After an extended wait, Rocktober 13 has finally arrived. If you’re reading this, you likely know what that means. After four years, Tim Schafer and the folks at Double Fine Productions have finally finished off the follow-up to their superb-yet-criminally undersold 2005 release, "Psychonauts." "Brutal Legend" is the latest zany creation to spring forth from Schafer’s mind, and it’s a doozy. But does the adventure measure up to the ordeals of Raz and his psychic summer camp buddies?
In "Brutal Legend" you are Eddie Riggs (voiced by Jack Black), a roadie of mammoth proportions, both physically and by reputation. And yet for all of Eddie’s superior roadie-ing abilities, he’s destined to live a life in the shadows, working tirelessly to make everyone around him look good. All of that changes when blood touches Eddie's magical belt buckle following an accident on stage. Our roadie hero is whisked away to another world, a land where heavy metal album covers seemingly come to life. Here, Eddie must use his considerable abilities to free an enslaved people and bring the fight back to those who hate freedom.
So F---ing Metal
More than anything else, the world in "Brutal Legend" is fantastically well-realized. Unlike the discrete "areas" of "Psychonauts," the environments here are laid out across a completely open landscape, with new locations opening up as progress is made. Pull out your heavy metal collection and take a look at the covers; all of the common themes are accounted for in the sights you'll see. There are rolling grass-covered hills dotted with stone monuments to guitar god-ery, a sun-baked desert filled with towering ruins, a fog-shrouded forest with nooses hanging from trees like apples… it goes on. For anything that goes wrong in the game – and there’s quite a bit, sadly – the world Eddie's adventure occurs in is completely, 100% right.
For Those About To Rock, We Salute You
The writing, characters, voice acting… everything related to "Brutal Legend"'s story and script is classic Schafer. It’s a wacked out, metal-fueled fantasy scenario featuring prophecies, fallen leaders, double-cross, revenge, an evil emperor, a Tour of Destruction… all of the necessary components to keep you wondering about what’s going to happen next. The characters are similarly colorful, with Riggs being a standout. Black brings his A-game to the role, going easy on the scat in favor of a believable voice performance. Plus, you’ve got a cast that includes Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy, Rob Halford and Tim Curry. So. Metal.
Bore Of Destruction
When you get right down to it, "Brutal Legend" is really rather boring. The third-person, open-world exploration is pretty much what you’d expect it to be, but all of the scattered gameplay mechanics don’t amount to a whole lot. Combat is as simple as light/heavy attack combos. While there are new moves to be unlocked, earning enough Lighter Tributes (i.e. experience points) to buy much from the Motor Forge (store) requires playing through a range of uninteresting sidequests, all of which you’ve seen before in other games: race against the clock, checkpoint race, ambush an enemy force, defend a location, etc. There’s no heart, no color to any of these sidequests. The story-based "Tour of Destruction" quests fare slightly better, though they suffer for following a predictable pattern and for putting a heavy focus on “Brutal Legend”’s principal downfall: Stage Battles.
A Special Place In Hell
Stage Battles deserve to be highlighted in their own section. One has to wonder what Schafer and his team were thinking, making real-time strategy – a genre that historically has never worked with console controls – a fundamental part of the game. The idea of it is cool enough: your “base” is a stage and your resources points are earned by building merch booths on top of fan-producing geyers. Unfortunately, interacting with your army is a tedious, imprecise task. Riggs, who can fight on the ground or issue orders from on high, must interact with individual units in order to give anything other than group orders to everyone in the vicinity. Making matters worse, "Brutal Legend"'s multiplayer is designed entirely around these Stage Battles. Each faction's units are unique, but you won’t ever want to find out because the circumstances under which you deploy them are so lousy.
It is unthinkable in this day and age for an open-world third-person game to offer no on-screen minimap option. There are subtle environmental cues sure, and the world itself is filled with unique visual markers. That really is beside the point though. There’s simply no excuse. It’s a small complaint in comparison to the atrociously boring and repetitive gameplay, but you can look at the absent minimap as the spoiled cherry on top of the melted, room temperature sundae.
I hate to say it as I had high hopes for this game, but "Brutal Legend" is a near-total bust. It’s worth tearing through the relatively short main quest – six to eight hours, no more – on easy if you’re a fan of Schafer and his stories. But prepare to suffer through equal helpings of both derivative and new-but-not-fun gameplay mechanics. Devil horns will not fly today.