Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Brütal Legend

Post-Launch Review
Brütal Legend
Developer: Double Fine
Released: October 2009 (consoles) / February 2013 (PC)


Brütal Legend is a blend of action/adventure and RTS genres that follows Eddie Riggs, a roadie transported into a mystical land where metal is not just music, but a force of nature. Here, humanity is enslaved by demons, and only a handful of rebels fight back. Using his skills as a roadie, Eddie assembles an army, teaches them the ways of the metal gods, and kicks off a Tour of Destruction to vanquish the demonic emperor.

At Launch

Brütal Legend earned average review scores of 82%. Critics were very impressed with the game's story and characterization, as well as excellent voice acting without any showboating or extremes on the part of the celebrity cameos. Reviewers also loved the world's juxtaposition of fantasy and heavy metal, and thought the soundtrack fit very well. The worst-reviewed part of the game was the actual gameplay - critics were surprised by the RTS elements which were not well advertised and don't show up until a ways into the story. There were complaints that the RTS controls were unwieldly, and despite the slow introduction of mechanics, the game neglected to inform the player of important elements like the abilities of enemy units or Eddie's ability to mount the stage for a last stand.

Post Launch

Two DLC packs were released. Tears of the Hextadon includes two multiplayer maps and a weapon for single player; The Hammer of Infinite Fate adds more multiplayer maps, weapons, outfits, and a post-story GPS unlock for Eddie's car.
The PC version includes both DLC packs, a few multiplayer tweaks, and well as a graphical upgrade for higher-resolution displays. If sales are good, Double Fine has expressed interest in adding new multiplayer content, including the fourth faction that was cut from the game before the original launch.

The Good

Hilariously Metal
Thirty seconds into the game, everything pauses just before Eddie is about to swear, and the above menu box comes up. As soon as I saw that I knew I'd enjoy this game's humour. The game is jam-packed full of references to metal culture and bands. Even though I'm not much of a metal fan, there are plenty of accessible references and gags that I picked up on, and more universal humour relating to the power of music and the "metal-ness" of the world (one of the most extreme and awesome examples is the razorfire boar: half boar, half motorcycle, with a metal skeleton that's also a gun). I'm sure there's also plenty of more subtle jokes for those who are more into the culture.
RTS Elements
Brütal Legend starts out as an action game. You fight on foot by swinging an axe and summoning lightning with your guitar. Over time, though, the game starts to introduce RTS segments - stage battles that harness the power of rock to spawn units, upgrade your stage, take resource nodes (fan geysers), command squads, and fight enemy armies. But the game doesn't wholly change genres for these battles - you're still playing as Eddie. You can fly around the battlefield issuing orders, and you can also drop down into the fray to engage enemies directly and use solos to buff your units, attack enemies, or capture fan geysers. A lot of critics didn't like this element, but I quite enjoy it. It's a fun change of pace and a surprisingly effective way of playing a war while still only being one guy. The one gripe I have is that it's somewhat unwieldly to create and manage individual squads, especially without a squad UI.
Character Animation
Double Fine is good at faces. Characters' faces are very expressive and display many different emotions over the course of the game, even going so far as to give Eddie several clearly distinguishable types of smug grin. Character movements are also quite expressive, but more so during cutscenes. Unfortunately this quality animation doesn't show up as much in the world - the running animations tend to be stiff and robotic.
Side Missions & Collectibles
There's a lot of optional stuff to do, and it does a pretty good job of being fun and different from the main story missions. Some (but not all) of the side quests offer new gameplay sub-types such as turrets, calling out mortar targets, or racing. Others are just combat, but nice and short. There are also special jumps, sunken artifacts, vistas, additional lore, and 120 bound serpent statues to discover. They can get repetitive, but they're optional.
Several metal personalities provided voice and likenesses for characters in the game, including Jack Black (as the main character Eddie Riggs), Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy, Rob Halford, and Lita Ford. Kyle Gass of Tenacious D and Tim Curry also have roles. They're well done and hilarious, especially Osbourne as the Guardian of Metal.

Brütal Legend includes 107 tracks from 75 bands. Some of these are tied to specific missions, while the rest play while driving. I'm not much of a metal fan but nonetheless the selection is mostly pretty awesome.

The Neutral

Suddenly, Ending
Brütal Legend feels like it ends way too early. As if there was supposed to be more to the game but it didn't make it in. The final showdown comes out of nowhere and the ending is rather anticlimactic after such a buildup. Highlight for spoilers.
You start a rebellion in Bladehenge with the goal of taking down the demon emperor and freeing humanity. Step one is to overthrow the local dictator and free the slaves so you can start building an army and open the gateway to move east. Step two is dealing with a mutiny/rebellion that pits humans against humans in the east. Meanwhile Bladehenge has been taken by demons, and you swear to return and purge them when you have the time. You deal with the rebellion, suffering major personal losses... and then the emperor pops in and you kill him, and there's a party in Bladehenge. Huh? 

The Bad

Frame rate sure is choppy, making it hard to control and react to stuff. I've had some success with this solution, but it doesn't fully solve the problem. Driving is especially annoying with a choppy frame rate because precision becomes essentially impossible. I found that restarting my computer helped a lot.

Wait a minute, I said all the collectibles and side missions were good, didn't I? They are, but finding stuff in the world is a pain. Your objective marker is a glowing column of light, and the car's tail lights point in the direction you should drive. However, they only follow roads, and there's no minimap, making it difficult to find the shorter path. Also, despite being able to fly in stage battles, Eddie can't even jump outside of them, making it possible to get stuck on geometry, which forces you to load the game to get out. Neither of these is terrible, but they're annoyances.
Solo Selection
When you want to play a solo to activate a special ability (damage, summon car or relic, etc) you have to use a radial menu. This menu was very clearly designed for a controller and is very difficult to manage with a mouse. This is not to say that radial menu + mouse is bad - this one in particular is bad. It feels almost like you have a cursor but you can't see it.

The Verdict

Recommendation: play it.
Brütal Legend is a fun game, but the world and the characters are what make it. The worldbuilding is rich and the often hilarious fusion of metal and fantasy is truly great - stuff like the Screaming Wall, a massive wall of speakers and amps that crackles with feedback-thunder as the microphone-seagulls circle above. The story is well written, the voice acting is excellent, and the animation gives life to characters that in other games would be flat stereotypes or caricatures. Actual gameplay can be a little unwieldly at times, but not overly so, and everything else is so awesome that it didn't bother me too much.

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