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Saturday, October 1, 2011

Review: Brutal Legend for PS3 (or XBOX360)


Brutal Legend’s story centers on a roadie who, through a work-related accident, gets transported to an alternate world where all things heavy metal forged the land.  The story of the world itself can be viewed by unlocking thirteen chained statues containing blue story ball-thingies which are hidden throughout the world.  The short excerpts and the accompanying animations found within these were actually my favorite part of the story. 

As for the actual plot of the game delivered through cutscenes as the game progresses, it gets the job done nicely.  I never really found myself surprised during moments that were presented as if they should be unexpected.  I felt like a few too many hints were dropped that prevented me from being surprised by a couple scenes that would have been much more powerful had I not seen them coming.  However, the plot does have tension, tragedy, rebellion, and intensity.  The plot of Brutal Legend, while better than piles and piles of other games I’ve played, has the unfortunate air of being somewhat rushed. 
What really kept me playing Brutal Legend and caring about the next cutscene (besides the gameplay) were the characters and their interactions.  There are several voice cameos which many heavy metal aficionados will recognize, but the voice acting is done well enough that those who don’t recognize the cameos will still find personality and charm in the characters.  

The main character is voiced by Jack Black and out of all the things I’ve seen him in (remembering back as far as him playing a bully in The Neverending Story 3) I consider this the best performance I’ve ever seen him give.  Granted his performance is all vocal so I’m not really “seeing” him perform, but he manages to convey an impressive range of emotion and depth through his voice, and really pulls you into his journey.


 Brutal Legend was in interesting game in that it completely defied my expectations with certain elements of its gameplay.  The game starts out as a hack’n’slash adventure.  You have an axe to melee attack with and a guitar which does a couple of ranged attacks.  You can also do guitar solos which have various effects on yourself and surrounding enemies/allies.  You get a hot-rod near the beginning of the game which will serve as your faithful companion and can be upgraded in many ways to perform faster, get various weapons, paintjobs, etc.  

As you progress through the game, you unlock story missions and side missions to complete.  Unfortunately, there are very few unique side missions.  Most of them fall into categories such as racing, tower defense and ambush.  Essentially, you’ll be doing several missions multiple times if you do all the side missions. 

Eventually, the story missions evolve from hack’n’slash battles to full on real-time strategy battles.   The fact that these were integrated into the game and worked really well, even within the context of the story, blew me away.  You have a stage and must gather fans to create troops, some of which cost more fans than others.  You then need to have your troops attack the enemies fan geysers and eventually base to win the battle.  The troops are various enemy and ally characters regularly found throughout the game.  You can join in the battles and attack enemies, buff your characters, even call in your hot-rod and run enemies over if you desire.  These battles, known as stage battles, are one of the most fun aspects of the game and are the core focus of Brutal Legend’s online multiplayer.

The really impressive thing about Brutal Legend’s gameplay is how it stacks leading up to the stage battles.  As you naturally progress through the game, you learn things that help you with the RTS aspect of the game without even realizing what your being lead towards.  It really sets itself apart as a unique blend of game styles that actually work very well together.

Although this is a heavy metal-inspired game, it manages to look dark, brooding, epic, and vast with cartoony graphics and very good art design.  The land is literally made up of all things metal.  From a wall of screaming amps, to the great guitar monument there are tons of bits of scenery to look at, each of which looks like it could be on a heavy metal album cover.  The trees in the game are actually made out of metal; there are spiders that weave bass strings, and trees that appear to grow beer. 
The game also looks very good just in terms of visual quality because it doesn’t try to look photo-realistic, but instead takes the cartoony look to its full potential.  The game goes up to 1080p and there’s a ton of fine detail.  There are a few different areas of the game which start opening up after a few missions and each have their own unique direction and style.  More than once while playing, I found myself driving around just to see all the different scenery and try to find new things to look at as I explored.


As a person who listened almost exclusively to heavy metal bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Motörhead, and the likes as a teenager, I’m pretty biased towards loving the music in Brutal Legend.  That being said, even if you didn’t grow up listening to the classics, the music in Brutal Legend fits the atmosphere of the game magnificently.  The game also covers several subgenres of metal music spanning a couple generations so there’s most likely going to be something for most gamers to enjoy.   

One of the first upgrades you get for your hot-rod is a tape deck (judging from the tape sound effect you satisfyingly hear whenever you switch tracks) and as you explore the land, you can unlock statues which hold songs for your car.  Also, every time a song is featured in one of the story missions, it becomes unlocked.  You can tell the game creators spent a lot of time researching and deciding how to go about the soundtrack for this game, as each area generally uses a specific style of metal which goes with the atmosphere and mood specific to each area of the game.


This is one of those rare games nowadays where you can really feel the passion of the people who made it all come together as you play through the game.  It tried new things, which I had not experienced in a game before.  It took risks that paid off.  It created an atmosphere that completely pulled me into the game and fully immersed me in the world.  It made me care about goofy over-the-top characters.  This is all despite legal problems which occurred during crucial times while the game was in development, which is why at times the game can seem rushed and is one of the only things holding this game back. 

Also, before someone points it out, yes, I know the game was created by Tim Schafer, the man behind Psychonauts and Secret of Monkey Island.  I’ve never played those games, so I can’t compare.  All I can tell you is that Brutal Legend is one of the most unique and enjoyable games I’ve played this generation.

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