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

Sure. I don't have to be a football fan to still love playing Tecmo Bowl, either. It helps a lot, though.

I've never been into metal, and I think the game is bloody fantastic.

Malor wrote:

I've never been into metal

We can fix you.

snorlax789 wrote:

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

I, as a surly teen, was a punk, not a metalhead, and all of this would have been anathema to me at 17, loudly decrying Metallica's Load as bullsh*t (which I gather the real metalheads did, too), but I'm really enjoying this game. Some of it's an ironic enjoyment, but the game tends to share that sense, so it's all good. Of course, I gravitate to the Motorhead on the soundtrack.

SpacePPoliceman wrote:

I, as a surly teen, was a punk, not a metalhead, and all of this would have been anathema to me at 17, loudly decrying Metallica's Load as bullsh*t (which I gather the real metalheads did, too)

The real metalheads decried the Black Album as bullsh*t. Load was just a source of smug affirmation.

Podunk wrote:

The real metalheads decried the Black Album as bullsh*t. Load was just a source of smug affirmation. :lol:

I've never agreed with the metalheads on that one, although Black Album was very clearly an indicator of where things were going. But I think there was enough tension between their old metal roots and their new mainstream approach to produce some kickass songs. But clearly, the days of Master of Puppets were over.

*Legion* wrote:
Malor wrote:

I've never been into metal

We can fix you.

Dude, that is HARSH. Removing my testicles for not liking music?

Malor wrote:
*Legion* wrote:
Malor wrote:

I've never been into metal

We can fix you.

Dude, that is HARSH. Removing my testicles for not liking music?

You don't like metal. They're already gone.

The only music I like is whatever will get her going.

Edit: And whatever will shut the kids up.

IMAGE(http://static3.shopify.com/s/files/1/0016/9762/files/elitismdiagram600.gif)

*Legion* wrote:
Podunk wrote:

The real metalheads decried the Black Album as bullsh*t. Load was just a source of smug affirmation. :lol:

I've never agreed with the metalheads on that one, although Black Album was very clearly an indicator of where things were going. But I think there was enough tension between their old metal roots and their new mainstream approach to produce some kickass songs. But clearly, the days of Master of Puppets were over.

...and that's all that mattered to us.

Thanks for the honest and heart-felt review.

FWIW, I liked the Black Album just fine at the time.

Load, on the other hand...

snorlax789 wrote:

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

For a moment, I read this as Jack Chick, and did a spit take.

Just imagine what a Jack Chick comic would do with this game. The mind reels.

Hans

snorlax789 wrote:

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

I am far from a metalhead. But I can appreciate Metal for what it is, and enjoy it. Schafer's obvious love for the genre is infectious, if you're open to the idea of enjoying Metal, that should be enough to enjoy Brutal Legend.

I don't know, I'm having a blast playing this game. Don't get me wrong, it's possible that if this game was completely different in every single way except for the gameplay and was from a completely different studio, I may not have played it. I probably wouldn't enjoy it as much if I had played it. But, with everything as it is, I'm completely in love with the game. I look at my progress percentage in the stats screen and get said that the percentage has increased significantly. But, in the end, I'm pretty sure that I'm going to be jumping into stage battles against the A.I. as soon as I finish the story. As soon as I get a gold Live account again, I'll be playing multiplayer, against pubs if I have to! It's not a great action game, and it's not a great RTS, but as an action-RTS, I'm having a frigging blast! I get a little sad when a stage battle ends in the story, because I was having so much fun playing it, and the only thing that makes me feel better is that now I get to watch a totally sweet cutscene.

Of course, I have fun just driving aimlessly, looking at the landscape, listening to the music, and finding all the things to find. I love the sh*tballs out of metal, and this is the most metal game there could ever be.

Sounds issues, though? Haven't really noticed any. Are you guys playing the PS3 version? I thought there was a patch out to fix the sound problems with the PS3 version, but I don't know. I got it on the 360 based on how much better the 360 demo looked and sounded compared to the PS3 demo.

*Legion* wrote:
Malor wrote:
*Legion* wrote:
Malor wrote:

I've never been into metal

We can fix you.

Dude, that is HARSH. Removing my testicles for not liking music?

You don't like metal. They're already gone.

You kinda walked into that one, Malor.

In a couple of years BL is going to be one of these games that I'll bring up ad nauseum whenever we talk about the 'best old games.' I concede that having an appreciation for real metal helps, but if this was a game about the over-the-top absurdity of another music genre I'd probably play it too, if it was this well done.

