“Revolution in their minds, the children start to mosh…” – Black Sabbath – Children of the Grave
Brutal Legend – stylized Brütal Legend because that makes it more metal – is the 2009 action-adventure game by Tim Schafer of Double Fine Productions, the studio behind the cult classic Psychonauts. The game comes with a pretty big disclaimer: this is a metal game about metal in a world where metal is not as metal as metal should be. If you don’t like metal, jump ship now.
Our protagonist, Eddie Riggs, is a roadie. Not only is he the ninja-like man behind the scenes that roadies are: he is “the greatest roadie in the biz.” A dedicated man of metal, Eddie is stuck serving a band whom claim to be rock stars, but are pretty much just a teen-pop group trying to look cool.
I’m going to walk you through the opening sequence, as it sums up the tone of the game pretty well. It starts with Eddie tuning a guitar. The guitarist of the band he crews for, Kabbage Boy, approaches while jokingly apologizing about intentionally smashing up Eddie’s guitar the night before; Eddie hands it back to him, as good as new. Jaws drop and the bassist mentions that you don’t want to mess with Eddie.
The band run on stage and the singer approaches, his face in his phone. He tells Eddie that their manager still wants to know when Eddie is going to build them a new stage – one that is less metal. The singer, face in his phone, drones that everyone knows that Eddie can build everything and fix anything. The management, from their throne on high, wants Eddie to build a set which will speak more to their tween demographic.
Eddie grimaces from behind his cigarette as the singer continues on to tell Eddie how sooner or later he will have to join the modern world.
The singer runs on stage and screams, “Do you people want to hear some HEAVY METAL?!” The bass starts and a few seconds later the drum kicks in. This sounds promising and Eddie casts a wry smile and nods his head a couple of times to the beat. A DJ scratches and the singer opens the song with the wailing lyrics: “Giiiirlfriend!! You really wanna make my heart bend… You know you’ll always be my beeeeeest friend…”
Eddie’s face falls. “I can fix anything – except that.” We are 2 minutes and 30 seconds into the game when you see with one of the band members walking on the top of the set. Eddie, enraged, exclaims “I told you not to climb on that!! You stupid, mother ff…” The singer falls, and Eddie runs out to save him to an inner monologue on how a good roadie knows that it’s his job to make someone else look good. He knows he is the support character in real life, and no matter how much the band may suck, he will do his damn job. Eddie saves the day, and steps back into the shadows, only to be crushed under the broken set. We see his blood drip into the mouth of his extremely metal belt buckle, which begins to glow.
The metal god, Ormagöden has awoken from his slumber and he is not happy. He points his metal claw at Eddie, and after the game asks how you feel about “dismemberment and occasional beheadings whenever it is necessary for the plot, historically accuracy or to look awesome,” Ormagöden looks at the band menacingly. If you chose the full gore option, he screams and the guitarists’ and singer’s heads explode. If not, they just faint, which is kinda lame. The drummer, being the last man standing, raises his sticks in the sign of the cross and Ormagöden, unamused, punches him with his great metal fist.
We’re 5 minutes into the game and I am already in love.
“You can’t kill the metal; the metal will live on. Punk rock tried to kill the metal, but they failed as they were smite to the ground.” – Tenacious D – The Metal
Eddie’s character model is a mix between Jack Black’s and Lemmy Kilmister’s of Motörhead, voiced by Jack Black. The voicing in Brutal Legend is nothing short of incredible, because not only is Eddie’s character is not far removed from Jack’s, the game has cameos and appearances from famous metal artists. These characters are not only voiced by their real life counterparts, but look exactly like you would expect them to in the world that Eddie now wakes up in. If there was ever going to be a Tenacious D: The Game, this is pretty much it; you can even find band-mate Kyle Gass later in the game, which is thoroughly amusing.
The game starts with you awakening in the Temple of Ormagöden and finding a magical axe and a guitar. These not only serve as your axes in the game in both meanings of the word, but both have magical attributes and elemental attacks which you can use to smite your demonic attackers through the magical powers of Metal. You soon realise that these metal demons are trying to kill off the last of humanity in this new world, and as the ultimate roadie it is your job to help Ophelia (your new love interest), her general Lars, and his sister Lita in their stand against this demon horde.
Very soon into the campaign you come across the leader of the glam rock army terrorizing this land, General Lionwhyte. He is is under the power of the evil demon hell-bent on destroying humanity, Doviculus, and wants your head so he can keep his cushy position as a slave-driver. In keeping with our incredible list of cameos, Lionwhyte is voiced by Rob Halford of Judas Priest, and looks like David Bowie – if David Bowie had magical Van Halen-esque hair which made him fly.
