From the heävy mëtal ümläuts to the hellish (but awesome) landscape dotted with rock-inspired landmarks and its 'Rocktober' release date, Brütal Legend is an affectionate parody from the word go. The story begins with Eddie Riggs (Jack Black), the world’s greatest roadie, being sent back in time to save the world of heavy metal from a demonic overlord, voiced by Tim Curry.
All and all, it's what you'd expect from the mind of Tim Schafer.
It is clear the folks at Double Fine have a great love for metal. The game world is a perfect mix of ridiculous and awesome, combining surreal biomechanical creatures: barbarian, S&M, gothic and druidic imagery, mountains of amps and so forth. It is, appropriately, heavy metal given form, and the number of interesting objects strewn around the landscape makes exploring it that much sweeter.
The actual gameplay is a bit of a mixed bag. On foot, the gameplay is geared towards ‘hack and slash’. It's a little bland, but the magical guitar solos (activated with a Guitar Hero-like sequence) help to spice it up. The game also gives you an upgradable hotrod, used in exploring the world outside of missions or as a weapon during stage battles.
Ah, the stage battles. After the first few hours of gameplay, which are focused on recruiting people to your band... er, army... portions of the campaign take the form of a real-time strategy game. In keeping with the metal motif, the goal is to destroy the other side’s stage, with fans as the resource used to produce units. It's a somewhat unexpected genre shift, and while it’s not particularly deep, it is rather fun. The multiplayer mode is also built around this, letting you face either an AI or a player over the Internet in two teams with up to four players a side.
So what is the main draw of Brütal Legend? The story. Despite the campaign only lasting about seven hours with the plot drastically speeding up and the mood darkening somewhat in the second half, it manages to remain well written, well acted and involving throughout the entire game. The characters are all likeable and well fleshed out, the units unique and interesting, and the soundtrack of 108 licensed songs used to good effect, helping to keep the player engaged. Schafer still knows how to tell a story well, and Brütal Legend is ample proof of that, though it does take a more serious tone in places than his other works.
Unfortunately, Brütal Legend is far from perfect. As with many open world games, the secondary missions are rather lacking when compared to the main campaign. While the first few side quests available are unique and interesting, it doesn’t take long for them to settle down to the same four missions. Admittedly, they are fairly fun (especially the racing missions, which at least have unique tracks), although the small number of mission introductions really highlights just how ‘cut and paste’ the races, ambushes, turret defence and artillery missions are.
After the completion of the campaign and side missions, there is little left to do aside from hunting down hidden objects, playing again from an earlier story chapter, or the multiplayer. It’s unfortunate, but doesn't make it any less of a ‘must play’. Despite all its flaws, Brütal Legend is an absolutely amazing experience. Sure, it’s short, but it is an absolute blast and any PS3 or Xbox 360 owner who enjoys action/adventure games, classic metal, and who doesn't mind a bit of strategy, owes it to themselves to rent it out at the very least. I'm not entirely sure whether it’ll be Double Fine’s breakout hit, or go under the radar like Psychonauts, but I’m eagerly looking forward to the developer’s next game. Rock on, Tim Schafer.