I do want to add though, there are some folks saying that the days of classic heavy metal are gone for good. That may be the sad truth in America but just look at the continued global success of Iron Maiden in the last couple of years; their concert tour made more money than Coldplay. In the rest of the world metal is still a formidable beast. I don't want to derail this thread, but some Americans who don't follow the metal scene might not be aware of its thriving success in other parts of the world.

Great writeup Elysium, even if it did hit uncomfortably close to home.

A week ago this game was totally off my radar, but impressions like this and those of Tom Chick make me sad that it isn't available on any platform I own.

I've finally settled on liking Brütal Legend from the outside. I can appreciate the artistry and the creators' clear love for the game, and I really admire the game's world-building. They did an excellent job of breathing life into the silly and/or glorious album covers, lyrics, and attitude of metal.

However, the game still holds no interest for me. In this way, it's a lot like metal itself; I've always admired metal, but for the most part I can't stand to listen to it. I'm glad that this game exists because it will be someone's favorite game of the decade, just not mine.

adam.greenbrier wrote:

I've finally settled on liking Brütal Legend from the outside. I can appreciate the artistry and the creators' clear love for the game, and I really admire the game's world-building. They did an excellent job of breathing life into the silly and/or glorious album covers, lyrics, and attitude of metal.

However, the game still holds no interest for me. In this way, it's a lot like metal itself; I've always admired metal, but for the most part I can't stand to listen to it. I'm glad that this game exists because it will be someone's favorite game of the decade, just not mine.

This is the greatest forum in the world because you didn't come in here and trash this game and act like a dick even though you're not interested. We rock.

OK, I just finished it, and my overall opinion has been revised downward somewhat. The game is gorgeous, just amazing, and the basic gameplay mechanics are excellent... but there's just not a lot of there there. I find myself agreeing much more with this review post-completion than I did mid-game.

When I finished it last night, I went to bed and didn't fall asleep for awhile... I was just trying to understand my simultaneous love for the game and fairly strong dissatisfaction with it. And, ultimately, I determined that it felt like the game was rushed, that they'd misallocated resources. They did an incredible, unbelievable job with the 3D and artwork, they got the play mechanics nearly perfect, and they got top-notch voice talent .... and then they ran out of time or money to really finish the game. What's there is awesome, but I think there's maybe fifteen missions on the main storyline, and many of them are 30-minute affairs. Ultimately, the game is too expensive for what it delivers, at least in terms of single-player, and I'm not very interested in the multiplayer.

I don't regret the purchase, because I've had so much fun with Tim Schafer games over the years that I'd cheerfully hand the guy a hundred bucks if I ever met him in person, but I'm a little annoyed because it felt like he swung for a grand-slam home run and actually ended up with a line drive to center field. Mystic Violet mentioned in the main forum thread that it felt a lot like Portal when you finished, and I'd tend to agree with that. The major difference is that Portal was $20, and Brutal Legend was $60.

Obviously, they put a TON more effort and money into BL, but I don't think they spent their money well. They put too much into world-building, and not enough into gameplay and plot.

*Legion* wrote:
Podunk wrote:

The real metalheads decried the Black Album as bullsh*t. Load was just a source of smug affirmation. :lol:

I've never agreed with the metalheads on that one, although Black Album was very clearly an indicator of where things were going. But I think there was enough tension between their old metal roots and their new mainstream approach to produce some kickass songs. But clearly, the days of Master of Puppets were over.

The Black Album was overproduced, in my opinion. What I really liked about Metallica was the raw garage sound they had in the beginning. That's not to say that the Black Album was bad, it just wasn't Metallica.

*Legion* wrote:
Malor wrote:

I've never been into metal

We can fix you.

How long have we been trying to fix Malor?

wordsmythe wrote:
*Legion* wrote:
Malor wrote:

I've never been into metal

We can fix you.

How long have we been trying to fix Malor?

Do... or do not, there is no try!

Okay I bought this game within an hour of the store opening on Tuesday, and after nearly a week - which included me hijacking a small party at my house in order to have a Third Party play through this game for an hour or two with a crowd observing, so I could see some second opinions - I have completed the single player, played a couple online quickmatches, a couple matches with random newbies from other social networks, and maybe a dozen AI practise games.

