These days, developer Double Fine has settled into a comfortable space where they create small, downloadable titles and rely on modest success to keep the doors open. Its founder, Tim Schafer, is one of video gaming’s true visionaries who brings a distinctive voice to everything he touches. Originally released on PS3 and XBox 360 in 2009, Brütal Legend is finally available on PC. Its lack of sales, coupled with the long and drawn out battles Schafer faced in just getting this game released likely made him just want to walk away from it and look towards greener pastures. So now PC gamers have had the opportunity to play this epic metal adventure. Was it worth the wait? Hit the jump to find out.
I’ll get this right out of the way to start; I am a huge fan of heavy metal. I’m not talking about ironic hipster fandom either. Metal is literally the soundtrack to my adolescent years. Even if this game were terrible (*spoilers: It isn’t), Brütal Legend would be a game I’d likely recommend just for its soundtrack and subject matter. Thankfully, there’s a lot to love about this game on top of the musical landscape.
When it was first released, one of the biggest criticisms about Brütal Legend was that the main setpieces were essentially Real Time Strategy scenarios. Seeing as how that is a genre that is best suited for PC, this game actually feels like somewhat of a homecoming. In terms of gameplay, as an RTS game it’s clever but pretty basic. Units are represented by types of heavy metal characters; mobile units are Judas Priest/Motörhead clones on motorcycles, ranged units are feathered-hair rock chix, and stealth units are roadies carrying giant amps. As is the case with the RTS genre, each unit has its strengths and weaknesses depending on the particular situation. Then again, with few exceptions, brute force can carry you through in most cases so having a deep understanding of the units isn’t essential.
As mentioned above, the RTS sections were no surprise to me, but what I wasn’t expecting was the wide range of gameplay modes available throughout. Brütal Legend is an open-world game that has a lot of small side-quests available. These distractions encompass a variety of tasks. For the most part, they are quick and easy to complete, and give you a small amount of currency to upgrade and buy items. For a player just interested in the story however, the side-quests are completely inessential to appreciating the overall experience. You could potentially spend a bunch of time in this world, but if you stick to the main story this is actually a pretty short game. On one hand, I was a little disappointed that it only took about six hours to get to the end because I really enjoyed the characters and story and wanted more of it. Then again, I appreciate the restraint that was exercised in telling a story and resisting the urge to pad it. I did some of the side quests for this review, but achieved nowhere near 100% completion. You do get the opportunity to explore and polish off those missions once the final boss is defeated, so there’s no pressure.
I’ll be honest; I’m not much of a fan of Jack Black, but he delivers an outstanding performance as Eddie Riggs, legendary roadie in a faraway land. As is the case with Tim Schafer’s Psychonauts, Brütal Legend is one of the rare games that is legitimately funny. The story is brilliantly written and conceived, and a genuine love for the musical source material is apparent throughout. Celebrity cameos from the music industry appear throughout, and they are perfectly placed. Legends such as Lemmy Kilmister, Rob Halford, and Ozzy Osbourne appear throughout and never cease to bring a smile to the player’s face.
I genuinely enjoyed playing this game and would like nothing more than to give it my highest rating, but there are some real problems that drag it down. The first one has to do with the graphics. In a broad sense, it has a really fantastic visual style. The land of Bladehenge evokes a literal representation of heavy metal mythology, and it is equal parts hilarious and awe-inspiring. It’s in the details however where the game suffers. There’s a lot of no-clipping with characters into environments. It’s not something you notice from afar, but up close it is painfully apparent. Granted, it doesn’t affect the gameplay experience in any way but it does work against the unified theme of the visual design and comes across as sloppy.
The second issue with Brütal Legend is a big one, and I suspect it’s the actual reason why people didn’t like the RTS sections. This game throws you into battle scenarios, but does a very poor job of both teaching you how to play and explaining tactics. Instructions are relayed through Eddie, saying what a goal is, but it can be incredibly frustrating trying to figure out exactly what the game wants you to do. On more than one occasion, I found myself fighting wave after wave of enemies and trying to understand how to move on. It was only through trial and error (and having to restart the mission numerous times) that I finally figured out what the actual objective was. In most of those cases, the battles ended up being incredibly easy which made the lack of effective communication from the game itself that much more frustrating.
Here’s the bottom line: Brütal Legend on PC has many of the same problems as it did on consoles. It’s pretty rough around the edges in parts, and it really would have benefited by a stronger teaching component. Instead of the ‘throw a ton of play styles at the wall and see what sticks’ approach, Double Fine probably should have picked one or two and refined it into a tighter gameplay experience. In some ways, this port reminds me of Dark Souls when it got transferred over to PC in 2012. As a straight port it’s actually pretty awful, but the core game is such a unique and fantastic experience that I’m willing to forgive quite a lot just to have had the opportunity to experience it.
[+Metal] [+Brilliant story and characters] [+Lots to do in the world] [+RTS a good gameplay choice (There, I said it)] [-Lack of tutorials frustrating] [-Messy visuals undermine design]