We're only a few weeks off from Brutal Legend's October 13 release, which is a good thing, because every time we've seen this heavy-metal-themed action game, we've walked away more eager than before to get our hands on the finished product. Our most recent look has continued that trend, giving us the opportunity to go hands-on with a few missions we've previously seen only glimpses of and explore the game's open-world setting to see what sort of trouble protagonist Eddie Riggs can get into outside of the main story.
The first mission we played had Eddie liberating an army of headbangers from a dungeon called The Crushing Pit, where they've been toiling away by slamming their heads against rock walls. This mission serves as a tutorial to the basics of squad commands, as Eddie (voiced by Jack Black) gains the ability to play a guitar solo that lets him recruit any nearby headbangers into his army. With these metal-head underlings in tow, you can use the directional pad to order them to follow you, wait and defend where you're standing, or charge toward and attack a distant point on the screen. While Brutal Legend is definitely an action game that's heavy on button combo melee attacks, this system lends a nice bit of strategy to the gameplay.
After using Eddie's heavy metal headbangers to defeat a gang of rival hair metal headbangers--think of them as mirror images of your troops, but with pink tiger-stripe pants and white cowboy hats--we made our way down to the bottom of the mines to take on the boss of this place. He belongs to an enemy class called the bouncers, who are giant brutes with tiny heads and fists the size of their entire body. He's the one brainwashing the headbangers into toiling their lives away by sending commands over his radio headset. We started by taking on a bunch of his minions using combo attacks like the powerslide, which lets Eddie sprint and slide (while on fire) into a bunch of enemies like a powerful bowling ball, and the roman candle, which levitates an enemy in the air on a stream of fireworks. The combo system is simple but deep, with quite a few gruesome yet humorous attacks available to you.
After we handled the bouncer boss's minions with ease, he approached us and exclaimed that we'd yet to take on his two most powerful allies: his fists, which bore the names Fear and Pain, misspelled in typically mangled metal fashion. To defeat him, we had to trade in Eddie's usual array of button combo attacks and use the environment to our advantage. Basically, we had to lure the boss underneath buckets of rubble passing overhead and attack at just the right moment so that the rubble would fall on him, sending him tumbling into the lava pits below. Thankfully, his radio headset was salvaged, and we used that to help rescue the rest of the headbangers from their toiling existence and recruit them into Eddie's army, which he'd set up to take on the villainous General Lionwhyte, leader of the hair metal brigade.
The next mission took the basics of squad commands and propelled them to the next level with a full-scale stage battle. If you read our impressions of Brutal Legend's multiplayer, then you're already familiar with how stage battles work. In short, they play like a light real-time strategy game: you control Eddie, and you spawn various troops into your army and then lead them into battle while keeping hold of resource points that let you spawn further troops. What we played was the portion of the game that explains how these high-concept battles figure into a game that, up until this point, is more about small one-on-one encounters.
When it becomes clear that General Lionwhyte is going to be sending a huge army of enemies Eddie's way, Eddie conjures up the idea to stage "possibly the greatest rock show of all time." His logic is simple: If he can take on a handful of enemies with just his guitar, then surely an entire rock concert will let him and his friends take on an entire army. These stage battles provide a nice balance to the usual hack-and-slash style of gameplay by expanding the scope a bit by allowing you to capture resource points and use those to spawn more troops into your army. The only part we had a problem with was being able to tell where new waves of enemies were approaching from, as there isn't any sort of map on the game's very minimalist heads-up display.
After that, we had a chance to explore the game's open world--a wild landscape that looks like a collage of metal album covers--to see what sorts of opportunities lie in wait outside of the main story. The game has at least 50 secondary missions that can be triggered by just exploring the world and finding random people looking for help. The first one we found was a lonely and remarkably unintimidating bouncer stationed on a cannon who'd been tasked with keeping Lionwhyte's troops from making it over a mountain pass. Not only is the guy the most docile-looking bouncer in the game (he's modeled after and voiced by Kyle Gass, Jack Black's bandmate in Tenacious D), but he's downright bad at his job. So Eddie agrees to help him out and ease the poor guy's neuroses by going around and targeting enemy troops to be taken out with the cannon.
In another side mission, we encountered a character voiced by comedian Brian Posehn (Mr. Show, The Sarah Silverman Program), a diehard metal-head who went to high school with the game's creative director, Tim Schafer. This character wanted us to break his record for hunting the most urchins, the porcupine-like critters that roam freely around the gameworld. The reward for beating this mission, and any secondary mission in the game, is fire tributes, which is a currency you can use to upgrade your hot rod and unlock new combat abilities. Who's the merchant you buy these upgrades from? Ozzy Osbourne, of course. You can expect to see him and a host of other metal icons when the final game is released on October 13.