Wednesday, February 4, 2015

You can't kill the metal! - Brütal Legend

So here's a game with a bit of a weird history. Brütal Legend - yes, with the umlaut, so you know they mean business, originally came out on the Playstation 3 and XBox 360 in 2009, it billed itself as an open world action game, though in truth when people finally played it, it turned out to actually be an action/strategy game. I've also heard, though I have nothing concrete on this, that the game had something of a troubled development, which is a big part of why it's developer Double Fine's last games before becoming a full independent developer. Despite these troubles though, the game managed to become something of a cult hit and in 2013, about 4 years after it's initial release, the game got a PC port.

Brütal Legend tells the story of the roadie Eddie Riggs as he gets sucked into an alternate world that looks like something off the cover of a heavy metal album. Just from that sentwnce, it should be obvious that the game's story is going to be pretty crazy, and it is. The story also does a good job of integrating itself into the gameplay: a lot of stuff in game, from your weapons to the various units in your army are explained at some point in story, it's a nice touch. Unfortunately, while the story is fun to follow and generally well done, it's also pretty rushed, at least in the final act. While I can't give details due to spoilers, I can say that later game, the story goes from dropping some major plot points to the final battle in what feels like only a few short moments. part of me suspects that there was supposed to be more to the story but it apparently got cut.
The game actually opens with a live action video, leading up to this record sleeve/main menu.
Gameplay in Brütal Legend can be broken down into two parts, there's the open world action gameplay, and Real Time Strategy. As an open world action game, The world itself is decently sized, covered in landmarks, hidden collectibles, roaming enemies to deal with and plenty of side missions. It should be noted that compared to a lot of games like this, where the main character generally fights with a selection of guns and explosives, Eddie Riggs is more of a brawler, fighting with an axe... as in an actual axe, not a guitar, while backed by special moves that use his axe... as in a guitar, not an actual axe. While you do have some ranged options, mostly by putting guns on your car, combat is very melee focused, and while as a brawler this isn't a very technical game, there's not a lot in the way of complicated moves or combos to perform, hacking and bashing your way through enemies is still a lot of fun.

As a real time strategy game, Brütal Legend takes a somewhat simplistic approach, There's no base building, and only one resource: your fans. instead, matches focus on capturing and holding control points, building up an army until you have one big enough to take down the enemy's stage. The big twist here is that you still control your character and can readily fight alongside your army using all of your usual attacks and abilities, even gaining access to new special moves by teaming up with your units. A lot of the challenge in matches actually comes from the fact that you still control a character, as you not only need to keep yourself alive, but quickly zoom from place to place to direct the troops and keep a watch on the map, though the game fortunately gives you the ability to fly to help with this. While those who played a more traditional RTS might find this a bit too simplistic, I honestly liked how the game mixed action and strategy.
Instead of building a base, you summon units from a stage like this one.
In both modes of play, you have access to two special tools: your car, called the Deuce or Druid plow, and a guitar named clementine. The Plow is a perfectly serviceable car, fun to drive, looks nice, though outside of some optional weapons like machine guns or homing missiles it isn't anything super special. Clementine on the other hand is pretty unique, you use clementine to use various super moves and special abilities, most of which require you to play a small quick time event called a guitar solo. There's solos for all sorts of stuff, capturing control points, buffing your units, There's even one that literally melts people's faces. The catch is that solos take a few seconds to complete and you're still vulnerable while playing them, also your guitar needs to occasionally cool down after several attacks or solos in a row. This gives some strategy to using the guitar as you can't just spam stuff, and when you see an enemy start a solo you can attack them for a lot of damage and possibly a free kill, or at least force them cancel their solo.

I said earlier that the game takes place in a wold that looks like something off the cover of a heavy metal album and that wasn't a joke. Walls made of electric amps and speakers? Amazon warriors in king diamond makeup? Demonic imps riding flaming motorcycles? Even your base in RTS matches is designed to look like a concert stage, and you capture control points on the map by building merchandise booths. Everything about this game screams of something from heavy metal. There's even a boss that's a giant chrome spider with an engine block for a body in a lair filled with webs made of bass guitar strings. Design wise, this is a very inventive game that has a lot of fun with the things that influenced it..
Tying into the concert theme, you even track information in a tour book.
Almost all of the music in Brütal Legend is licensed and it's amazing. the tracklist is basically a best of metal album with dozens of songs covering everything from 80's hair metal to power metal to growling, screaming black metal. There's plenty of great songs and artists covered here. Kiss' Dr. Feelgood, Black Sabbath's children of the Grave, Manowar's Die for Metal... I'm barely scratching the surface. if you like Metal, you are going to love this soundtrack. While the music is great and the perfect sountrack to shred your way through a heavy metal word to, there is one major drawback. While the game has a soundtrack available for purchase, it only contains the original music made by Double Fine, so those hoping to get this music for their MP3 player will just have to hope they can find it all on iTunes.

Awesome soundtrack aside, another big part of the game is the voicework, on top of some big names like Jack Black voicing Eddy, and Tim Curry gloriously hamming it up as a demon named Doviculus, There's also some music stars in the games voice cast. Rob Halford, lead signer of Judas Priest voices voices a hair metal-themed villian General Lionwhyte, and Ozzy Ozborne as the Guardian Of Metal. The voice work overall is really good, characters, both the big characters like Eddie down to generic Headbangers, are full of personality and the voices fit the characters nicely. Considering how much trouble the game's development went through, it's good that the music and voice acting came out so well.
This game is full of cameos, some more obvious than others.
I said earlier that part of the story felt rushed, and unfortunately this also leads to a major flaw in the gameplay. The game has three major factions in it: Ironheade, yes with an E at the end. Drowning Doom, and Tainted Coil. You play as Ironheade in single player and fight against all three factions in turn, but the factions aren't handled very well, namely the story starts to rush itself at about the same time you start fighting Drowning Doom. The end result is you spend the vast majority of the game fighting Ironheade backed up by a couple of Tainted Coil units and see almost nothing of the other two factions. In fact you only really get to directly fight Tainted coil, the faction presented as the main villains of the game and you're spending the entire game working towards bringing down, once. I realize that the game had a troubled development and it was likely this or no game at all, but to have the main villains almost sidelined until the very last second is pretty terrible.

Despite it's troubles however, I'd say the game is very much worth playing. While it's somewhat obvious that things had been cut or the developers had to hurry things in places, the story and gameplay that managed to see release is still really good. Also, it's setting and mix of action and strategy gameplay are fairly unique, there's honestly not many games like this out there, and I'd say the game is worth it on that uniqueness alone.

Brütal Legend was developed and published by Double Fine Productions. It is available on Steam, GoG, and Desura. It's soundtrack is available on Steam and It's homepage is available here.

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