At its core, Brutal Legend is very much an action game. Throughout the course of its violent but humorous single-player campaign, you play as the metal-obsessed Eddie Riggs who runs around a mysterious realm cutting a large swath of destruction through all manner of demons. As you get deeper into the campaign, however, you'll be introduced to Brutal Legend's Stage Battles, which take all the action from earlier in the game and add a distinct layer of strategy to the bloodshed. Eddie develops the ability to spawn troops and lead them into battle using a variety of squad commands as tries to manage various control points on the battlefield. Those Stage Battles are the foundation for Brutal Legend's multiplayer, which we recently got our first chance to check out.
Balancing the action and strategy in Brutal Legend's multiplayer depends on a number of factors. The matches can be as straightforward as one-on-one battles, or if you want to add some more chaos to the proceedings, you can go up to four-on-four battles. The other big factor is your choice of faction. The three groups you can play as consist of Ironheade, Drowning Doom, and Demon Coil. Ironheade is the simplest and most accessible of the bunch; it comprises units that Eddie controls during the single-player campaign. Choosing this faction means you've already got a head start on how the factions work, and for the most part, there's no real trick to the way you control them. Demon Coil has the steepest learning curve because of the way you need to work through hierarchy units, which are troops that control other troops around them. Somewhere in the middle of that spectrum is the Drowning Doom, sporting a goth rock look that contrasts Demon Coil's demonic aesthetic and Ironheade's heavy metal vibe.
The basic layout of each multiplayer match is a rock concert turned into a warzone. Your team base is the stage, complete with pyrotechnic setups, massive speakers, and the works. You fight over control of fan geysers, which spout the currency required to build units. You're always gathering fans whether you've captured any geysers or not, but the more of these points you take, the more quickly you'll collect fans, and by extension, the more units you can build. Once you've amassed an army you're confident with, you can then charge the enemy's stage, destroy it, and achieve victory. Of course, you can do this right from the get-go without even bothering to capture fan geysers, but that's probably not the best idea unless you've at least worn down your enemy a bit.
Everything you do is controlled from the perspective of an avatar, just as you would control Eddie during the single-player campaign. The main difference is your ability to take to the air at will, clicking the right stick to start flying anywhere you want on the map. It's definitely the easiest way to navigate your surroundings, but if you want to get your hands dirty, you can always land on the ground and take up arms against any of your enemy's units. Flying around is a good way to scope out the battlefield, seeing what your enemy is building and which fan geysers belong to whom. You'll also use this avatar to issue squad commands, including follow, halt, and attack, as well as move to a beacon you've set.
The units fall into the category of either infantry or vehicles and ranged or melee attackers. They're also tiered, so you'll start with basic troops and unlock more powerful ones as you spend fans on upgrading your stage. The Ironheade faction includes the headbanger melee units and razor girl ranged class, which Eddie often uses in the campaign, with crazier units unlocked after tier one. You'll soon be able to control the fire baron (a fast-moving motorcycle class that throws Molotov cocktails), the bouncer (a heavy melee combatant), roadies (stealth units with giant speakers for heads), and the metal beast (a fire-breathing cross between an ogre and a gorilla). All of these units can either fight on their own or be mounted by your avatar and controlled manually.
In addition to the Ironheade faction, we spent a bit of time with the Demon Coil side. Some of the units available to this faction include the skullraker (a headless heavy melee combatant with a giant ball and chain for a weapon), the screamwagon (a support vehicle that will buff other nearby units), the warfather (one of the hierarchy units used to train other units), and the pain lifter (a massive artillery vehicle that launches a bomb resembling a spiky ball covered in mouths).
No matter the faction, all of these units sport a slick, bizarre, and really interesting look to them, showing that Brutal Legend's art design is definitely one of its best traits. It's a good thing this cast of characters has so much personality because the trademark humor that permeates the single-player story is largely absent in multiplayer, which puts a lot more focus on the gameplay. We had a good time with the limited number of matches we played, but the big question now is whether there's enough depth to the multiplayer to keep players engrossed in online matches well after release. You can answer that question when Brutal Legend is released on October 13.