Back in March, we took a trip to Double Fine Productions to have a look at the opening sequence from Brutal Legend. This hands-off demo gave us an introduction to the basics of combat (kill demons with weapons) and open-world vehicular exploration (kill demons with an awesome hot rod), but it mainly served as an introduction to the story of a rock-obsessed roadie transported to an alternate realm of heavy metal lore. This past week, we returned to Double Fine to get another look at Brutal Legend, but this time, we had an Xbox 360 controller in hand (though you can also expect a PlayStation 3 version). We got to play through this same intro sequence, plus a few brand new missions from later in the game.
Brutal Legend wastes very little time introducing you to the fundamentals of on-foot combat. In the first few moments of the game, you acquire both an axe named The Separator and a guitar named Clementine. Axe attacks are short-ranged melee strikes triggered with the A button, while guitar attacks offer long-distance electrical bursts, which are released by hitting X. As in most brawlers, there's a certain level of timing required with the 1-2-3 rhythm of melee strikes if you want to maximize effectiveness. That's especially true for such combos as the Grand Slam, which is the A, X, A string of button presses that sees you lopping off enemy heads like a baseball player blasting a home run.
In addition to unlocking more combos as time goes on, a few more abilities are available to you for when you're confronted with enemies that are more challenging than the druid grunts you meet early on in the game. One of the most useful abilities we encountered was the earthshaker, which lets you jump into the air by hitting A and X simultaneously, then drop back down with a devastating thud. This will create a ring of destruction in your immediate vicinity that knocks down nearby enemies. For far-off enemies, you can pull the left trigger to lock on to them and hold the X button to fire off a power chord guitar blast in their direction. This is a pretty handy ability, but you need to pay attention to your guitar strings because they'll glow orange and overheat if you overuse this technique. Overall, we liked that balance between the straightforward process of eviscerating nearby enemies and having to still keep an eye out for pesky distant ones who use ranged weapons. On-foot movement could stand to benefit a lot from feeling a bit less rigid, but there's certainly still time to improve that aspect of the game.
The other big part of Brutal Legend is your hot rod, The Deuce. Early on, your basic abilities with the car amount to little more than clicking the left stick for a nitro boost and hitting B to pull a quick 180. It's trial by fire at the outset because you won't have been in it for much more than a couple of minutes before you need to prove your driving skills in a boss battle. You take on a towering wormlike monster that chases you around a large circular field, and the trick is to dodge its devouring attacks so that its tongues get stuck on the ground. If you nitro boost into them a few times while it's trying to break away, you've got one dead boss on your hands. Though it's a fairly simple boss fight, its placement so early in the game makes it a nice little tutorial to your basic move set in The Deuce.
As the game wears on, you'll be able to upgrade your hot rod to make it a much more devastating killing machine. We got to try a later vehicle mission in the game where the goal was to escort a tour bus filled with your buddies from one battle to another, making sure to protect the bus from the various baddies intent to attack it on the road. At this point in the game, The Deuce had been equipped with a Gatling gun, side pipes capable of blasting fire, and a grille designed to slice through enemies caught in its path. The Gatling gun will auto-aim for you, so there's no need to worry about steering and targeting at the same time. But the side pipes are a little trickier, requiring you to drive up next to an enemy and letting out a burst of flames from each side of your car. It's fun and extremely rewarding when you pull it off.
Another new mission we had the opportunity to play was a two-part quest to find the Killmaster (an ironically named medicine man voiced by Motorhead's Lemmy Kilmeister) in order to heal our badly wounded partner. You start by journeying up a treacherous mountain path marked by hair-metal headbangers and stampeding demon bulls, eventually arriving at the Killmaster's hideout. He informs you that the mystical bass guitar he normally uses to heal the wounded doesn't have strings thick enough for these particular injuries, so you need to venture to the lair of the metal spider queen to find the strings he needs. This involves a dungeon crawl into her lair, a boss battle to defeat her, and a race against the clock to make it back to the Killmaster with the new strings--the latter task taking place on a particularly sweet three-wheeled motorcycle.
From what we played, Brutal Legend looks like it should offer a good mix of gameplay variety. Rending enemies limb from limb is a good bit of fun, as are the later driving missions when The Deuce is upgraded to high heaven. The controls and combat are both fairly basic, but that's almost preferable in a game driven so much by its humor and clever storytelling. Expect to see more leading up to Brutal Legend's October release on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. And as a final parting gift, metal fans will be happy to hear that four songs from the soundtrack have been confirmed with us by EA: Anthrax's "Metal Thrashing Mad," Black Sabbath's "Symptom of the Universe," Dimmu Borgir's "Progenies of the Great Apocalypse," and Motley Crue's "Kickstart My Heart."