Psychonauts is the very definition of a cult hit. It was released for the Xbox to solid reviews and poor sales, but word of mouth turned it into a real hit. All you have to do is mention it to people who've played it, and their faces will light up as they recall one of their favorite moments. The brilliant minds behind Psychonauts may not have released any new games since then, but they most certainly haven't been idle. Instead, they've been working on what is destined to be the most metal game in existence, Brütal Legend.
Brütal Legend is the story of Eddie Riggs, the world's ultimate roadie. Played by Jack Black, Riggs is exactly what you'd expect from one of his characters. He's rude, slovenly and a bit dense. Yet one day, while cleaning up, he accidentally spills some of his own blood onto his belt buckle … and wouldn't you know it, the belt buckle turns out to be a magical artifact from a distant world. Before he can so much as blink, Eddie is pulled into a bizarre world and discovers he is apparently some sort of messianic figure destined to overthrow an evil emperor. He may seem like an unlikely hero, but Eddie has the power of metal on his side, and this is a world where that is a formidable weapon indeed.
The world Eddie was brought to is at once both the least and most metal place in existence. Every single part of the world looks like it escaped from the album art of a heavy metal band. You'll see scantily clad women of all shapes and sizes, skulls and fire everywhere, and speakers stick out of the ground in random places; stages just seem to be a natural part of the rock formations, and it looks like a society built around metal. Even the mythological legends of this world are metal icons, such as Ozzy Osbourne, although they've long since vanished from the world. Actually, nobody in this society knows anything about metal. The speakers that grow from the ground are mysteries, and the population seems like a gruff and humorless bunch, despite the fact that they look like they wandered straight out of a Metallica concert. Of course, it will be up to Eddie to bring the ways of metal back to this world that seems destined for it, and fortunately, he's well equipped for the job because you'll never find a bigger fan than him — and his unusual trip has also gifted him with some awesome weaponry and abilities.
Eddie is armed with both a medieval battle-ax and his personal "ax," a magical guitar with powerful destructive magic abilities, and these two weapons work together to form the basis for his battle abilities. The ax is a fast and brutal attack and works well against nearby foes, although it seems more focused on single opponents. If you hold down the attack button, you can charge it up to unleash a devastating overhead swing to crush anything in your path. The guitar, on the other hand, is a bit more unique. As Eddie rocks out, the guitar unleashes various kinds of metal-inspired special effects on his unfortunate foes. Pounding the button causes a brutal rain of electricity to fly down onto nearby foes, moving quickly from enemy to enemy as Eddie's "song" continues. Charge up the guitar for a moment, and you can unleash a tremendous burst of pyrotechnics, which immolates any unfortunate foe caught in its radius. You can also chain these two weapons together to unleash new effects, my personal favorite of which involved Eddie brutalizing his foe with the ax and following it up with a loud, rocking solo that created a shockwave of energy to knock back everything around him.
In addition to Eddie's primary combat abilities, he'll find himself capable of picking up groupies who can provide him with new abilities. For example, while wandering around the Resistance's camp, Eddie may find some buxom blonds wielding massive rocket launchers. Talking to them allows one of them to clamber onto his shoulders for a piggyback ride, which allows the player to use the rocket launcher at the touch of a button. Another ability, which has only been seen in videos so far, would allow Eddie to throw up the horns and march through enemies with the aid of a group of "headbangers," strange cavemen-like groupies who form an entourage for the ultimate roadie.
As the game progresses, Eddie unlocks new abilities that allow him access to new features, the most notable of which are solos, which are very similar to the songs in Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time. When you unlock one, you play an extremely brief mini-game in order to play the song and activate its power. During our E3 demo, we came across two solos, both of which had some fairly interesting uses. The first wasn't too useful on its own, but if you play it in front of certain temples, Eddie will receive new powers or abilities. In the demo, we got one heck of a gift from the temple: the parts of an excellent and extremely metal roadster. As a roadie, Eddie is gifted at putting things together, and after a brief off-screen moment, he's built the ultimate car in which to drive around.
Eddie's car is really phenomenal. It is fast, agile and can be summoned at any time by using a solo. Its high speed allows you to zoom across the landscape much faster than Eddie could ever hope to walk on his own. Its extremely metal exterior is both hard and pointy enough to allow you to ram enemies and grind them under its wheels. You can even activate a super nitro boost to go even faster or turn on a dime using the hand brake. Its best feature is its radio, which is stocked with metal songs from every band you can imagine, and you can listen to any song you want while driving around. There is even a dedicated button just for selecting your soundtrack. Not every song is available from the start, and you'll have to unlock them as the game progresses.
Our first experience with the car in the demo involved a lengthy chase sequence over a hellish metal landscape where we had to avoid gigantic unnatural creatures while plowing over unfortunate druids. It was a breeze to pick up and play, and while I admit to fearing that Eddie's roadster would be a shoehorned gameplay element, it feels so natural that I can't imagine the game without it. The second part involved a boss battle against a tremendous worm creature, which was too fast to avoid on foot; Eddie had to drive around it and lure it into striking ineffectually at the ground and getting stuck. The hand brake U-turn was extremely useful here, and it was really easy to pull off. Once the worm was stuck, you hop out of the car and pound on it with your ax as Eddie mocks it, not only for getting stuck, but for falling for the same trick twice.
Alas, the final area of the game we got to see was also mostly empty, with much of the game's content locked for fear of spoilers. It was a gigantic wide-open world map that Eddie could drive around to look for missions to complete or simply blaze across the landscape in a tricked-out supercar while Judas Priest plays on the radio. We got to see the Resistance's camp, which was a prime example of the strange world that Eddie was brought to. It looked like the remains of a metal show, with speakers and skulls everywhere, but nobody in the camp knew what any of the stuff was for, so they used them as makeshift chairs or doorways.
While the gameplay is solid, Brütal Legend really shines with its humor. Psychonauts was a memorable game as much for its solid and hilarious writing as its gameplay, and Double Fine is at the top of its game with Brütal Legend. Jack Black's Eddie Riggs is the epitome of the likeable doofus who makes cheerful quips at every chance. Be it taunting enemies for their ineffectual attacks or trying his inept damndest to get into the pants of an attractive woman, Jack Black lends a real solid characterization to the game, and the writing works with him. It helps that the world seems designed for Eddie, with the various metal references and straitlaced nature of the denizens offering up easy fodder for his many one-liners.
While it may seem that way at first, Eddie isn't the only musician in the world. A number of famous musicians are also lining up to provide voices, including Lita Ford, Rob Halford, Lemmy Killmeister and Osbourne, each of which will be playing an ever-so-slightly distorted version of themselves. Osbourne, for example, is the "Guardian of Metal," while Killmeister is "Killmaster," a retired hero with amazing powers. While some of the humor may be lost of those who are not metal fans, the writing is solid enough that it works for everyone. You might not get some of the more unusual in-jokes or silly references to popular bands, but it's not required and only serves to improve the experience.Brütal Legend is shaping up to be another excellent game from Double Fine. The combination of great humor and slick gameplay is tough to turn down. There may be shinier games on the floor this year at E3, but there weren't many that I wanted to go back and play some more. It isn't that any single one thing stands out about Brütal Legend; the gameplay is solid, the writing is great, and the entire experience is just fun. I had a smile on my face throughout the entire demo, and even though the loud E3 showroom floor made it difficult to hear everything, I heard enough to laugh out loud a few times during my brief time with the game.
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