Brutal Legend Review
I have no doubt in my mind that Activision, well, Bobby Kotick is kicking himself hard for letting go of an IP like Brutal Legend. The man who is obsessed with pummeling successful franchises into the ground until they are no longer cared about thought Brutal Legend would flop, and so he cut the game from Activision's lineup when the Vivendi and Activision merger occurred. Wrong move, sir. Soon after getting axed (hehe, pun!), EA picks it up and the game gains massive hype over the coming months. Activision gets pissy and claims they still have rights to it (which they didn't), and decide to sue. Tim Schafer, who many have looked at as a genius in need of wide recognition to the mainstream, is probably pulling his hair out from all of this drama and we don't blame him. On top of that, he also had to make the pretty tough decision of letting Ronnie James Dio off the project as a voice actor, and replacing him with Tim Curry. But, never worry, through all the mass hysteria, Activision got nothing but a minor settlement out of their suit, and EA was successfully able to launch Schafer's biggest and most ambitious project to date with no disruption. And the world is a better place for it...
The story follows our hero Eddie Riggs, a roadie who suffers a huge accident during a concert. Blood drips down into his belt buckle, which turns out to be a mysterious amulet representing Ormagöden, the Fire Beast, Cremator of the Sky, and Destroyer of the Ancient World." Errr...cool. So Eddie's blood activates the belt buckle and awakens this massive beast that, after a hilarious scene of slaughter not involving Eddie, transports him into another world. In this world, beings and creatures are enslaved by a man name General Lionwhyte. From here on, you meet the game's cast of characters one by one. And I must say, the rest of the story is absolutely fantastic and hilarious.
What's really cool about Brutal Legend is that many of the characters you meet actually look like famous rock gods. For starters, I'll get the obvious out of the way: Lemmy Killmeister's Kill Master character and Ozzy Osbourne's The Guardian of Metal are both modeled directly after their respective voice actors (I'm sure you've seen this in screenshots by now). But what about the other characters? Well, Lionwhyte is basically David Bowie, Lars is based on Dave Mustaine (someone please tell me they see the awesome irony in that!), The Baron is Rob Halford (he is also voiced by him), and in some strange way, Doviculus reminds me of Dave Grohl (my all-time biggest rock God). You see a ton of metal references all throughout the game, from obvious statements made during the dialogue to scenery in the background, and everything in between, there's ton of things to spot and here.
Now, let's move onto the gameplay. First and foremost, you're equipped with two axes: a real one, and a figurative one (the guitar). This is a hack n' slash action game where you primarily use your axe for physical attacks and the guitar for magic-based attacks. Of course you also know that there is vehicle usage in the game, and thankfully the vehicle control is well done and not loosey-goosey as it tends to be in other action games, plus there is quite a bit of room for open-world exploration, as your game world is huge. Furthermore, your vehicle, The Deuce, can be used as a full-fledged weapon, as you can customize it by purchasing and attaching weaponry on it - that really comes in handy.
The switching of both weapons happens on the fly, think Devil May Cry, albeit not quite the same level of intensity. But you are limited to the amount of times you can use your guitar, as it overheats, so you'll have to wait a little bit until it cools down. When you first use your guitar attacks, you unleash lighting bolts on your enemies, but much like your axe and vehicle, you'll be allowed to upgrade the guitar too. Solos range in use, and most of them are used to accomplish certain tasks such as raising relics, acquiring a following, calling your car to appear, and so forth. Entering solos requires you to simply dial in a string of buttons in a timed sequence.
Now, I noticed something odd about these solos...something struck me as awfully familiar. When I performed the very first solo you gain (The Relic Raiser), I said to myself "hold on a second...I've heard that little bit somewhere before." And almost immediately, it hit me, the little segment of sweep-picking that Eddie plays in the game is none other than the beginning of the first solo from Judas Priest's "Painkiller" (refer 2:10 into the song). It seemed way too coincidental to not be, and since Rob Halford is involved with the game, my theory made sense. So I asked an EA rep and he had confirmed that K.K. Downing (guitarist of Judas Priest) worked on the guitar sounds and segments of the game. The more I played, and the more solos I earned, the more similarities to actual Judas Priest solos I discovered. So there you have it: more reasons why Brutal Legend is awesome.
