Well it’s that time again. the time where I finally get off my lazy ass and decide to throw my adoring masses another tidbit of literary haute cuisine. This week (which would be appropriate, if I actually made posts on a weekly basis) I decided to tackle the latest opus of one Tim Schafer, Brütal Legend. If you are unaware of who Tim Schafer is, well then you really shouldn’t be reading a blog like mine…but then again you might be my mummy supporting my endeavors in the web based writing arena and as such I should probably shed some light (assuming you’re too lazy to use wikipedia…).
Tim Schafer (abridged) – A legendary game director/writer/programmer who has been in the industry for nearly two decades. He began his career working for LucasArts (the game development company of, you guessed it, George Lucas) and was involved in The Secret of Monkey Island, Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle, as well as Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge. He later went on to head up production on Full Throttle and what many consider to be his greatest achievement Grim Fandango. All of these were adventure games all featuring clever storywriting and comedic dialogue. In 2000 Schafer left LucasArts to found Doublefine. Five years later he would release Psychonauts, the game everybody loved and seemingly nobody played. Four years later, here we are in the glorious present, and he has dropped the project he himself has admitted is closest to his heart, what many have tagged his “Love Letter to Heavy Metal” Brütal Legend. Throughout this career Schafer has amassed a loyal and adoring fanbase that seemingly worship the ground he walks on. Likely one of the most renowned of game directors, Schafer has established a pedigree which almost certifies his games to be fresh, funny, and universally loved.
So now that you’re filled in, perhaps you can key in on the number one issue surrounding this game, even before it’s release…the dreaded hype-monster. With the industry creating an atmosphere of greater and greater expectation on each year’s blockbusters its hard enough as it is for games to live up to the overwhelming expectations. So how does the eagerly anticipated masterpiece of everyone’s beloved game guru?
Put simply, not that well.
Brütal Legend is an action adventure game focused around the character Eddie Riggs (voiced by Jack Black), a roadie who is transported to a fantasy realm of Metal after a stage accident leaves him crushed and some blood activates his demonic beltbuckle. I know, awesome right? Once in the fantasy world, things move quickly for Eddie, discovering his guitar now fries demons when he plays a tasty lick, he can swing a battle axe like it’s a foam bat, and can assemble a badass hot rod of doom in no time at all. Before long Eddie has fallen in with a rag tag group of humans who want to overthrow their demonic overlords but lack the organization and preparation required, and so with a host of roadie skills a heavy metal rebellion is born.
The story of this one is completely solid, no ocmplaints there. The pacing is brisk and the plot twists are clever, with many moments inspired by the lyrics and music videos of the heavy metal the game tributes. The game features some serious heavy hitters of the musical genre, including Lemmy of Motörhead, Rob Halford of Judas Priest, Lita Ford of The Runaways, and the incomparable Ozzy Osbourne. As well, the game features some quality voice work of notable actors Tim Curry, Brian Posehn, and Jack Black’s ever-present sidekick Kyle Gass. As one would expect in a Schaferian gaming experience, the dialogue and story are highlighted by comedic dialogue and gags which suit Jack Black’s well…Jack Blackisms extremely well. It’s a fun experience which will keep you headed to the next mission objective just to catch the next funny quip.
Visually the game is certainly pleasing. Looking like something out of Heavy Metal the game features an aesthetic that pays homage to all things spiky, gas-powered, and demonic. The characters themselves have a cartoonish design that suits the universe very well, while the environments themselves look very vivid and have a sort of surrealism to them which serves to capture the album artwork style that they were obviously going for. fire and lightening effects are somewhat lackluster though, lacking a certain flair that you would expect considering the visual punch the rest of the game. lighting effects arn’t exactly standout and all the technical eye candy is pretty basic really. Though all in all it’s a good looking game, it’s not a standout eye-popper either.
