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.