Forging an unholy but awesome pact between comedy and heavy metal, Tim Schafer's action-adventure Brutal Legend stars Jack Black as ultimate roadie Eddie Riggs, who's transported to a mythical land where he stages a thrashing mad rebellion against the demonic Lord Doviculus. It's undoubtedly a cool concept, and the game reaches high with real-time strategy elements and an open world. Are the gods of metal pleased?
After Eddie gets some blood in his demonic belt buckle and summons the fiery deity Ormogoden, he's sent to a heavy metal fantasy realm where mankind is violently oppressed by demons and their sell-out hair metal lackeys. Eddie meets a love interest, starts a revolution, and discovers a dark personal secret over the course of a genuinely entertaining story. Dialogue and character development are extremely well done and the game is consistently funny, but some of story's decisive moments don't quite deliver the dramatic impact they seem to be going for. Overall though, it's good stuff.
Brutal Legend is an action-adventure game that expands its scope by adding open world and real-time strategy elements. This necessitates a few gameplay compromises, but it all works out pretty well. You'll have the freedom to plow through the story, explore the land for secrets, or take on various types of side quests. Since the missions themselves run you through tightly scripted areas or focus on simple activities, you'll often feel more like you're simply traveling through the world than living in it. Still, the geography is varied and expansive, with abundant wildlife, friendly patrols, and roaming bands of enemies. It all adds up to a world that feels alive with death and destruction.
Real-time strategy battles are another huge part of Brutal Legend, popping up at major moments in the story and serving as the game's multiplayer component. The battles are strategic and interesting even if they can often feel a little hectic and loose. They succeed in adding another dimension to the game, and the three widely different factions and the ability to create matches up to four-on-four give Brutal's multiplayer some legs. Even if you don't feel like fighting other players, you can still skirmish with the computer offline if you're in the mood to destroy some moody Goth rockers.
Value-conscious players will appreciate that multiplayer extends the life of the game. If you don't go online or dig into all the side quests, you're looking at eight to 10 hours on the road. This is by no means criminally brief, but perhaps a bit short of what you'd expect from a sprawling open world experience. But as far as its purposes go, it's still plenty of time to put on a good show.
When you consider the importance of commanding your head-banging army, it's clear that Brutal Legend isn't exactly a one-man show, but Eddie is unquestionably the star of this adventure. Your mighty axe and destructive guitar let you bust heads and melt faces in brutally satisfying combat against some truly freakish adversaries. While the fighting isn't as sharp and responsive as in the best action games, Eddie has some pretty cool moves. Besides a suite of smash and zap combo attacks, guitar solos unlocked over the course of the game let you summon your vehicle, power up your allies, or cause a huge flaming zeppelin to crash near your general location. The power of metal turns out to be a potent force indeed.
As you uncover ancient secrets of metal and complete various missions around the world, your heroic deeds are rewarded with fire tributes from the gods. You'll use them as currency to convince the guardian of metal--none other than Ozzy Osbourne--to apply an appreciable variety of worthy upgrades to your moves, gear, and the badass hot rod known as the Deuce, aka the Druid Plow.
Considering the amount of ground you'll cover in the game, your ride is very important, not to mention fun to drive and tough to blow up. It only gets more powerful as you continue to improve its weaponry, oversized engine, and armor plating. You'll find yourself driving off the edge of the world from time to time, but as in combat, there's no real penalty for dying other than setting you back to your last checkpoint.
If you're feeling a little more primal, you can always tame a wild beast via electric shock therapy and hop on for a ride. Riding a panther with eye-lasers may be a bit gratuitous, but it's fun. Your comrades-in-metal require much less coercion before they lend you their aid. Simply pressing the Y button lets you initiate a team attack with any nearby ally, anytime, and it's sometimes necessary to use a specific technique to complete a particular mission.
Cooperation can be crucial, and many missions require you to use the game's basic squad controls to get the job done. You can order units to attack, defend, follow, or head for a marked spot. When you find yourself in a full-fledged battle, Eddie will sprout demon wings, allowing you to fly around maps to directly command your entire battalion, harness the power of fans that spew out of geysers, and build yourself an army.
It can be a little awkward to issue controls to individual units, and you have to physically be near them so they'll hear your command. But because you're highly mobile and can contribute to the battle with your own attacks, you'll only feel frustrated when you're getting your butt kicked.
While variety is a good thing, not everything Brutal Legend lays down the rock in equal measure. "Mounting the death rack" sounds awesome, but turns out to be an anemic shooting gallery. Ambush missions are simply no-frills battles you trigger by hanging out by a campfire. On the other hand, the game deserves props for devising checkpoint races that bypass needless frustration with a smart waypoint system. In the end, the good almost completely outweighs the bad.
Like any successful show, Brutal Legend aims to please, deploying the most awesome sounds, visuals, and effects it can muster. Due to the large scale of the game, you'll find a few things to scrutinize; characters are incredibly expressive in cutscenes but somewhat stiff during actual gameplay, for example. Taken as a whole, though, Brutal Legend is downright majestic.
The heavy metal world wrought by Double Fine is mind-bendingly creative. The harsh and imaginative metal landscape uses a broad and expressive color palette to create a world strewn with weird and unique landmarks illuminated by dynamic and highly variable weather. The powerful, pitch-perfect metal soundtrack is almost obscenely robust, featuring legendary acts like Black Sabbath, lesser-known bands like Angel Witch, and self-aware material like the cartoon band Dethklok and Tenacious D.
Regardless of whether you enjoy Jack Black's brand of comedy, he does a great job giving life to Eddie Riggs, as does the rest of the cast with just about every other character in the game. Just as important as the delivery, characters talk to each other throughout the game, providing vocal clues on what's happening in the moment and the story as a whole. Why? Because they care.
Brutal Legend is ambitious, entertaining, and was obviously wrought with enthusiasm and feeling. The game also wants to be experienced, letting you adjust the difficulty on the fly if you hit a snag and want to keep rocking anyway. It may not be the concert of a lifetime, but Brutal Legend's rock-solid performance may just turn you into a true fan of metal.
Reviewed on Microsoft Xbox 360.