Brutal Legend Impressions

Tim Schafer guides us through a demo of Double Fine's blood-soaked ode to heavy metal music.

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If the name Tim Schafer doesn't ring a bell, it probably should. He's known as one of the funniest writers in the games industry, having put his stamp on the first pair of Monkey Island games in addition to the critically adored platformer Psychonauts. Now he's hard at work on Brutal Legend, an interactive ode to heavy metal music starring Jack Black as protagonist Eddie Riggs. With GDC 2009 under way last week, we traveled to the San Francisco studios of Double Fine Productions, Schafer's development house, to have a look at how Brutal Legend is coming along.

The story told in Brutal Legend is a pastiche of heavy metal imagery that feels like a combination of genuine love for the genre and biting satire. After Riggs--the world's greatest roadie--accidentally spills some blood on his belt buckle while tuning a guitar, the buckle transports him to an alternate world filled with every last metal trope you can imagine--a place where humans are fighting very real demons in a battle for survival. Our demo began where the game does: Riggs awakens in a mysterious temple as druids are circling around an axe planted in the ground. In a bit of Arthurian resourcefulness, Riggs yanks the axe out of the ground and promptly begins smashing these evil druids to bloody bits.

The fact that combat is introduced so quickly is no coincidence; Brutal Legend's core gameplay is very much that of a brawler. Riggs soon picks up a magical guitar (named Clementine) that gives him the ability to shock enemies from afar. It's these two weapons that provide the meat and potatoes of Riggs' fighting style--the axe is for up-close dismemberment, and the guitar is for ranged destruction. Having not had the opportunity to pick up a controller, we can't yet say how the combat system really operates, but so far it looks like a fun combination of straightforward brawling augmented by special moves--such as using the axe like a baseball bat to knock enemies into one another--doled out rather generously along the way. The animations look pretty solid, and there's a whole lot of blood and flying limbs to boot.

After dealing with this first wave of druids, the next few minutes of the demo were filled with a collection of over-the-top metal images that provided fertile ground for Riggs to react humorously to his newfound surroundings. A sexy demon nun riding a giant spider? Yep. A sweet hot rod summoned from ancient relics in the ground that can be unlocked only with an amazing guitar solo? That's there. A boss fight against a massive worm skeleton that can die only when you behead it on a spiked gate? Of course. In fact, according to Schafer, every visual element of the game was designed in such a way that it should feel like it was pulled right from the cover art of a metal album. It works well, too: for all the overwrought demonic and Nordic imagery, Eddie Riggs maintains a grounded sense of humor about the whole thing as he quips his way through it all.

Eddie's hot rod, The Deuce. Or as he calls it, his "Druid Plow."

After an extended vehicle sequence that sees Riggs and his newfound female acquaintance, Ophelia, race along a collapsing freeway filled with druids and demons, complete with volcanoes erupting ominously in the background, the game's relatively linear opener is complete and you're introduced to the world of Brutal Legend as a whole. It's a 64-square-kilometer world that includes open terrain and a stunning view of Mt. Rockmore, a Rushmore-inspired landmark depicting the face of the villainous General Lionwhyte--four times over. You find out about this evil glam rocker when you visit Bladehenge, a city that's home to a small resistance movement. Lionwhyte has taken all the male residents of the village and sent them to work in the mines, while all the females have been sent to his pleasure tower. He's not a nice guy, that Lionwhyte.

That little bit of background information lays the foundation for your first quest, where you meet with resistance leader Lars at the entrance to the mines in order to free Bladehenge's male population. They've been brainwashed into banging their heads against rocks all day long, or in other words, they're a legion of brain-dead headbangers. "What do you do with an army of kids who do nothing but bang their heads all day long?" Lars asks. After a pensive pause, Riggs replies, "You start a revolution!" At which point you're greeted with a prompt that asks whether you'd like to start a revolution "Now" or "Later." This particular exchange had the room erupting in laughter, and it shows how sharp Schafer's sense of comedic timing is after all these years.

Eddie Riggs and the local resistance movement. It's not a very big resistance movement.

Inside the mines, Riggs manages to recruit the headbangers and is subsequently introduced to a new gameplay feature that lets him command a number of troops. It's a "stay, follow, attack" type of system that allows Riggs to guide his legion of headbangers against a legion of hair metal kids in a heated battle over metal supremacy. Oh, and there's also a giant spinning pain wheel suspended above a lava pit. It's a strange mine.

That's about where the demo ended. We thoroughly enjoyed seeing the game in motion, though Schafer's comedic narration certainly helped. The writing is snappy, clever, and not overly reliant on knowledge of heavy metal minutiae to really understand the jokes. The combat also looked interesting with the way it managed to combine humor and ample violence. While this build suffered from a choppy frame rate and unpredictable textures, there's still a lot of time to iron out the kinks before the game's release later this year. Minor technical issue and all, we're eager to see Brutal Legend again, so stay tuned for more coverage

Discussion

180 comments
xPESKAx
xPESKAx

Finally - a game that incorporates incredible music and (hopefully) incredible gameplay. Very excited for "Rocktober" 13th - my birthday as a matter of fact.

Shano209
Shano209

Hopefully it will have proper metal music not sh it radio friendly rock

Dirael
Dirael

Pleeeeaasseeeeeee let this be out for PC... Gods of metal hear my prayes...

RenderFear
RenderFear

Yes! finally a game like this comes out. I'm a huge metalhead and also a huge gamer, so this is perfect.