Gameplay is really where I have to get down to brass tacks, and boy do I have a lot to say about that. This game is really a mixed bag of gameplay elements, you’ve got part hack & slash action game, part vehicular combat, part rhythm game, and part real-time strategy. If you’re anything like me, you’re probably wondering why the hell you would include an RTS gameplay element into this style of game. Sadly, there is no clear answer for this. The RTS seems horribly tacked on, given that it’s too simple to be a true fleshed out RTS experience, and the AI is too stupid to make it a manageable. What you end up with is a system where you’re hauling ass all over the battlefield killing as many people as you can with your car or using solo’s to kill off the enemy units yourself, while haphazardly building units to throw into the fray to essentially draw fire off of your weakling ass as you get slaughtered over and over again if you go in without cannon fodder. The game also features a metric butt-ton of side-quests, though these fall into mostly 4 categories: ambush, fixed gun, car race, and mortar targeting. As you might expect, doing 10 missions manning the same fixed gun position gets a bit tedious. Apart from the side-missions there is a veritable smörgåsbord of collectibles to go after, such as hidden jumps and discovering statues. The game has a ton of concept art unlockables but lacks unlockable video which I have to admit is sorely missed considering the impressive cast and crew, it would have been greatly appreciated. I can’t say the gameplay wasn’t fun, because I would be lying. However, it was easily the most disappointing element of the game, and it wasn’t that much fun, and what kept me coming back was easily the game’s humour and soundtrack. Which brings me to my next topic…
Sound, Okay this one is subjective. The soundtrack is balls out awesome…if you’re a metal fan. If you’re not into heavy metal, well you probably didn’t plan on playing the game, but regardless you probably should avoid it. The soundtrack is a cross section of all things metal, ranging from the seminal classics like Sabbath and Judas Priest to the modern prodigies such as Children of Bodom and Dragonforce, all the way to tongue in cheek acts such as Tenacious D and Dethklok (which adds a delicious sense of irony to the mix) and has a soundtrack of over 100 songs…which is truly staggering. As alluded to the voice acting is top notch, featuring a host of pros who deliver the lines with pitch perfect comedic timing. effects wise the game is right on par as well, with Eddie’s hot rod (The Druid Plough aka The Deuce) sounding large and beefy, as well as the electric guitar sounding suitably hard and heavy while playing the in-game rhythm sequences. The sound is excellent all around, and is the icing on a tasty cake that is the games very pleasing presentation.
It’s odd reviewing this game, in the sense that I’m torn between being disappointed in the let down from a game so hyped that I half expected the main character to reach out of the screen and shake my hands for putting the disc into my console. The game didn’t live up to expectations, and gameplay wise I would go so far as to say it was a forgettable experience. However the game had an excellent presentation and compelled me to keep coming back and playing, so it ultimately achieved it’s goal in being a very playable game, though I feel almost cheated on the pretenses in which it did so. There are two issues I want to close out on, the sandbox element and in regards to Tim Schafer being tied to this game. The sandbox thing is simple, this game is an action adventure game, without a doubt. As such you expect to have a map that you can navigate and side-missions and things to discover on said map (a la Zelda or Okami) but the thing that burns me about this game is exactly why sandbox games are annoying in the first place…travel times. Like almost all current sandbox titles you have to drive your ass from point a to point b at all times, why couldn’t they just include a quick movement system? I don’t care if it’s a giant chrome dragon that spouts Def Leopard Verses when it opens it’s beak that takes you from one strategic point on the map to another, ANYTHING WILL DO. Just please don’t make me drive my god damned car through your entire map just so I can instruct some headbangers how to properly perform a keg-stand…And finally my thoughts on the Tim Schafer factor. Truthfully, I probably would have liked this game a lot more if it weren’t “A Tim Schafer Game” because then I could have been slightly more forgiving about the gameplay being the biggest flaw. The bottom line is when the game is made by a guy who has made a laundry list of quality titles that played well, you expect the first thing they would get right is make the gameplay fun. A game being propped up by humour and production values is just something I can’t abide from an industry legend, and while I enjoyed my experiences playing Brütal Legend, I can honestly say I feel like it ought to have been a better title than it was.