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June 2023

Brütal Legend

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: EA
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Release Date: Oct. 13, 2009 (US), Oct. 16, 2009 (EU)


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PS3/X360 Review - 'Brütal Legend'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Oct. 15, 2009 @ 4:52 a.m. PDT

Brütal Legend is a 3rd person Action/Adventure game starring Jack Black in the role of roadie Eddie Riggs, who sets on an epic quest to build an army of rockers with only a broad axe, a big block V8 and his faithful guitar in hand.

Brutal Legend is the story of Eddie Riggs, a professional and dedicated roadie. He's a fan of metal, and as far as he can tell, metal is dead. He spends his days keeping a mediocre wannabe-band called Kabbage Boy from killing themselves. One day, Riggs is badly injured in an accident. His blood falls onto his belt buckle, somehow causing him to be sucked into a world that looks like the cover of a metal album and is populated by wild terrors led by the evil Emperor Doviculus. As far as Eddie can tell, he was summoned to this land to save its human inhabitants from the demons who roam the world and to teach everyone the true glory of metal, and that's just what he intends to do.

Brutal Legend starts off hilariously. Jack Black's Riggs is a treat to watch and listen to, and the cast of characters is lively and funny. Unfortunately, as the game progresses, it starts to lose itself. It goes from being a parody of swords and sorcery mixed with some heavy metal to becoming depressingly straight-laced. There are still funny moments here and there, but they are rarer as the story progresses, relying much more on metal in-jokes and visual puns instead of clever writing. This is a problem since the plot is rather bland and is only spiced up by the awesome setting and amusing characters. When those amusing characters stop being amusing, the game depends on the strength of the story to prop it up. The game is always somewhat amusing, but the latter half definitely lacks the laugh-out-loud charm of the earlier sections.

Initially, Brutal Legend plays like a heavy metal version of Zelda. When Eddie awakens in the strange land, he only has three things going for him: his enchanted ax; his magical guitar; and his totally sweet car, The Deuce. His ax and guitar are his weapons of choice and can be used at any time. The A button swings the ax, and repeated button presses launch a combo. You can also block attacks with your ax by holding the B button, although this is rarely necessary. The X button makes Eddie play a quick riff on his guitar, which summons lightning from the heavens to strike down his foes. Play repeatedly to summon multiple bolts, although this causes the guitar to heat up. If it gets too hot, Eddie needs to wait for it to cool down before he can play more.

Mixing ax and guitar attacks unlocks new moves, such as a pyrotechnic fireball or a burst of sparkling fireworks. In addition to his regular guitar attacks, Eddie can also perform solos by pulling the right trigger. These solos are special magical songs that are activated by playing a Guitar Hero-esque micro-game. Play correctly, and the solo will activate a certain effect, ranging from revealing hidden secrets to causing your enemy's face to melt off from the pure metal of the song.

Eddie can also play a solo to summon his car, The Deuce, which is akin to Link's trusty horse, Epona. The Deuce is fast and heavily armored, so it's rare for you to be threatened while riding it. It has a turbo booster, which allows you to perform wicked jumps or rocket past obstacles. As the game progresses, you'll be able to buy upgrades for it, such as mounted machine guns, rocket launchers or flame throwers. You'll spend most of your time in the game in The Deuce, since it's the fastest way to travel across the map, and once it gets its weapons, it becomes a powerhouse to be reckoned with. Fortunately, it controls quite well, and driving around in The Deuce is a breeze. The triggers control gas and break, the left analog stick can be pressed in to activate turbo, and the A and X button control your weapons.

When the game starts, you'll be tasked with the goal of building an army for the humans to fight off the traitorous General Lionwhyte's forces. This is done by performing a small number of missions where you travel into enemy territory to search for new recruits or important items. The general flow of these stages is extremely simplistic but reasonably fun. You enter a small dungeon and fight your way past the enemies until you reach a boss, at which point you kick some more enemy butt and finish the dungeon. You won't be doing these kinds of stages for long, though, and the game opens into a more open-world adventure that you can explore at will.

