As I start writing this review, the latest edition of “Monsters Of Rock” is wrapping up in my hometown. For those not familiarized with the event, Monsters Of Rock is a Heavy Metal / Hard Rock musical extravaganza featuring several luminaries of said genres at every edition. It is a wet dream for anyone who fancies leather jackets, combat boots, skull rings and long manes. This time it featured Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest and Motörhead (plus several local artists). To my dismay I wasn’t able to save enough money for tickets to the show on my meager freelance writer earnings, so I was forced to watch a recap of the highest points of the festival on TV and to listen to recollections from my friends that indeed were able to go (I am so jealous of them!).
At this point you might be thinking: “What the hell does any of this have to do with gaming?” or “This is a gaming site, not a rock site! Get your s*** together!”. Well friends… I have a point! I promise!
Having to sit the show out, I decided to take one of the games from my library for a spin. You know, just to kill time. I settled for Brütal Legend. I did not know much about the game at the time other than it was developed by Double Fine Productions, a company led by game development-legend Tim Schafer (who totally is one of my childhood heroes). Something unexplained drew me to the game. Maybe it was the general epicness of the title, maybe it was the misplaced diæreses. Who cares by now? I was already captivated by the game and starting to take pleasure in playing it.
As I was telling earlier, Brütal Legend was developed by Double Fine Productions. It was originally released in 2009 for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 gaming consoles, getting a Steam release for Windows, Mac OS and Linux computers in February 2013. Distributions rights are handled by Electronic Arts for the console versions and by Double Fine Productions themselves for the Steam version. Other games developed by Double Fine Productions were Stacking and Broken Age (among many others).
Brütal Legend starts unusually for a game, with a live action FMV featuring Hollywood actor Jack Black going through a San Francisco record store to find some legendary Heavy Metal album. After tinkering a bit with the menu that is beautifully deployed as Jack’s mythical Heavy Metal album box art, we get to start a new game. Following that, the game gives way to another FMV, this time using the game’s models to introduce the main character and his back story. Some may argue that this FMV is a bit long, but I think that it perfectly introduces us players to the main character, his personality and motivations.
The main character is a guy named Eddie Riggs, who is voiced by Jack Black and conspicuously looks a lot like him. Apparently, he’s been working as a roadie for Heavy Metal bands for several years now, earning himself the reputation that there isn’t anything that he can’t build or he can’t fix and that he’ll do anything to make the stars shine even brighter under the spotlights. His latest job is building the stage props and tuning up the musical instruments for a band called “Kabbage Boy”. The lads at Kabbage Boy don’t seem to take Eddie nor Heavy Metal seriously, continuously breaking the instruments that Eddie builds and performing tomfooleries onstage.
The story takes a dramatic turn when during one of Kabbage Boy’s concerts part of the stage falls on Eddie (who was there trying to save one of the kids from Kabbage Boy from getting crushed to death). Eddie is gravely injured and some blood is spilled on his demon skull-shaped belt buckle. That invokes a powerful demon that apparently kills all the members of Kabbage Boy and takes Eddie to another world. It is time for an adventure like Eddie has never dreamt of before. Armed with a magical axe and his trustworthy guitar, Eddie will fight to liberate this strange world inspired by Heavy Metal albums’ box art from the oppression of General Lionwhyte and his minions. General Lionwhyte and his minions were designed to resemble artists and fans of Hair Metal and Glam Metal bands, a period regarded as obscure by Heavy Metal and Hard Rock fans.
And so Eddie’s adventure begins. Everything in the world of Brütal Legend is presented as a beautiful homage / parody to hard rock and heavy metal subcultures. The fights are classic hack n’ slash action that remind us of games such as Devil May Cry or God Of War. There are some combos and abilities to be performed in battle with the axe and guitar but they’re not very hard to learn. There are also some RTS elements involved in the game that include commanding troops in battle and building objects. Eddie can learn solos to play on his guitar that unlock some special abilities and summon powerful allies like a muscle car named Deuce.
The main issue with Brütal Legend is the lack of tutorials, combined with the fact that the difficulty curve is a rather steep one. You’ll see yourself facing the “game over” (or Brütal Defeat) screen more often than you would like. The controls during the fight are some intuitive ones, but during the RTS aspects of the game they are rather clunky and confusing. It’s hard to direct your troops to the part of the battlefield where you need them to go, and that often results in your precious structures getting crushed by the enemy or your foot soldiers getting killed. Another issue in playability is the lack of a minimap while traveling through the open world. Ultimately, every quirk in playability and controls can be tamed and Brütal Legend is by no means an impossible game.
The story is perfectly told through tons of dialogue and cutscenes. Tim Schafer may be one of the greatest storytellers in the industry. The voice acting is also superb, with Jack Black and Ozzy Osbourne playing Eddie Riggs and The Guardian Of Metal correspondingly giving the best performances in the game. The other rockstars, namely Lemmy Kilmister from Mötorhead and Lita Ford from the The Runaways do a very decent job at playing themselves. Rob Halford from Judas Priest does an excellent job at portraying General Lionwhyte as a pompous yet charismatic villain. The rest of the cast is completed with Hollywood and B-Movie legendary actor Tim Curry playing Doviculus and several voice acting veterans such as Jennifer Hale, Zach Hanks and Kath Soucie playing the members of “The Resistance” a group of misfits opposing General Lionwhyte that Eddie winds up joining and helping them to organize as a powerful army. One minor concern with the narrative is that the cutscenes can only be watched more than once by replaying the game.
The art style and character design is high-quality and reminds me of the cartoons by Genndy Tartakovsky because of the exaggerated features and overall look. There is a lot of blood and gore in the game, and also bad language. That, despite the fact that they can be turned off, make Brütal Legend into a game inappropriate for kids. The graphics are acceptable and the world in Brütal Legend looks definitely breathtaking, but there are several glitches that every now and then cripple the visual experience. The facial animations look splendid too and they add well to the great voice acting performances to create a very cinematic looking game.
The soundtrack of Brütal Legend is so great that it deserves its own paragraph. It is probably one of the greatest soundtracks ever included on a game. There are 20 original songs and more than 100 heavy metal songs by legends such as Motörhead, Judas Priest, Marilyn Manson, Kiss, and many, many others. According to Schafer it was “designed to be loved by Metal fans”. It is a comprehensive study on the various subgenres of metal and one of the highest points of the game.
Overall, Brütal Legend is a remarkable and exceptional game that has a lot to present once you get around its most evident flaws. The story is unique and is impeccably told, the voice acting, the character design and the facial animations are breathtaking. And the soundtrack… Oh my, that is some first-class stuff. I may have missed the latest edition of “Monsters Of Rock” in my hometown but I had a tremendous time fighting alongside some of my beloved Heavy Metal icons to liberate this fantasy world. And I would do it all over again. Get ready to rock on this Heavy Metal-inspired fantasy extravaganza.