A Brutally fun Legend (repost)

This is a translated repost from an older review.

I can start out by saying that this game is much cooler (and weirder) than I ever imagined. At first, I thought this was the unholy offspring of an improbable union between Kratos and some chick from Guitar Hero (or two chicks, for those of you who remember a certain minigame from the first God of War). In other words, a really crazy mix. But I ended up finding out that instead of that, Tim Schafer decided putting one teacup God of War, one teacup Guitar Hero, and three teaspoons Starcraft in the game. And it actually turned out nicely. Crazy as hell, but nicely.

I won’t actually hold myself back too much: I didn’t like it for the gameplay, exactly. The addition of Real Time Strategy elements, in a much more literal way than most RTS’s (as you are in the battle field, and to give out orders, you have to be relatively close to your “soldiers”) is quite peculiar. And the whole “battle of the bands” mechanics play out interestingly enough, taking a traditional rock concept and turning it into gameplay. But that’s not the biggest attraction here: the stage is dominated by the language, the presentation, and the story itself. Those thrilled me, moved me, and got me incredibly stuck into the game. And that’s what I’ll focus on.

For those who don’t like Heavy Metal, the game will come across as fun, unusual and noisy. With an amusingly crazy story. In the other hand, to metalheads, the game gets an absurdly different dimension: playing Brütal Legend is like getting teleported inside of a Judas Priest album cover (or any other 80’s metal cover, for that matter). The level of attention to small details related to Metal is borderline absurd. Anyone who either lived or knows a lot about “the golden age of Heavy Metal” (which I guess would be from the 70’s up to midway in the 90’s) will freak out while playing. Every detail and scenery looks like it came from some album cover, or some Boris Vallejo painting. Every. Single. One. Seriously, there’s no exception:

  • The chrome beast that shows in the beginning of the game, Ormagöden, is shamelessly similar to the visual style of several Judas Priest covers (in special, the albums Screaming for Vengeance, Defenders of the Faith, and Stained Class). And it’s head is the spitting image of Snaggletooth, the Mötorhead mascot;
  • Quite obviously, besides being greatly inspired by Jack Black’s ugly face, Eddie Riggs, the main character, dresses like any good metalhead should. Plus his name is a portmanteau of Eddie the Head (the mascot for Iron Maiden) and Derek Riggs, the artist who created it.
  • The trees have exhaust pipes for branches, and tires for leaves;
  • V8 engines sprout from the ground like truffles, near trees;
  • The slaves you set free in the beginning of the game are headbangers working in a mine… mining with their heads. Banging;
  • Giant spiders weave steel cables for webs, and those are used as bass strings by Killmaster, voiced by and modelled after Lemmy Kilmister, Mötorhead’s frontman;
  • Wild boars have motorcycle wheels and engines;
  • Hidden artifacts include statues modelled after the demon in the cover of Dio’s Holy Diver;
  • The upgrade shop is accessed through the V8 engines that sprout from the ground, which in turn are garages that work as portals to a hell-like dimension, where the Guardian of Metal lives. Who sells upgrades, and is voice by and modelled after Ozzy Osbourne;

I could sit here for a week listing all the amazing little details that make this game so awesome, but I think you get the drift… after all, what I listed above must be under 5% of the metal-related content hidden away in the game.  Besides, as Jake Gaskill from G4TV eloquently put it, playing Brütal Legend is like “getting a lecture in Heavy Metal appreciation”. Myself, who spent an adolescence filled with bulging neck muscles (due to excessive headbanging) and even had my band at once, didn’t know many of the bands present in the game. With well over 100 classical metal songs on its soundtrack, as well as having a wonderful original soundtrack (to the point of blending perfectly with both the environment and the licensed songs), the game introduces a look-and-feel as appropriate as Red Dead Redemption’s. Even though I don’t consider it a masterpiece in the level of the latter (mainly because RDR’s storyline is one of the best 5 stories ever told in a videogame), I got unexpected loads of fun from Tim Schafer’s latest work.

Also worthy of praise and note is the perfect use of licensed heavy metal during key moments. Right in the first playable scene, where you get dropped in this crazy “medieval times plus chrome engines and stagelights” Metal World, the thundering drums and starting riff of Black Sabbath’s Children of the Grave begins, and keeps that way until you pick up the Battleaxe… only to burst out the song’s main riff while you chop evil priest/druid things around. After dealing with those, a demonic nun appears to battle, and the main vocal starts. You can see that scene here if you want, but it’s much more fun to play it.

And that’s not the only part: later on, when you need to get Killmaster new bass strings, you have to face the Queen of Metal in a dark, brooding place. The end to Brocas Helm’s Cry of the Banshee keeps playing seamlessly while you explore, only to break out the main song when you find said Queen, and kick the living shit out of her to the sound of some good old and frantic Heavy Metal. Like before, I could sit here for a week, listing page after page of moments, like the escape to the sound of Dragonforce’s Through the Fire and Flames, or the final battle to the sound of Painkiller. Which, by the way, is one of the best songs for a boss fight ever.

That alone would give the game a cool enough edge, interesting enough to be played a couple of times over. But does ol’ Tim get content with just that? Of course not. I was even thinking of using the expression “the Tim Burton of gaming”, so that those who like cinema would get a good comparison, but Burton doesn’t come close to Schafer, as Brutal Legend is his worst game. And you might have noticed the tone of this review, right? So there.

As I was saying, no, good ol’ Tim there doesn’t just make a cool game: he adds a great story to the mix. Maybe not as memorable as others, like I said before while comparing to Red Dead Redemption, but a very damn good story nonetheless. Besides being a story that would be just as cool if seen on a movie or read on a comic book, it has many nuances to reinforce the average craziness within. I won’t give any details on the plot, as to not ruin the experience to anyone. But I can at least quote the awesome characters: Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford as both General Lionwhyte and The Baron, Lita Ford as Rima, the amazon (who rides a fire-spitting beast blatantly inspired by Kiss’ Gene Simmons), the always incredible Tim Curry as the villain Doviculus, and many others. Highlights being Halford’s wonderful work in two greatly different characters (even being difficult to notice that it’s the same guy doing the voice), Lemmy, who does the best character in the game, and Jack Black’s best acting so far. Yes, even better than in his movies, for this character has a depth added to his normally flamboyant style. Besides not being, well, as flamboyant as he usually is.

In a nutshell, I could spend hours writing why this game is great. But written above are the specifics on the two most important traits a game should have to be great: quality material, and fun. And in this case, it is both good and fun enough that I’m actually gonna go over there and play the game through again… just to see all of those scenes again.

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