1: I wish I'd unlocked more before completing the game. CAVEAT EMPTOR SPOILER: if you beat the campaign without unlocking all your songs and stuff, all the upgrades to your car and Eddie, and all of the combat moves, guitar-solo spells, etc, well, that's it. No more chance to try and drop that zeppelin into a battle and change the direction of the fight. There is no "New Game Plus" and although I'm rarely a person to care about replayability complaints I want to experience the game again with allthe moves I've spent hours finding, knowing that I can't use them in combat unless I go to multi/online mode. This makes for a sad panda. I'm not angry I'm not freaking out, but it really does take away some of my desire.

2: Side-quests. There are TONS of them. They're fun if/when you get into the game mechanics. However, there are only a couple types, and more strangely there are NO "RTS" Stage Battle Side Quests!! Why!? Seriously, I want to play more of these, it seems that tossing a half-dozen (hopefully replayable?) battles into different maps wouldn't be so much to ask, and would also help to bring the overall number of side-quests types up.

3: No battles outside of campaign or Multi. See above.

4: "World Progress" rushes toward the end. I don't mean the pace of the story, but at the end of the game you fight the Emporer once or twice, after fighting the Goth Faction a seeming half-dozen times, and the Hairbanger Faction several times as well. For being such abizarre enemy to fight, the third faction was severaly underused in the campaign.

5. Races are a bit too tough. They're almost unwinnable without full car upgrades, and even with the upgrades some of them are still way too hard on easier difficulties dues to the unbeatable physics of the opponent car. If you get near him, he'll pinball you into junk 90% of the time and you can't do anything but restart.

adam.greenbrier wrote:

However, the game still holds no interest for me. In this way, it's a lot like metal itself; I've always admired metal, but for the most part I can't stand to listen to it. I'm glad that this game exists because it will be someone's favorite game of the decade, just not mine.

This is gonna be an all or nothing game: do you have an inner 11-yr old, or do you not? Me, I always wanted to shoot lightning bolts while riding monsters in a land straight out of those cartoons I wasn't supposed to see as a kid. This game is it.

It's not going to be game of the decade without relying mostly on the emotional ties to the genre itself, however it is a solid game that a large group of people shouldn't miss out of, "the Spinal Tap of video games," if you will.

What I mean to say is that I think it will have a very special place, but not The place, in games that came out this decade.

Since you seem to have some aversion to multiplayer you should know that you can do stage battle skirmishes against the AI whenever you want.

coyo7e wrote:
spider_j wrote:

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

I beg to differ.

Yeah, I'll give you that one. That video had my wife, my 1 year old and myself dancing around the room on a Saturday morning. How metal is that?

One can only be blow away by vynil covers, CDs don't hold a candle to 'em

I played a bunch of multiplayer last night in custom matches involving between 2 and 5 people - if you don't enjoy the command aspects of the RTS battles, you SHOULD try online and bring friends, because it's way fun to just cruise around melting faces while your teammate handles all of the tactical stuff!

If you play with people a long distance away geographically you may experience serious lag, and in heavy lag it's nearly impossible to cast a guitar solo, making it impossible to build merch booths, so you'll never be able to win a very laggy game against a few people on the opposite side of the world. 1v1 would be fine, but in a large group there is some obvious inefficiency in the network code, and for some dumb reason the guitar solos seem to be sending data back and forth while you're trying to play them (which means you need to account for lag when hitting the face buttons) so the game chugs heavily and it's just not possible to time it right!

It's amazingly fun online with a couple people though, and the non-headbanger factions are VERY interesting to use, and their heroes have unique solos with different effects, as well.

There's a disturbance in the force.

Tim Schaffer has written an open letter to players saying, l2p noob.

As Tycho sums up

If you try to play the stage battles in Brütal Legend as an RTS game then you will lose.

This is a statement I honestly don't understand. Much of the game (and the entirety of the multiplayer) is self-evidently an RTS, and one must engage in real-time strategy battles in order to progress though the body of the campaign. The fact that the game is also many other things, perhaps too many things simultaneously, doesn't alter the fact. And you can't really blame people for playing the game as an RTS when that's explicitly how you taught them to play it.

Elsewhere in his manifesto, he ponders a number of rhetorical RTS scenarios and then in the next sentence denigrates their importance, which makes me wonder why the game's tutorial takes such great pains to stress real-time strategy fundamentals. One might question the wisdom of constructing a game mode almost entirely out of concepts from a universally understood genre and then telling people they're wrong when they play according to those recognized structures. I'm all about recontextualizing genre tropes, but that's not what happened here. They put one genre on top of another genre and then stood back, marveling at their ingenuity.