Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Review: Brütal Legend

I have to say, while I didn't necessarily notice the hype surrounding this game's launch I was nonetheless excited about it. Tim Schafer is one of my favorite game designers around, and he's produced remarkable work ever since his employ at LucasArts in the wondrous days of point and click adventure. Monkey Island 1 and 2, Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle, Psychonauts - needless to say this game has an impressive pedigree with or without any hype.

So does it hold up to Schafer's previous titles? Short answer: if you let it.

Let me clarify, I loved Brutal Legend. I had tons of fun with it and I'll probably continue to enjoy it for at least a few more days after finishing the campaign. But your enjoyment of the game depends on a few questions you should ask yourself before you pick it up.

Do you now or have you ever loved Heavy Metal? If you answered yes to this question GO GET BRUTAL LEGEND RIGHT NOW. Don't read another sentence, go to wherever is closest that has games and get it. This game is a fantasy world of Heavy Metal and Power Rock come to life. The soundtrack is unbelievably epic. Release a Guitar Hero game with this song list and I might actually play it. But it's not just the music, it's the entire setting. Just imagine a fantasy world where Heavy Metal is a magical force that can alter the physical properties of the world and you've got Brutal Legend's setting. The enemies are glam rockers, emo goths, and demonic apparitions that you'd find in NIN or White Zombie album insert art. Your abilities are all based on utilizing your guitar and awakening the power of the Gods of Metal to crush your enemies. Your allies are headbangers, razor chicks, roadies, bikers, and basically anything you'd see on Rock T-Shirts from the 80s. I can't say enough about how well developed this whole Heavy Metal themed setting works. It is, in a word, BRUTAL. That's not even mentioning all the awesome and frequently hilarious voice acting by Metal greats like Ozzy, Lemmy, Lita Ford, and Rob Halford. Which actually brings me to my second question you should ask yourself before picking up this game...

Do you like Jack Black? I had my misgivings about Jables for this role. He's always worked best for me as a pudgy, bumbling, inept worshiper of Rock. Putting him in the role of a capable Metal Superhero seemed like a mismatch to me. But honestly, I found his enthusiasm contagious. But if you have a serious problem with Jack Black (its become fashionable lately to hate on him), you probably won't be able to get over it and enjoy the game. Your character takes on a distinctly Jack Black attitude and sense of humor, if a bit more restrained than his Tenacious D counterpart. I felt his voice work was outstanding though, and I was drawn in to the story thannks to him. But like I said, if you seriously don't like Jack Black you'll have a serious problem with Brutal Legend.

Are you willing to forgive some gameplay problems for an overall fun experience? This really is the ultimate question for this game. They've really piled on the genres here, and in the end the game tries to be too many things at once. When on foot it's a brawler, occasionally special moves will be rhythmic, with allies fighting next to you its a squad based fighter, in your vehicle its a driving combat sim, you can upgrade your abilities and car like an RPG, and boss battles are done in RTS format. To me the least successful was the RTS element, which I feel should never be on a console. It just doesn't work when you can't micromanage with a mouse and keyboard shortcuts. I was frustrated into putting the game down many times in the RTS battles because it is really easy to lose. There aren't any real structures that you can put up, and setting up a defense so that you can send units to attack is practically non existent. In the end I would just build up the maximum amount of units and have them follow me around as I switched to on foot brawler mode. Tim Schafer himself said that if you play the RTS portions like an RTS, "you will lose". Fortunately I found the brawling to be enjoyable enough that I never felt like giving up. There's something oddly satisfying about cutting up whining emo kids to pieces with a giant axe and a magic flying V guitar.

In the end the gameplay got a little too ambitious and odds are you'll find something that you won't like in the 5 or so different genres at work here. But I can almost guarantee you'll also find something you enjoy.

One last thing worth noting is the story in the single player campaign. It is phenomenal. I was surprised how much I ended up caring about the characters, and how motivated I was to follow through with the whole adventure. The writing is typical of a Tim Schafer game - hilarious, engaging, and well thought out. I'd go so far as to say thatBrutal Legend as Tim Schafer's top dog as far as writing goes. It really is a cleverly designed setting with fleshed out characters and an interesting premise.

Overall Scores (I use words instead of numbers, numbers are for sheep):

Setting: Rich
I'd buy the game for the setting alone. Every little detail is designed from the ground up to be the imagined fantasy world of Heavy Metal brought to life. Just driving around and seeing what's hiding in the various nooks and crannies is a joy.

Story: Engaging
Really fantastic story-telling at work here. It's a little on the short side, but you'll want to see it through to the end. Stick with it and you'll be surprised how interested you become.

Visuals: Eye-Catching

The graphics and art design here is really well done. Everything is varied and colorful and each new zone you go to has a unique and interesting look to it. Excellent art direction. My only problem is that some of the more cartoonish designs clash with the whole Heavy Metal theme.

Sound: METAL!
You cannot go wrong with the music here, it runs the gamut from classic Black Sabbath to DragonForce and even a sprinkling of Deathklok. There's a little something for everyone, provided you enjoy Heavy Metal of some kind. It permeates the entire game, as you would expect. You get 108 songs if you unlock everything, so you have plenty of rock to keep you company. Sound effects are appropriately brutal and definitely don't stray from the metal theme.

Gameplay: Inconsistent

I think if the designers had dropped one of the components of the game it would be much easier to recommend Brutal Legend. As it is any good review of the game has to excuse some of the more frustrating gameplay aspects that pop up in order to really give it praise. You'll find something to like and you'll likely find something to hate.

Final Score:
Fuck you that's what, go to metacritic if you want a score
. But yes, I recommend Brutal Legend for at least a rental. You can probably see most of what the game has to offer if you sat down and played for a full weekend, and it's worth at least that.

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Who The Hell Do I Think I Am?

Austin, Texas, United States
I've played games since my brother got an NES in the late 80s, and I'll play them until I'm a crusty old man. My opinions are based on those 20 years of experiences, and my own ambitions as a game artist and writer.