Publisher: Double Fine Productions
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Genre: Third Person Adventure / Hack and Slash
Release Dates: 26 Feb, 2013 (EU & NA)
Brutal Legend is above everything else a heavy metal game, starting with Eddie Riggs, the game's protagonist played by Jack Black and the many characters from the world of heavy metal such as The Guardian of Metal which serves as the upgrades NPC, played by none other than Ozzy Osbourne himself. Not only are the characters and the world of Brutal Legend heavy-ly metal inspired, but also the story and every turn point in it, as the game follows the love story between Eddie and Ophelia in the most metal way possible and the fight for freedom across the lands with your faction Ironheade pushing the borders against the rival factions Drowning Doom and The Tainted Coil and their leaders, which makes the plot more intriguing as there is more than one villain. In theme with other video games made by Double Fine, Brutal Legend is also a very weird game that no one else except DF would dare to make; as a matter of fact I'm sure if you were to pitch the concept for this game to any major publisher today you'd be called insane and no one would fund your game, but thankfully someone did make this game and it's just as good for fans of third person action games as it is for fans of heavy metal.
If you are a fan of the genre Brutal Legend has so many references and cameos that will get any fan excited, but even if metal isn't your main thing, there are still things that anyone could enjoy here. The world is built as this fantasy demon filled place where metal rules above everything else, with dark forests, orange skies and metal structures everywhere, which sets the tone of the game perfectly considering its theme. There are so many great characters integrated into the plot and better yet, enemies that vary from one location to another and require a different strategy to beat, so unless you decide to do all the side content there will always be something new awaiting you in the main story. Speaking of side content there is a lot of it, from side quests to collectibles and landmarks all the way to the many upgrades to unlock for your car and abilities, you can spend dozens of hours in the world of Brutal Legend. That being said if you do decide to do everything, it might get boring halfway through, because a lot of the side content is just the same thing in a different place as it usually is with open world games, but it does feel more significant here due to the lack of stories and variety when it comes to the side missions, not to mention other things like races or collectibles.
Even if at its core Brutal Legend is a game for fans of metal music, the story is pretty clear from the start and it's still something anyone can find enjoyable even without prior knowledge about this genre of music, although for someone who has never entered the culture of metal before, it might seem very weird. There are so many fantasy elements integrated into the plot, not only the previously mentioned enemies which are not your usual creatures, but also magical items and the overall catalyst to the story, which is Eddie's arrival into the metal world, where he is seen as the Chosen One by the Ironheade faction members. If you know a little bit about Jack Black you know about his sense of humor, and combining that with Tim Schafer's writing the story has some genuinely funny moments that are brought to life thanks to amazing voice acting and dialogue.
Brutal Legend is partially a third person action adventure game in style of the early God of War games, using Eddie's battle axe as your main weapon to slay demons with melee attacks and his Flying V guitar to summon magical powers such as electric current which can be used as ranged attacks. Gradually as you progress through the game you will unlock new powers and upgrade your existing ones, in addition to the Solos which are more powerful spells that can do various things on the battlefield such as buffing your units or summoning additional ones, however those require a minigame input in the style of Rock Band in order to activate and also have a cooldown period. While their main use is in Stage Battle mode, you can use them whenever you want and in some cases they are required to obtain collectibles using solos like the Relic Raiser, but on the other hand some only have a use during stage battles and the ones that you do use frequently become an useless chore by the end of the game as you'll have to go through that button pressing minigame every time you want to use one, which does become annoying eventually.
The other side of Brutal Legend is the aforementioned Stage Battle mode, which is a real time 1v1 strategy game where you control your faction with the objective of destroying your enemy's stage; in order to do that you have to capture towers which produce fans that you can then use to summon units and build an army strong enough to beat your enemy's forces and destroy their stage. During the campaign you only get to play as the Ironheade faction as you are its leader, which does get repetitive eventually as you only have a couple of units that you can summon and play around with and the map change doesn't affect the way those battles play out at all as the objective always stays the same. The good news is that in multiplayer you can choose from 2 additional factions, Drowning Doom and The Tainted Coil, and since you're no longer playing against AI, which isn't that hard to beat in the campaign even on the Brutal difficulty level, those do have more strategy involved when playing against a human, however as you may guess nobody still plays this today, so you might have a hard time finding someone to play multiplayer with.
The campaign combines the third person open world action game with those strategy sections, and while I do appreciate the variety, by the end of the game those do feel a bit forced just to make use of the mechanic more since even in 2009, not that many people were playing the multiplayer mode and Double Fine probably knew this was going to happen. On the bright side, the combat in general feels great, with many abilities that you can use and enemies that have to be defeated in different ways, so even if you're not a huge fan of the strategy game, for the majority of the campaign you will control only your character which feels satisfying and also, the RTS sections don't restrict you from using your character as part of your army, but you alone won't be able to defeat an entire army, so spawning more units and ordering them what to do is a must. Lastly I have to mention the bugs and problems, which I've seen my fair share of, starting with characters getting stuck in the map and having to reload a checkpoint to crashes that happened quite frequently in multiplayer.
Even by 2009 standards, Brutal Legend isn't the prettiest thing that came out that year and it certainly shows its age now, but the PC version has a significant graphical improvement over the original console version and there are also mods available that improve some aspects of the graphics even further. Even without that, Brutal Legend still features a vast and beautiful open world, but you will most likely notice a lot of irregularities in the design, from pixelated textures to weird corners that look unfinished because they assumed the average player wouldn't look and lots of design repetitions; you will see the same rock placed in multiple locations across the same area. The character animations can look stiff at times, but nothing worse than the typical animation from 2009, although facial animations can get really bad during some moments, even by that year's standards. The visual effects on the other hand brighten up the screen with electrical current flowing from the sky, fireballs skyrocketing at your enemies and any other spell that your guitar can summon feeling like genuine part of this heavy metal world.
Considering the theme of the game, Double Fine really picked the best possible options for its characters, with Jack Black taking on the main role as Eddie Riggs, and other metal legends such as Lemmy Kilmister, Lita Ford and Ozzy Osbourne being a part of the game, and the greatest part is that they don't actually play a character that was made up by Double Fine, they play themselves in a project that it's very visible they wanted to be a part of. The dialogue is fantastic and has many references to metal albums, songs and metal culture in general and each line is delivered perfectly in order to achieve the desired impact. The soundtrack is full of heavy metal hits not only from the artists featured in the game like Black Sabbath, Motörhead or Tenacious D, but also from other popular bands and artists like Megadeth, Dragonforce and many more.
You can beat the main story in around 10 hours, but with all the side content included in the campaign you can easily spend over 25 hours in that alone collecting everything and doing all the side quests, however as mentioned before those do get repetitive really fast since there are only a few variations of events that are copy and pasted in multiple locations across the game. On top of that there is the strategy game, which you either like and want more of or had enough of it during the campaign and never want to touch it again. If you do like it, you can replay that mode on all the available maps against AI, which in this case can be bumped to an even higher grade of difficulty than the maximum during the campaign, but the best way to enjoy this mode is undoubtedly in multiplayer, which is impossible to do nowadays via matchmaking since nobody plays it anymore.
Brutal Legend is foremost a game for fans of heavy metal, if that is you stop reading this and go play the game, but if metal isn't your main thing, you might still enjoy the weird story, fun gameplay and the overall upgrade loop that comes with it, but don't expect it to come without its problems, as certain elements of gameplay feel overused and there are quite a number of issues and bugs that you'll have to overlook.