BigGhost_AJT
BigGhost_AJT

Never been a fan of heavy metal so I don't know about the imagery and references but it seems like a ambitious action game.

deathstar79
deathstar79

Does The Deuce remind anyone else of The Bonewagon from Grim Fandango?

robmephisto
robmephisto

This looks amazing, and I don't give a damn whether or not it's EA - I play games, not publishers. Hopefully this won't turn out to be a Viking style bore-em-up...but hell, with Tim Schafer writing, the gameplay could consist of nothing but bashing A-B-A-B over and over again and it would still be awesome.

todsnet
todsnet

I think i'm gonna be sick, but I lilke that it's gonna has some real heavy metal music.

wars45
wars45

if its not online i wont give it the time or day

darklight4
darklight4

i hope they do a stage demo at E3

darklight4
darklight4

i sooo cant wait for this its gonna be fun looks good so far

YellowJello
YellowJello

EA has never released a good game. This will suck just like everything else they squirt out their asses.

bud0374
bud0374

Can't believe this game almost didn't make it! Thank god for EA "THE ANTICHRIST" who picked up the Bourne license also. That game has potential in the right hands.Starbreeze Studios is taking over, (for Bourne),which did Escape From Butcher Bay.

bud0374
bud0374

MAN! I HOPE THIS GAME WORKS! Jack Black is a true gamer from what I hear. Perfect fit!

poorisaac
poorisaac

A free roaming Nordic, Death Metal Romp with guitars and axes? Sounds like something straight out of a 3 Inches Of Blood Song. This is going to be insane.

Schwarte
Schwarte

Does that mean there'll be no Monkey Island V? (soon?) I actually consider buying this game just because of Schafer. I'd like to know how much Metal you can expect tho, as I don't usually take to the really hard stuff too well.

pure_evil_80
pure_evil_80

Am I to understand this game offers some real extreme metal? Could be a laugh if so.

RGDT021
RGDT021

Looks fun... hopefully the soundtrack will be up to the task.

Fweekoface
Fweekoface

i heard that he's being voiced by jack black actually, but i'm not sure about that

damaster101
damaster101

Is this guys looks based off jack black?

jaydekitten
jaydekitten

The game is looking fantastic so far! Good thing since I've had it pre-ordered since early 2008. What can I say? It's Tim Schafer =)

sportfuryman
sportfuryman

the art style reminds me of full throttle. i wish they would do another full throttle game.

madhabit
madhabit

Actually I seem to remember Tim Schafer once describing the character in an interview as a mixture of Glenn Danzig and Jack Black and also they might have shifted his facial expressions to Jack Black since he apparently will be the voice. I'm in luck here.. I'm a fan of Danzig, Jack Black and Tim Schafer, well maybe not so much Jack Black as the other two, but he's perfect for the role..

ArmorGod
ArmorGod

To answer Moath21's question about what song they're playing in the beginning of the video, it's from Judas Priest's album "Screaming for Vengence". The song is called "Hellion...Electric Eye"

_Emperor
_Emperor

Why is everyone directly comparing jack black to this guy, sure they are somewhat alike, but imo..it looks more like a young Glenn Danzig. ;) And for the game, it looks cool, but just have PS1&2 :(, and would never buy an Xbox ;)

moath21
moath21

can anyone please tell me what that song in the very beginning is, i remember how the guitar sounds but I cant pinpoint the name of the song

evilguy12
evilguy12

I couldn't care less if Jack Black is in it. I want it because Tim "Grim Fandango-Full Throttle-Monkey Island" Schafer is designing it.

REA24409
REA24409

This game looks terrible, what's all the hype about? If Jack Black is in a video game that is how you know it isn't going to be good. EPIC FAIL!

Jhraxlin
Jhraxlin

I can't believe I even clicked on this.... I love Monkey Island, but this looks stupid... It's like Jack Black made a video game about his dreams.... :|

W3En
W3En

Since I like METAL \m/ I think this game will be fun, Eddie Riggs looks like jack black sorta lol.

Saint_Ducky
Saint_Ducky

I expect nothing from this game... If it does good, great. If not, no surprise.

Master_Hav0c
Master_Hav0c

Xaovagon: Death metal is real metal but so is Thrash metal, metalcore, speed metal, hair metal, and groove metal. To put it simply: All metal is Metal. But, to insult Bullet For My Valentine is just stupid. To not call it metal is like calling Snoop Dogg country!

Mahoganyjoint
Mahoganyjoint

big fail, may look intresting, but i bet its terrible when it comes out

mAD_ADaption
mAD_ADaption

This just convinced me to get a 360 instead of a PC

BigDaddy973
BigDaddy973

This is sounding like a very cool game, I am keeping an eye on this.

TheClown24
TheClown24

this looks FREAKIN SWEET! METAL FTW!!!! |m|

sluffmochildeater
sluffmochildeater

Looks awesome. Kind of reminds me of school of rock mixed with metalocalypse.

Knoflook
Knoflook

It looks like a Devil May Cry sequel, only this time Dante is a big muscle version of Jack Black. Heavy Metal and humor in one game! I'm looking foreward to play this game:)

Xaovagon
Xaovagon

wow, what a slap in the face of real metal, first metalcore, bringing stupid bands like bullet for my valentine and now this!!! listen to real bands people like Aborted, and Cannibal Corpse.