Publisher: Double Fine
Developer: Double Fine
On paper, the combination of Jack Black and Tim Schafer in a Metal-inspired action-adventure game seems too perfect to be true. When it comes to Tim Schafer games, I either love them or merely just appreciate them. Full Throttle and Psychonauts I loved, Grim Fandango and Stacking I appreciated. Ironically, I feel the same way about Jack Black; even when his movies are annoying (like when he gets crammed into a PG-box like School of Rock), I generally don’t hate them.
So when these two titans joined forces for Brutal Legend on consoles back in 2009, during the height of the rock-game renaissance borne from Guitar Hero and Rock Band, I was fairly hopeful. And now, with the PC re-release of the title, I’m even more optimistic; I figure even if it doesn’t necessarily strike a chord with me (pun intended), I’d still be able to enjoy it for what it is – a Tim Schafer metal-adventure starring Jack Black!
The story goes that while on tour with a “metal” band, roadie Eddie Riggs gets in an accident which inadvertently unleashes the rock demon, Ormagoden, who transports him to his underverse of the same name… Basically a Heavy Metal-inspired Oz that looks like Rock and Roll Mordor (which conversely conjures the “one does not simply [rock] into Mordor” meme). While there, he meets up with a small band of resistance fighters trying to overthrow Doviculus, a tyrant/emperor trying to forever change metal as we know it (or something like that). When Eddie can read the ancient/mythical writings of the Titans’ – scriptures of untold power and awesomeness – the resistance fighters assume he is the prodigal ‘chosen one’ and the adventure unfolds from there.
In typical Schafer fashion, the world is full of over-the-top-but-not-flamboyant (unless intentional) characters which propel it from being an otherwise mediocre experience to an exceedingly fun and entertaining one. Jack Black being Jack Black is the obvious example, but there are plenty of Rock and Roller cameos (or rather “loosely” based facsimiles) and the fantasy-twists on real-life elements are as hilarious as they are direct. In this regard, I tended to forgive a lot of the game’s shortcomings. For example, while its gameplay does get a tad repetitive, I still kept playing merely to continue Eddie Riggs’ plight.
Other than slightly improved graphics in the form of a resolution bump, I’m not exactly sure what the PC version has that the console versions don’t. Ironically, the cutscenes were actually lower-resolution looking than the real-time graphics. It’s a little jarring when you see all of those jaggies, and then it pops back into the super-smooth 1080+ with 4x anti-aliasing in-game… Obviously it runs a treat, but that’s to be expected from a console port that’s 3+ years old.
One thing that definitely didn’t go through too much translation – though it probably should/could have given that the game plays like an RTS-lite – is controls. It’s a minor thing, but one that may have made the game a little more pliable to the PC crowd (although something tells me most PC-only gamers will just be glad to play another Tim Schafer game.) Ultimately I ended up playing on a 360 pad (for shame), as it was less clunky than the kb+m remap and gave the best play experience.
Aside from that, the game’s presentation is absolutely top-notch. Better than most games this generation, actually. Simple things, like the video intro to the record-store and Brutal Legend vinyl-menu-thing, to the use of ‘yes or no’ toggles when agreeing to missions or selecting options like whether to have gore and foul language enabled. Honestly, if you’re not impressed in the first five minutes (I don’t know how you couldn’t be), you’d best walk away. When the Kabbage Boys are playing their “metal” track and Eddie Riggs is discussing his roadie-duties, I knew I was in it for the story/characters more than anything else.
Gameplay comes in the form of open-world hack’n’slash, combined with RTS elements where you control different groups of metalhead stereotypes, each with their own skill sets/abilities. It’s not a very deep RTS experience – you always/only control Eddie directly, who then orders different units to do his bidding (in other words, hardcore RTS fans won’t be satiated with what’s offered here). Each mechanic by itself is fairly simple, but when combined it gets a little bit difficult to remember everything. The game holds your hand enough (usually via Eddie’s comments) so that things don’t get too confusing.
Eddie is equipped with two weapons: Clementine, a guitar which ignites enemies with its face melting tunes, and an actual axe to vanquish enemies with traditional melee combat. Clementine can also play special riffs used to summon things like the Duece – Eddie’s hotrod which makes cruising Ormagedon’s vast open-world much less cumbersome – or different power-ups, like Battle-Cry or Relic Raiser. These riffs are performed in simple Guitar-Hero-type button sequences that prevent it from being as mundane as a single button press.
One of the unfortunate things about Brutal Legend is that it isn’t that long. This could be a blessing in disguise though since, as mentioned, it does get a tad repetitive (go here, shred, go there, melt faces, ad nauseum). In other words, it’s short but sweet; boiling the experience down to essentially killing hordes of Doviculus’ forces between meeting up with cool/hilarious characters. You can try multiplayer (Battle of the Bands) to extend your gaming pleasure, but because it lacks the hilarity of the single-player campaign/characters, I can see it missing the one major ingredient that makes the game great. Similarly, there are tons of things to acquire (clothing, patches, customizations, appeasing the Titans to get bonuses from Ozzy, etc), but you best collect throughout the story, since just collecting for completionist's sake towards the end would probably lack punch — unless that kind of thing floats your boat.
All in all, as a digital re-release for $20, you can’t go wrong with Brutal Legend PC. At the very least, you’ll appreciate its soundtrack, characters, and metal-inspired world… The game could be considered a bonus and it'd still be worthwhile.