Brütal Legend -- First Impressions

There are two basic ways to interpret and judge, if such is your inclination, Brütal Legend. The first is as a flawed game with moments of inspired gameplay that borrows mechanics from a dozen other games in ways that are fun in a transitory sort of sense, but rarely feels elevated.

The second is as a virtual representation of the demented head-trip that is Heavy Metal.

The cultural lens through which you absorb the story of Eddie Riggs will make a significant difference as to where you fall on the grand spectrum between love and hate. Should you choose to play the game as you would any other—and really who could blame you?—your enjoyment will inevitably wane with a sense that Brütal Legend never really takes off the Floatees to swim deep in the ocean of complex mechanics.

But, if you throw up the horns and baptize yourself in the unholy miasma that seeps from every corner of the game, calling you to the realm of the Well and Truly Rocked, then those mundane issues all wash away.

I am a disciple of Rock, and when the Earth is torn asunder by the Chrome Beast Who Belches the Cleansing Power Chords, I’ll be standing on the broken pinnacle of a molten crag wearing a Judas Priest t-shirt. I think Tim Schafer’s gonna be there too.

I wanted to like Brütal Legend, and so I do.

Unbiased objectivism may be a lot of things, but Metal it is not. No one stands around listening to Ozzy saying things like, “you know, it’s bad enough that they’ve fallen back on the hoary standards of 4/4 time, but that chord progression is just too tired for words.” So too, you will find in this brief, but earnest, First Impression little talk of how basic the RTS controls actually are or how redundant the actual combat can be.

This is not a game for video game purists. This is a video game for people with fond memories of sitting on their bed as a baleful teen, earphones pressed deep into hard flesh listening to Zeppelin or Sabbath under the dead-eyed glare of evil manifest in an Iron Maiden or Megadeth poster. This is a safari into the unbridled world of a heavy album cover. With jokes.

For all the complaints that may eventually be aimed at Brütal Legend, one that would be truly indefensible is any impeachment on Double Fine for making a game that doesn’t understand its audience. This is a game for old people, people who were forced to endure the death of Metal to bands like Whitesnake, Poison and post-1990 Metallica. Like every Tim Schafer effort, there is only a fragment of the gaming population prepared to truly appreciate the multi-layered depths of what is going on here.

But, if you are in that niche, the iconography, the themes, the music, the cameos, the writing and the sensibility that Brütal Legend unfailingly delivers will be not unlike a drug. Put simply, true Metal fans will have beer goggles for this game. Brütal Legend is a biker chick—inked goddess to the few and shallow, leathery harpie to the rest.

The flaws of the game don’t detract. They give it character. Just as a fan of vinyl looks at your studio-quality 320kbps .mp3 Electronica collection and says you just don’t get it, I am inclined to say the same of those who may complain about the game as an exploration of rehashed and not particularly exciting standards. This is a game made for a historically marginalized population, and with Metal-cred established from the moment the menu screen loads, there’s simply no chance that we’re turning on Brütal Legend for the minor crime of being a relatively mediocre game.

If I were wearing my reviewer hat instead of this biker’s skull cap, I would point out that the depth and breadth of world-building at play here mitigates a lot of what goes astray. The deeper you dig into Brütal Legend, the more callbacks and references you find to a lifestyle that has rarely been truly appreciated. It goes beyond the glaring obviousness of a world built on demons and chrome torn from the imaginations of bikers and headbangers. It is layered deep, and brought to life through sharp dialogue and flawless delivery.

I can’t sit here and tell you that this is a game built for every gamer. Probably not even most. I can tell you that if you want to crank the volume on your stereo system, scream a demon hotrod into the air as fire belches from its exhaust and land onto the bloodied corpses of your foes while “Rock of Ages” echoes under the shadow of a giant stone skull, then you shall find joy here.

Comments

I watched Gametrailers.com review. Still not understanding the allure. All the Metal stuff feels too much like a self-parody to be enjoyed for too long.

My impressions? It's f*cking Metal.

If that sounds awesome, go buy it right now. You will not be disappointed.

Gorilla.800.lbs wrote:

I watched Gametrailers.com review. Still not understanding the allure. All the Metal stuff feels too much like a self-parody to be enjoyed for too long.

From what I understand about Metal (admittely very little, but I still appreciate it and can see myself loving this game), Metal has always contained a sense of self-parody kinda built in. This Is Spinal Tap might be a good example of something similar (and I haven't seen that either ).

Still not understanding the allure. All the Metal stuff feels too much like a self-parody to be enjoyed for too long.

I think this will prove to be a common sentiment, and not one I can logically disagree with in any convincing way. I am willing to hazard a guess that for many this will become one of the most over-rated games in a long time, because there will be a vocal but omnipresent contingent that will hold Brutal Legend in the highest possible regard.

Waiting for the PC version.

Could be a while.

Great writeup, Sean. Somehow you made me want to play the game more because of the flaws.

