“Enemies of Metal, your death is our reward!”
With the advent of rhythm games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band, gaming and music are now as intertwined as the cables in any nerd’s home. There are music games for nearly everyone (unless sitars and bagpipes are your thing... or Zep), but they nearly all involve some sort of embarrassing activity, like singing in a room full of people playing plastic baby guitars or trying to play drums when you clearly can’t. Brutal Legend is a music game that doesn’t need Fisher Price toys to rock.
[image1]Brutal Legend comes to us by way of Double Fine Studios and its founder, Tim Schafer, creator of Psychonauts. When Tim Schafer announced Brutal Legend back in two-thousand-whatever, it didn’t come as a surprise for its musical nature, but more for its heavy metal and not being some mash-up of Top 40 garbage you’d find in the latest Guitar Hero track listing.
The operative words here are "Heavy Metal". Not all that black metal with all that panda make-up, or that judd-judd hardcore or that god-awful crap with turntables either - this is the good stuff.
You play as Eddie Riggs, the world’s greatest roadie. The game opens with an amazing commentary on how the term “metal” is thrown around so carelessly these days, and shortly after, Eddie is transported to a wonderful world of metal. Imagine an entire world that looked like a Dio song come to life (you’re right, it does sound pretty fucking sweet). Things are not well in metal land and it’s up to you to set things right… but first you’ll need an army.
Gameplay is varied, but most of your time will be spent in RTS-style battles against the foes of heavy metal; the first of which is General Lionwhyte, voiced by Rob Halford, who is a parable of everything wrong with monster ballads and trying to make metal profitable rather than awesome. There are some collision problems and death can come out of nowhere in these fights, but odds are you won't pick this up for superb gameplay - you'll get it because you love metal.
[image2]At the start of battle, your road crew sets up a stage and you gather your forces. It’s your standard RTS fare, only metal-ized: your basic troops are head bangers, your resources are merch booths, etc. The controls are simple enough, but commanding units can be a bit of a mess. Your primary strategy is highlighting something you want dead and hitting the “kill that” button. That’s not to say there aren’t times where you’ll need specific units to do specific things, though this can be more than a pain in the axe at times. Fortunately, most battles can be won by attrition.
Combat is satisfying when you’re not commanding your army, and you’ll have a whole array of tools to dole out the violence. There’s the Separator, your mighty axe (like an actual axe), and Clementine, your guitar. Your axe is used for basic melee attacks while Clementine is used for ranged attacks, raining thunder down from heaven to smite enemies.
Your guitar is also a tool, and you’ll use it for a number of things like summoning your ride - the Druid Plow - raising relics, and melting faces off. That’s right, you can melt peoples’ faces off with the power of metal.
No music game is complete without a soundtrack and the soundtrack to Brutal Legend is… adequate. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great overall, but there are a number of bands that made the cut that shouldn’t have and some that aren’t there that really should be (I mean who the hell is Budgie, and why are they on there and not Iron Maiden?). Oddly, you really only get to listen to the soundtrack when you’re driving around the open world, but the world isn’t that big and getting from location to location never takes that long. So most of the time you won’t even make it through the intro of a song before you reach your destination. All said, this is the best collection of metal you’ll find in a game, and it’s hard to fault any soundtrack with 3 Inches of Blood on it, it just could have been much better.
[image3]It wouldn’t be a proper music game, either, if Brutal Legend couldn’t drop a few names for cameos. Ozzy? Check. He runs the upgrade shop called Metal Forge. Lemmy? Oh, yeah. He’s in there. Halford? He voices the aforementioned general (which I found odd when I later joined forces with a Rob Halford look-alike voiced by some nobody). You’ll also find Kyle Gass (a.k.a. that other dude from Tenacious D), Brian Posehn (a.k.a. that weird-looking dude that’s in all those shows but doesn’t star in any of them), Lita Ford, Tim Curry - the list goes on and on.
Like most action games, there is a multiplayer mode, although it’s nothing to scream about. You and your opponent face off in a stage battle that plays just like the ones in the main story, a mode that will placate any fans that feel cheated by the game’s incredibly short campaign (about 6 hours). If playing others doesn’t sound appealing, you can face off against the AI in a skirmish-style mode that is the Brutal Legend equivalent of Horde or Firefight. It’s all the gameplay from the campaign, but without all that story getting in the way.
All in all, Brutal Legend isn’t perfect, but it’s still great. If you like metal, you will appreciate Brutal Legend in all its glory. It’s genuinely funny, where other games’ attempts at humor are just a series of dick jokes. It has a great, though still lacking, soundtrack. And let's face it, we will never see another game like this. Ever.