‘Brutal Legend’: The Most Absurd Heavy Metal Game Ever?

Upcoming Tim Schafer creation, voiced by Jack Black, casts players in role of heavy metal roadie.

“Brütal Legend” is an upcoming comedy video game in which players play as the greatest heavy metal roadie ever, who has to use a literal axe — and sometimes just his guitar — to fight demons.

Sold?

is the brainchild of video game creator Tim Schafer, who recently told reporters being shown the game in San Francisco that “every piece of concept art [for the game] should look like the cover of a heavy metal album.” Except that you get to drive through this album-cover world and fight demons in it. With an axe.

Sold now?

Rock music is king in video games these days. “Rock Band” and “Guitar Hero” are top titles in the field. But it is the upcoming “Brütal Legend,” slated for a PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 release this fall, that perhaps best shows what kind of game can be made by people who don’t just love rock, but worship at an altar of bats, belt buckles, candles, chrome, big hair, spiky armbands, motorcycles that spit fire and lots of banging heads.

(Check out brand new game screens from “Brütal Legend.” )

Schafer’s games stand out. His last one, “Psychonauts,” was about a kid in summer camp who has to fight through areas modeled off of the psychoses of people in the camp. This new game lets Schafer set up a situation in which roadie Eddie Riggs and his headbanging pals can make things right by beating up a bunch of loser hair metal guys wearing zebra-striped spandex. After showing that scene, the developer unnecessarily explained to reporters that he always hated hair metal. This game is his love for metal made into interactive screwball fantasy.

“Brütal Legend” is being created by Schafer’s Double Fine Productions in San Francisco, where the game was demoed for reporters. It isn’t just bona fide metal because of Schafer and his team. It has added credentials. The roadie Riggs is voiced by Jack Black, who wore a “Brütal Legend” shirt during last year’s MTV Movie Awards and ushered Schafer onstage during a pyrotechnic portion of the Spike Video Game Awards. Judas Priest’s Rob Halford and ’80s metal star Lita Ford also provide vocals.

So the game sounds metal. It looks metal. And its story is pure metal.

From what Schafer showed to MTV News and other gaming press last week, “Brütal Legend” starts with Riggs dropped into a mysterious world that appears to be infused with the spirit of heavy metal. The landscape includes hills of skulls, giant swords stuck in the ground and structures topped with chrome horns. Large, shiny car engines dot the landscape. Riggs is in this world for unknown reasons. A drop of blood that landed on his belt buckle transported him there and soon he is swinging an axe called the Separator against evil monster nuns. A hot metal-loving girl named Ophelia joins the fight and brings Riggs into the world of her people, a world under the cruel control of the emperor Doviculus and his demon forces, the Tainted Coil.

“Brütal Legend” is an action game set in an open world, a little bit like “Grand Theft Auto” or a “Zelda” in its open-ended expansiveness. Players can run Riggs throughout the landscape looking for missions and hidden objects. Or they can put him in the seat of his car, which is alternately called the Deuce and the Druid Plow. This hot rod can be upgraded with armor and weapons. Its radio, the Mouth of Metal, can play a player-customized metal soundtrack. Songs for the radio can be unlocked by exploring the game’s terrain. Riggs’ weapons are his axe and his guitar, Clementine, which he can riff on for magic attacks.
 
Schafer showed one mission that had Riggs commissioned by a character named Lars Halford to head to mines run by General Lionwhyte so he can free some of the world’s enslaved people. In the mine, Riggs finds a group of shirtless guys banging their heads repeatedly into rocks. Their neck muscles are bulging. And they seem kind of dumb.

Riggs implores them to find something better to do with themselves than bash stone: “What do you do with a bunch of kids who don’t know how to do anything but bang their heads all day?” he exclaims. “You start a revolution, Lars.”

Soon after, the battle with the hair metal guys ensues. They support Lionwhyte. But the player is able to control a squad of headbangers to win the fight. Schafer showed that this action game will often have Riggs fighting alongside others. In addition to partner characters like Ophelia, with whom he can do combo attacks, he can command a troupe of heavy metal maniacs. (The game also has a multiplayer mode called “Battle of the Bands,” which allows two players to fight using 40 characters each.)

From “Day of the Tentacle” to “Grim Fandango” to “Psychonauts,” Schafer’s games are known to be hilarious. This one even in its unfinished form already had great lines delivered with perfect timing by Black. “Brütal Legend” had the reporters watching the demo laughing a lot. And it fits. This epic is made with love for heavy metal but with full awareness at how absurd many of its trappings can be. For example, expect to hear Halford screaming motivational sayings to his hair metal minions with a shattering heavy metal pitch.

Maybe a guitar controller connection would have been a bad idea. But for a game like “Brütal Legend,” the imagination runs wild.

Too wild.

When Schafer first pitched the game, before the first “Guitar Hero” was released, publishers exercised their own imaginations. Maybe a change of setting and style, they suggested. Said Schafer: “Publishers had suggested hip-hop or country when the game was first pitched.” Now that would have been brutal.

“Brütal Legend” is slated for a fall release on the PS3 and Xbox 360.

For more on “Brütal Legend” and everything else in the world of gaming, check out our video game blog, MTV Multiplayer.