then the game is a trip and if everyone buys it, Tim Schaefer will get to make something else equally mental, which can only be a good thing. Hopefully the rest of the dev team will do their part next time though because Brutal Legend shows glimpses of being something stunning but by the time you’re done with it, you’ll be bored and irritated.