For a game about music, the sound design is atrocious. I just don't get it. Otherwise, yeah, the gameplay is passable enough to exist in the world. That sentence doesn't make me happy as the game could've been so much more, but this is what we've got and I guess I'm okay with that.

Gorilla.800.lbs wrote:

I watched Gametrailers.com review. Still not understanding the allure. All the Metal stuff feels too much like a self-parody to be enjoyed for too long.

There is a very thin line that the best parodies tread where they vacillate between ridiculous send up and loving tribute. This game is one of those cases where it's being made by a very funny person who is fully aware of how over-the-top it all is, yet it comes out of such an obvious passion for the source material (seriously, even the menu screen feels like a reverent testimonial to Schafer's obsession) that even someone like me who has some appreciation for older heavy metal but hasn't been that into the genre can get caught up in it.

Switchbreak wrote:
Gorilla.800.lbs wrote:

I watched Gametrailers.com review. Still not understanding the allure. All the Metal stuff feels too much like a self-parody to be enjoyed for too long.

There is a very thin line that the best parodies tread where they vacillate between ridiculous send up and loving tribute. This game is one of those cases where it's being made by a very funny person who is fully aware of how over-the-top it all is, yet it comes out of such an obvious passion for the source material (seriously, even the menu screen feels like a reverent testimonial to Schafer's obsession) that even someone like me who has some appreciation for older heavy metal but hasn't been that into the genre can get caught up in it.

Bingo! This is basically exactly where I stand. Yes, the game mechanics aren't as refined as other entries in the several genres it represents. Yes, it's not the most technically impressive game (not that it looks anywhere near bad, mind you). And yes, it is f*cking metal. If you care about this, then all the other issues are moot. The art direction is stellar and the game was obviously designed by someone who loves the genre. I find myself recognizing the gameplay deficits, yet still having a damn fun time.

The words "charm" and "Metal" may not find themselves in the same sentence too often, but the nostalgia trip represented by BL insists that they be placed into uncomfortable proximity. The gameplay mechanics may not be greatest, and yes, I was initially a bit disappointed in that regard, but the sheer love of the Metal sub-culture that Shaefer and I obviously share just bleeds from every sweaty pore in this game.

garion333 wrote:

For a game about music, the sound design is atrocious.

Nonsense! The sound design is awesome! I find that the overall approach to the sound design is really creative, and I love how they've layered various distorted electric guitar effects into all kinds of places you wouldn't expect.

What is disappointing is the way the mix sometimes seems to get messed up, where a certain element (such as dialogue) suddenly becomes much too quiet relative to the rest of the mix. I hope they find a way to tweak that in a patch, because it can be really distracting in a combat situation when the sonic landscape is really dense.

I was never a metal head, and found many of its young enthusiasts from the late 70s-80s kinda ridiculous (I like the music well enough though).

I am absolutely LOVING the tone and tenor of the game. I can see the accusations against the mechanics of the system, but this game is dripping with awesome!

I think Nathan Explosion would describe it as "Blacker than the blackest black times infinity."

It's even awesomer than that.

Also, "Rock of Ages" was probably a bad example to use. It's easily the closest thing to "Hair Metal" that I've heard on the soundtrack and I felt it was a bit out of place. Everything else is amazing.

It would seem that possessing an affinity to metal, particularly the 70's and 80's variety, is a prerequisite to getting the most out of Brutal Legend. Interesting though, that most of the songs I've seen on the soundtrack are from the past decade.

Strike that last comment, I've just had a look at the full soundtrack, and there's a great mix of metal eras on there (108 songs!).

Podunk wrote:
garion333 wrote:

For a game about music, the sound design is atrocious.

Nonsense! The sound design is awesome! I find that the overall approach to the sound design is really creative, and I love how they've layered various distorted electric guitar effects into all kinds of places you wouldn't expect.

What is disappointing is the way the mix sometimes seems to get messed up, where a certain element (such as dialogue) suddenly becomes much too quiet relative to the rest of the mix. I hope they find a way to tweak that in a patch, because it can be really distracting in a combat situation when the sonic landscape is really dense.

You're right, I actually meant the mix. The dialogue running over things and the way the sound drops out from time to time. The latter could certainly just be my setup for some reason.

garion333 wrote:

You're right, I actually meant the mix. The dialogue running over things and the way the sound drops out from time to time. The latter could certainly just be my setup for some reason.

I don't know, I've definitely experienced some of that weirdness too.

Sands, you put it perfectly. I don't know how, but you somehow reached into my head, and found what I wanted to say, but am obviously unable to. This game is a celebration of an age of music that is dead except in the memories of the surviving fans. Oh sure, you can hop across the pond (Atlantic Ocean) and catch a power-metal show somewhere in norway, and Iron Maiden still tours now and then, but it's really not the same.

"All the Metal stuff feels too much like a self-parody to be enjoyed for too long."