Once you've assembled your army, you can begin taking on side-quests to help them out. These quests range from helping your allies ambush enemy forces to using the mounted weapons on The Deuce as a makeshift turret or driving a case of beer to a party before the beverages get warm. Every time you complete a side-quest, you'll earn Fire Tributes, which are the game's currency. Fire Tributes can be spent at metal forges to buy upgrades from Guardian of Metal, also known as Ozzy Osbourne. These upgrades range from new weapons for The Deuce to new attributes for your weapons.

Beyond helping out your army, there are also other side-quests to undertake. You can attempt to free trapped dragon statues, uncover the legends of the land, find landmarks, or try to make some particularly amazing jumps. All of these side-quests reward you with additional Fire Tributes to spend at the metal forges, so it's worth your time to search them out. The dragon statues also give you minor upgrades to Eddy's abilities, such as additional regeneration to his health when he gets damaged. The only real downside to these side-quests is that there is no real reason to do them. Brutal Legend is an exceedingly easy game, and even if you never visited the metal forge or found a single dragon statue, you'd be able to breeze through basically every challenge the game gives you, even on the Brutal difficulty level.

Brutal Legend undergoes a bizarre shift about one-third of the way through the game. While the early segments can be compared to a simplistic Zelda, everything changes once you've recruited a sizable army. From here, almost every single one of the game's big moments becomes a pseudo-real-time strategy style game, comparable to Overlord or similar titles. When a RTS battle begins, your army, Ironheade, builds a stage, which functions as your home base. You and the opponents are battling over fans, which are the game's resources. Your overall goal is to capture fan geysers by building merch stands on them. You can then use captured fans to build enough forces to destroy the enemy's stage, or whatever your current target is for that mission.

What makes Brutal Legend odd is that you don't have anything resembling a "cursor" to command and control your troops. You continue controlling Riggs in exactly the same way as you've normally done. You even have access to all his attacks, solos and, yes, even The Deuce. You move and order your troops with a spotlight, which you can control using the right analog stick. Once you've highlighted something, you can use the d-pad to order troops to move toward it, defend it, attack it or just bunch up around Eddie. You can also hold the Y button to select a specific kind of unit by highlighting it with the cursor, and then ordering that specific group to a certain position. Eddie can also use some RTS-specific solos to set waypoints for newly created units to march to, or to summon all the units on the field to his position.

Eddie can fight alongside his allies and perform double-team attacks with them by pressing the Y button, which allows him to unleash a special ability unique to that unit. The only catch is that Eddie can't directly attack enemy buildings, so you'll have to rely on other units to take them down. While in the RTS mode, Eddie also gains the ability to take on a bat-winged form and fly into the air. From there, Eddie has a clearer view of the battlefield but can't directly participate in combat. On the other hand, Eddie is free of danger because if he's killed on the battlefield, the game isn't over. You have to wait a brief period for him to respawn, and the opposing side gets a hefty boost of fans every time he dies.

While the RTS features in Brutal Legend are a nice idea, they're pretty poorly executed. The controls are awkward, and the interface is so lacking in basic user-friendly attributes that trying more advanced strategy is likely to make the game more difficult. Trying to counter enemy units with their weaknesses, or make a portion of your troops defend a merch stand, is tedious and frustrating, and when you're fiddling with the controls, the enemy is busy pounding your stage. It's made even worse when you realize that the best way to win every fight is just to rush the enemy's stage and pound on it quickly.  It's a similar problem to the one encountered in Halo Wars, but it's exacerbated by the far more mediocre design.

The limited number of commands you have makes it tough to execute anything with finesse, and trying to select a specific kind of unit is extremely awkward. RTS games on consoles are already tough, and one as finicky as this is only playable due to the game's extreme simplicity and ease. To its benefit, the ally AI is quite good, and when you order units somewhere, they rarely get stuck or have difficulty getting there, so once you've ordered your troops to mindlessly rush the enemy, they won't have much trouble getting there. The RTS segments, quite fortunately, are not difficult at all. Their problem lies more in missed potential than any kind of wall of difficulty, and for something that makes up such a major part of the game, it feels distinctly uninspired.

