Tim Schafer has yet again crafted an epic adventure that is just as fun to watch as it is to play.
I, like most people, really didn't know what to expect from this game. Some of the previews looked like a God of War clone, while others talked of a real time strategy game. Even more hyped the driving segments. In the end, Brutal Legends is equal parts of all these things.
The on-foot segments are where the player will find themselves first. Through the game, the player will be armed with two axes. The first is in the literal sense; a massive battle axe that can be upgraded with more power or elemental attacks. The second axe is actually a guitar that can be used to 'play' attacks. A single strum on the guitar will electrocute the enemy, while holding the button will blast them into the air with a ball of fire from the ground. Both axes can be combined to form combos, of which more can be unlocked during the course of the game.
The guitar also allows you to play solos that can damage enemies or buff allies; my personal favorite being the self-explanatory 'face melter'. When you play a solo, a quick, guitar hero style mini game that must be completed for the solo to be effective. You can also still be attacked while playing, so it's a good idea to make sure you're in the clear first. It was a little disappointing that each solo only had one pattern to play in order to activate it, but this is a minor complaint.
At the end of the first section, the player learns a solo that summons a car, referred affectionately as The Deuce. Vehicle controls work quite well for an action game, but don't expect anything too deep. On top of normal accelerate and brake, there is also a handbrake that can pull off hairpin turns or 180s. Cruising the world to take in the sites while jamming to some tunes is quite a treat.
Much of the exploration of the massive world will be done from behind the wheel. Not only are there plenty of side mission to find, but tons of hidden objects as well. There isn't much variety to the side missions, but I didn't mind. There could have been more variety to the dialogue setting them up, though. For example when asked who we were ambushing, dozens of times the response was, "Bad guys!" and that really started getting old. There are 120 dragon statues to locate and every ten reward you with some kind of bonus. More songs can be found to bring the total of 107 in the game. Upgrade garages are also scatter throughout the world. Here you can buy upgrades for not just your car, but you axe and guitar as well. The Guardian of Metal sells you these upgrades and is voiced by none other than Ozzy Osbourne (though I'm a bit suspicious since I could actually understand every word he said). Fire tributes from the Gods of Metal are needed to purchase upgrades, but they can be earned from just about anywhere, whether it be a mission, side quest, or just locating a hidden object.
The final game mode that players will run into resembles a real time strategy. The player begins with a stage and the option to create three types of units. Merchandise stands must be built on fan geysers (vents in the ground that spew forth the spirits of fans) in order to create more units. Later in the game, the stage can be upgraded to create more units. Not content to simply order troops around, the main character actually takes place in these battles. Many enemies are too strong for your units to take them on alone, so it is necessary to mix it up while keeping one eye on the rest of the battlefield. There is a detailed paper-rock-scissors aspect to the units, so having the right mix is imperative. Many times, it can be difficult to tell what enemies are attacking you, so knowing if you have the right mix can be frustrating. Also, in the beginning, battles are between the exact same unit types. The only difference is that the enemy may be wearing a pink headband or white pants while your units almost always wear black leather. In the heat of the action, it can be very hard to spot these subtle differences. My biggest complaint is that in the second to last battle, the computer flat out cheats. Upon reaching their base, they are rewarded a super unit that wiped out my entire army in less than thirty seconds. They also ended up with a large support army even though I had nearly every fan geyser on the map. After some practice, which can be achieved in a mode outside of the main game, these battles become second nature and are incredibly entertaining and satisfying.
In a game about heavy metal, you can't expect the story to be particularly deep. Possibly because of this fact, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was actually amazing. Things start off simply enough. You play as Eddie Riggs, the greatest roadie the world has ever known. During a particularly sad performance by the band he works for, a giant demon appears that kills the band and teleports Eddie to a world of heavy metal. From here, the story takes plenty of twists and turns, with unexpected events and surprising revelations. There is plenty of deception going around that adds some mystery to the game. Hell, after a while, I wasn't even sure if Eddie himself could be trusted. Even with the serious undertones of the story, it maintains a lighthearted feel thanks to the work of Jack Black and the supporting cast. Nothing really made me laugh out loud, but the story contained plenty of likable characters that are easy to sympathize with. The story isn't only meant as a plot to push the game forward, but many times is a dialogue on the disappointing state of the real life music industry.
A review about Brutal Legends wouldn't be complete without mentioning the music. For many people, the heavy metal track list scared them away from this title. Personally, I'm not a big fan of heavy metal, but that didn't stop me from turning the volume up just a bit more every few minutes. It almost seemed disrespectful to not be blowing out my speakers in a game that contained the likes of Black Sabbath, Def Leppard, and Judas Priest. Look at it this way: most people don't listen to classical music, but when a game comes along that integrates a classical style song well, it makes the game that much better. The same could be said about heavy metal here.
The graphics aren't revolutionary, but I have a feeling they turned out exactly the way the developers intended. Everything walks a fine line between realistic and cartoony, allowing you to laugh when you need to yet still take things seriously. The entire world is themed after the music. Instruments and metallic car parts litter the landscape, in both small and massive sizes. Every creature has some kind of metal integrated into their body. Even the trees trunks are actually steel girders used in stage construction. In today's world of 'me too' games, it is refreshing to see such a original and unique land created with so much care and devotion on the part of the development team.
Brutal Legends is a rare title that mixed genres yet shows incredible polish in every area. The game is a decent length and can be completed in between ten and twenty hours, depending on how much exploration the player wants to do. Heavy metal fans should even think twice about this and just pick it up. Everyone else, especially those not interested in metal, shouldn't let that deter them from one of the greatest adventures to come around in a while.