Ah, but that's just it. Metal LOVES/IS self parody.
I think most metal fans will be able to tell you how awesome their favorite devil-screaming stage-painted metal band is, and in the same breath, agree with you that they're friggin ridiculous. The trick is to accept the ridiculousness and celebrate it with as little irony as possible. Do you want to know why Kiss fans are the way they are? That's why.

Again, Sands, you are the man.

Maybe it's just inevitable that the games that are the most hyped, the ones we most look forward to just can't live up to the expectations we set for them.

I've been on the fence about this one and decided to take a wait and see approach. Was never a big metal fan nor a big fan of Jack Black, so I'll probably drop my early adopter cash on Dragon Age and wait and see how this looks down the road.

It's Harpy, not Harpie. Good writeup though.

While the metal aspect may make the exception granted due to content rule much stronger with this game, it seems this could be applied to a lot of games that hit a feel for a certain group of people but the mechanics don't do anything for others.

It could be that this game just hammers home the style that much better than the others that try to stylize their way past bland gameplay.

This is the type of writing that makes me come back to this site. Great job!

I just obtained a guitar solo that lets me summon a flaming zeppelin from the sky which nukes my enemies. What more needs to be said about this game?

I'm looking forward to how my relationship with Brutal Legend develops. It's teetering in a spike-encrusted equilibrium right now, and I've no idea whether the obvious flaws, shortfallings and mediocrity of the gameplay will ultimately outweigh the devil-spawned awesomness of the gameworld.

It seems to me that Brutal Legend is one of those games where the whole is definitely much, much more than the sum of the parts.

I don't think of the tradeoff with Brutal Legend as being one of stylish environment vs. mediocre gameplay. I would describe it as more of a tradeoff of high amounts of creativity in both the environment and the game mechanics vs. a lack of high-budget polished, playtested sheen. Which is pretty much the same as what I would say about Psychonauts.

Elysium wrote:

This is a video game for people with fond memories of sitting on their bed as a baleful teen, earphones pressed deep into hard flesh listening to Zeppelin or Sabbath under the dead-eyed glare of evil manifest in an Iron Maiden or Megadeth poster. This is a safari into the unbridled world of a heavy [metal] album cover. With jokes.

Indeed it is. I grew up as a child of Rock, in awe of my dad's vinyl collection of 200+ albums, almost entirely comprised of hard rock (most of which is called classic rock these days). More impressive that his album collection was his stereo. It was powered by a thunderous Marantz amplifier (and still is to this day) with 4 ear-bleeding Advent speakers (which were eventually replaced with Pioneers), one in each corner of the room. I spent many, many days and countless hours in the "stereo room" (so I called it) whenever my dad was listening to music, being blown away by the sounds from the speakers as well as the imagery of a lot of the album covers, such as Queen's double album News of the World or any KISS album from the 70s. I naturally gravitated towards hard rock and later to metal in the mid 80s. I still remember the first time I heard Metallica because it was so much heavier and faster than anything I'd heard before. It was like taking metal to the proverbial next level. Soon after that, I was once again floored when I listened to Slayer's Reign in Blood album. The rest, as they say, is history.

I'm totally rambling now, so... yeah, Brütal Legend = Metal.

Podunk wrote:

What is disappointing is the way the mix sometimes seems to get messed up, where a certain element (such as dialogue) suddenly becomes much too quiet relative to the rest of the mix. I hope they find a way to tweak that in a patch, because it can be really distracting in a combat situation when the sonic landscape is really dense.

While that didn't bother me that much, I would assume that tweaking the different audio options could help with that. The only adjustment I made was to turn the music level all the way up. \m/

Mixolyde wrote:

I think Nathan Explosion would describe it as "Blacker than the blackest black times infinity."

+1 for Dethklok reference

Brilliant writeup. It just managed to make me angrier that I have to wait a bit to get it.

Gorilla.800.lbs wrote:

I watched Gametrailers.com review. Still not understanding the allure. All the Metal stuff feels too much like a self-parody to be enjoyed for too long.

It's not a parody, it's a love song for an era/genre, and it's only ironic in the sense that you both love the world and the craziness, while knowing full well how utterly stupid silly it is. The jokes are made laughing with the player and the bands involved, not at their expense, not smugly, they're just fully, unadulturated enjoyment of the entire spectacle that is Heavy Metal.

The game is like this guy:
IMAGE(http://theinspirationroom.com/daily/commercials/2007/11/van-viking.jpg)

He may or may not realize how dumb his van is, or how fruity is is to have such a "manly" picture bathed purple, but you know HE is proud of it, and safe and happy in his own ridiculous world of personal awesomeness and badassery.

spider_j wrote:

The words "charm" and "Metal" may not find themselves in the same sentence too often

I beg to differ.

On the other hand, Tom Chick has insisted on Fidgit that you don't need to be a metalhead to appreciate Brutal Legend.