The action here is nothing short of fun. But don't think for one second that you're all alone here on this adventure. Oh, no. Similar to Overlord, or even Nintendo's Pikmin, Brutal Legend lets you control an army of characters decked out in metal gear such as, Headbangers, Roadies, Runaways, Fire Barons, Bouncers, and more. Each character has his/her own unique ability. For instance, Roadies carry massive amps on their backs and crank them up to activate ear pulsing feedback in order to eliminate enemies. Runaways are rocker-chicks who wield flamethrowers as they ride on a character's shoulder. Bouncers and Headbangers work similarly, as they're both melee fighters. And Fire Barons create rings of fire with their choppers and trap enemies in them.
You can team up with any of the crew for a special team attack, all of which are different depending on who you've selected to team up with. You can have an assortment of followers with you and use all sorts of different special team attacks one after another. Also, you aren't limited to just fighting with just teams of fighters, but you can also fight along side characters such as Ophelia, Kill Master, Lars, and Lita. No matter which characters are alongside of you, you can control their actions by telling them to attack, follow, halt, or defend.
There is also a multiplayer mode in the game, that's got heavy elements of strategy involved with the hack n' slash action. The multiplayer basically takes the battle segments from the single-player story mode and allows you to experience them against another player controlled team. There are three teams to choose from, lead by three different leaders (one of which includes Ironheade led by Riggs). Each team has its strengths and weaknesses, as you'd expect, and all teams feature numerous different types combatants. A total of eight can compete across seven different battlefields. The online is certainly fun stuff, but I doubt you'll be playing it a whole lot.
Now, as great as Brutal Legend is sounding, it's not all gravy. For starters, despite what others may think, not having a jump button is still a let down. Numerous times I anxiously pressed a button in order to get the hell out of a sticky situation, only to remember that I can't jump. Also, the combat can feel clunky many times, as the mechanics don't feel very refined. This leads me to a few control issues I've experienced. The combat can get pretty hectic at times, and it's unfortunate that I cannot change the direction of my attacks immediately, since I've often found myself getting attacked from numerous sides, but could not return the favor since the controls aren't as responsive as other action games.
As far as the game engine is concerned, Brutal Legend runs on pretty acceptable code. Brutal Legend may not be dripping with insane technology and graphical prowess, but it does boast character and a personality with its distinct cartoon visuals, and that's the goal. Furthermore, the game's animation was done by a former animation lead over at Pixar, and it shows during the cut-scenes. Texture detail is pretty simplistic, again, to convey the look of a cartoon as opposed to anything else. But there are some nice lighting cues and special effects, that's for sure. Though I must mention that when you're out and about in the game free-roaming, you will notice framerate hitches, which can be irritating sometimes. There's also a good deal of pop-up and some slight screen tearing. As I said before, the graphics are good overall, but not exactly what I'd call mind-blowing. Brutal Legend's aesthetic appeal lies in its amazing art direction and personality.
By now we all know that Brutal Legend features a massive roster of talent, some from Hollywood, many from the rock world, and others who are voice over vets, such as Jennifer Hale (Metal Gear Solid). Rob Halford takes on the roles of Lionwhyte and The Baron, Tim Curry is Doviculus, Jack Black is Eddie Riggs, Jennifer Hale is Ophelia, Ozzy Osbourne is The Guardian of Metal, Lita Ford is Rima, and the list just goes on. What you need to know is that not only is the voice acting sensational, but so is the freaking soundtrack! I would seriously pay good money to buy this compilation of amazing work all as one set. Unfortunately, EA was only able to secure a license that allowed them to use the songs in the game and not publish them in a compilation. Regardless, I guess I'll have to do some manual labor, accumulate and burn every one of the 108 songs through my Rhapsody or iTunes account.
And so I bring to an end another massive review. I hope you haven't strained your eyes reading it, but Brutal Legend is simply that awesome. Crazy thing is that I probably could've mentioned a few more things that I totally forgot about. But regardless, Brutal Legend was well worth the wait. It may not have the polish of a game like Metal Gear Solid, but it sure does do almost everything else right, and that counts for something. Also, even though the core story is shorter than 10 hours, there are still a number of side-quests to accomplish, adding to the replay value a good bit. My hats go off to Double Fine for a job well done.
10/13/2009 Arnold Katayev