Rivers of molten metal. Gothic cathedrals stretching into the mist. Panthers that shoot lasers from their eyes! Brutal Legend boasts some of the best thematic art direction I think I have ever experienced in a video game and is a fantastic tribute to Metal. Unfortunately, its amazing atmosphere is deflated by shallow gameplay and an indecision as to what genre of game it actually wants to be.
The game casts you as Eddie Riggs, a veteran roadie stuck looking after a band who have no concept of true heavy metal. An accident on-stage, however, sees Eddie transported to a realm under siege by demons, and the only way to stop them is by using the Power of the Titans: METAL. The story itself stutters a little, and after taking an extended break of a day I found it a little confusing, but soon managed to catch my brain up. Rushing through will take you about 10 hours to get from start to finish, but there are a number of side missions and locations to explore in Brutal Legend’s open world.
And what a world it is!
A great plane of stone monuments carved into swords and iron crosses stretches before you whilst volcanoes spew molten quicksilver in the distance. A cliff-face made of colossal amps screams angry feedback when the sea birds (microphones with golden wings) get too close. A dry-ice quarry rolls out misty blankets of fog through a gnarled forest of dead trees and gravestones.Very few games have such a dedication to their art style. The designers at Double Fine have managed to transform the entire history of metal music into a single island. Everything about the world seems to have been ripped from an album cover or KISS concert. Even the map waypoint markers appear in the sky as a huge lighting rig, shining a beam to your current objective.
I doubt you will ever be bored whilst exploring all the nooks and hideaways that the place has to offer. Backtracking to find collectibles will nearly always reveal something that you missed before. A new vista of epic proportions. A new gag between side-characters. Or maybe even a tree that grows bottles of beer.
The soundtrack is also pretty legendary, with a huge number of licensed songs from greats such as Black Sabbath and Def Leppard being played alongside an original score that gears you up for the next epic moment. A lot of songs are unlocked from the start, but fans and explorers will find more unlocked via collectible statues. Voice work and cameos by heavy-metal legends delighted me, and I’ll admit having to suppress nerdy excitement when Ozzy appeared the first time. With Jack Black as Eddie there’s never a shortage of happy moments when the main characters are speaking. And don’t get me started on Tim Curry as primary antagonist Emperor Doviculus. I would let Tim Curry’s voice do horrible things to me.
It’s a shame then, for all this song and show, that the gameplay aspect seems to be unsure as to what it is it actually wants to do. It has hack-n-slash third person combat, using axe attacks and magic riffs in combination with Solos to buff or debuff, but this lacks the finesse that other games pull off, and often quickly devolves into button-mashing. It has a top-down RTS mechanic of sorts for the major battles where you control units to capture resources and bases from the enemy. Again, this is fun, but lacks any real structure and generally results in you just grabbing as many units as you can and rushing the enemy. It’s a bit telling that the actual command Eddie gives is “everything in that general direction must die!” Without any definitive control scheme or constant game mechanics, some of the action can become a bit stale and frustrating. Also, the same encounters and scenarios are repeated over and again for the side-missions, so completing them all might turn into a bit of a chore for those determined to complete the game fully.
Brutal Legend was first announced back in 2009 for the PS3 and Xbox 360. Now, it has recently been released for the PC via Steam, bringing with it some great new features including improved graphics, a host of bug fixes, and an original soundtrack for download. The odd game mechanics are a small price to pay in order for such a fantastic world to discover, and any fan of metal or art will find a gem of a game here. If you’ve not managed to play it before now, I can highly recommend that you pick up a copy, turn your speakers to 11, and settle in for some solid metal fan-service.