The RTS features comprise Brutal Legend's multiplayer mode. Players can take control of Ironheade or one of the two enemy factions in the game, Drowning Doom and Twisted Coil. The basic controls are the same for each race, and each has a unique leader character. Each leader has a unique set of solos, although the basic combat abilities are basically unchanged. The major difference is in the units that the different armies use. Drowning Doom is a race of "zombie" and various other undead creatures, and it fights by debuffing and weakening enemies until its units can crush them. Twisted Coil has a hierarchy of units and is built around boosting your stronger units so they can be used to summon weaker minions onto the field to rush enemies. The leaders of these two armies can even perform special double-teams attacks with their units, which can lead to some interesting tactics that are unavailable to Eddie. However, most of the problems that exist in the single-player campaign still plague the multiplayer, and it certainly isn't going to compare to a real RTS game. At best, it's a fun extra, and it's enjoyable to play with friends, but that is about it.

One of Brutal Legend's biggest problems is that it doesn't know what it wants to be, which leaves its gameplay feeling hollow. While Psychonauts had a wide variety of gameplay types, they all felt fairly connected, as if each piece were one part of a whole game. In Brutal Legend, you'll go from on-foot combat to driving segments, followed by an RTS game and a turret defense sequence, and none of them feel very fleshed-out. You can buy new moves for your ax and guitar's combat abilities, but there is no real reason, since most of the moves don't seem to be much of an improvement over button-mashing. You can use different kinds of units and be strategic in the game's RTS segments, but you're better off just rushing the enemies.

There are clearly a lot of great ideas here, but Brutal Legend is so caught between genres that it can't develop any of them properly. Even worse, since none of them are very fleshed-out, the game becomes repetitive. Most of the segments feel very similar to earlier segments, and there is little to separate them. There is also a disappointing lack of boss fights beyond the early sections of the game. All of the RTS segments feel like they used the same strategy; the combat becomes button-mashing, and enemies rarely, if ever, seem to provide a direct threat, unless you're attempting to take on an entire army by yourself.

Where Brutal Legend really shines is in its art design. Rarely has a world been so wonderfully put together. The metal-inspired land is filled to the brim with clever references, jokes and awesome designs. Perhaps the only real flaw is that a lot of the humorous in-jokes that dot the landscape will be lost on those who don't have knowledge of metal. The world is just going to be a lot more fun to explore if you're getting the jokes and references, but even for a metal neophyte, it's an interesting place to visit, and there are enough interesting and creative areas and characters that you won't feel bored. There are tons of things to see, and it's fun to just roam the strange lands looking for dragon statues or legends.

Brutal Legend does have some rather nasty pop-in at certain areas, which can be quite aggravating when driving at high speeds. Even worse, there are areas in the game where you can get stuck with no way to get out. Eddie can't jump, and if you even happen to get The Deuce or Eddie into an area where you'd have to jump to escape, you're left with no choice but to restart the game. This only happened to me a couple of times when I left the beaten path to explore the world, but considering the game's short length, it is a notable problem, especially for a title that's so heavily focused on exploring.

It's pretty much impossible to complain about Brutal Legend's soundtrack. It has some of the greatest metal musicians on it, ranging from popular classics to new flavors. There is enough room for different tastes, so everyone with even a faint fondness for metal is sure to find something to enjoy, whether it's Judas Priest or Dragonforce. Each mission has a dedicated song, and beyond that, you'll be able to listen to a wide variety of tunes while driving in The Deuce. If there's a song you particularly hate, you can also turn it off, assuring it won't ever pop up on the radio. The voice acting is just as metal as the soundtrack, with famous stars like Rob Halford, Lemmy Killmeister, Lita Ford and even Osbourne providing the voices for Nordic fantasy-inspired version of themselves. Riggs is voiced by Black, who puts forth a great performance, although it seems like a fairly easy job, since playing Eddie Riggs is basically allowing Black to play himself.

There's a lot to like about Brutal Legend. Early on, it's clever, inventive and funny. The art design is top-notch, and the voice acting and soundtrack are excellent. Yet as the game goes on, it feels like everything runs out of steam. The gameplay gets less creative, the humor becomes less common and everything just sort of trails off until the game reaches a rather mediocre conclusion. Brutal Legend isn't a bad game by any means, and there is certainly plenty of fun to be had while playing it. It simply tries to do too much at once, and as a result, doesn't do anything as well as it should. The multiplayer, much like the main game, is fun for brief periods of time, but lacks any particular lasting value, and is more of a curiosity than an actual selling point.

Score: 7.7/10

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