The crew you assemble comes in many forms, as there are different infantry types you can recruit to your new army. Your most basic infantry type in this army, “Ironheade. With an ‘e’. The ‘e’ makes it more metal“, as Eddie puts it, is the Headbanger; liberated from the glittery fist of General Lionwhyte, these metal heads use their epic neck muscles and hard heads to inflict death on their opponents. In an ideal scenario, you are traveling through the open-world terrain, banging your head to Ozzy Osbourne as you action-adventure your way across the land. You come across a pocket of your troops, and see a squad of glam rock enemies in the distance, perverting the name of metal. You raise your guitar in the air and your Headbangers rally around you. You advance towards your foe, and order an attack; the Headbangers rush forward and mosh the glam-rockers to death. Other infantry units become available as you advance through the story, but while you gather more infantry types, the enemy is doing the same, and the enemy is generally one step ahead. Bigger staged battles literally use a stage. You buy infantry based on the number of fans you can secure, which are provided in the form of souls from a Fan Geyser. Giant Fan Leeches will come to try to steal your fans, in a fantastic nod to the musical world. You build your army and the game turns from an action-adventure to a real-time-strategy (RTS) game; you survey the battleground and move your troops to attack or defend, while simultaneously rallying them to boost their attack and defense stats, attacking enemies and destroying Fan Leeches. Once the encounter, skirmish or battle is complete, you hop back in your car, hit the radio, hit the gas, and go off in search of the next thing to kill.
The first time I beheaded an enemy and Eddie Riggs sang “Decapitaaaaatioooooooooooooon!!”, I had to pause the game and wipe a tear from my eye. I have done it dozens of times since; it never gets old.
While Brutal Legend is a delightful romp through the world of metal that exists in the minds of Tim Shafer and his cohorts, it is not without its faults. Though incredibly fun for the most part, the combat can become incredibly tedious during long battles. One of the first things you learn while playing an electric guitar is the importance of power chords. To Eddie, these chords are a means of performing funky new attacks, such as power slides and various elemental attacks, purchasable from The Guardian of Metal – your friend and overseer in this crazy new world. These power-chord-attacks aren’t too difficult to pull off, but as they form your basic attack chains, they aren’t the most powerful of attacks you can execute and aren’t the best for area of effect tactics. You can team up with different troops to perform unique attacks which are slightly more powerful than your power chords, but are a lot less accurate and a pain to control. All in all, if you get surrounded by enemies and don’t have backup, you’re pretty much toast.
Another control issue is when you unlock Eddie’s demon powers halfway through the game. The control isn’t nearly as refined as it should be and you are left wanting more from your new powers. While the flying powers you gain as a demon is a nice bonus, it’s more a means of puzzle-solving than a means of attack. You don’t get the powers you would generally assume would be given to you as a demon, and you certainly don’t get the full on raining-death-from-above, fire-and-brimstone powers that I was suddenly hoping for.
There is a third type of attack after your power chords and double teaming, and that is your guitar solos. Using the Power of Metal, you can perform a solo to bolster your troops, perform area-of-effect attacks and even summon your car. These, while totally badass, are a pretty good way of getting yourself killed if you find yourself suddenly swamped. I found that there is a lot of dying and retrying in Brutal Legend, particularly with the side missions.
The side missions are pretty pointless, and by far are my biggest gripe with the game. They add very little to the game besides longevity, and that extra time spent in the game is mainly because these missions are unnecessarily hard. There are a few different mission categories here, but the worst is when you have to keep a squad of troops alive, but the AI is awful, and they rush head-first into overpowered enemies; there is a lot of restarting there, trying different guitar solos just to keep one person alive by the end. Another one which is particularly bad is when you have to race this random street-racer demon across the map because other games have races and vehicle sections so why not shoehorn one in…? There a lot of side missions in Brutal Legend, and while some of them are fun, most of them are just tedious. I managed to play the majority of them out of love for the game, but even I got bored.
Also featured in this game are collectables. There are three types, two of which are pretty cool. The first, which is only vaguely amusing, are the Bound Serpents. These are basically dragon statues bound by S&M gear that you have to attack in a particular way. I came across a few of these and thought that they were a cool landscape feature, but it isn’t until I got into a skirmish near one and accidentally attacked it in a particular way that I unlocked it. I then had to go away and look up what I had done, because the game doesn’t really explain the purpose of the statues. As with the side missions, there are a lot of these scattered around the land, and ‘collecting’ them allows you to buy stronger attacks from The Guardian of Metal.
The other two collectables are much more interesting: there are ancient relics scattered across the land which you occasionally stumble upon as you explore. By playing the Relic Raiser guitar solo, you can raise these from the earth to unlock one of the two collectables, one of which is bonus tracks for you to play in your car while you drive around and catch your enemies in the grill.The other collectable which you might raise is a more powerful guitar solo. I like how this collectable feature works, since it’s very well thought out and implemented, but I will say this: the song list in Brutal Legend is extensive. You can play the whole game before you find your favorite song. Personally, I tend to just whack it on Black Sabbath and head-bang at my PC while I ran over enemies. I do wish that you could leave the music running when you got out the car to finish the enemies though, as having to restart the song is a pain.
All in all, there isn’t much about Brütal Legend that I really didn’t like. It is not a game which pushes the medium forward in any way, but it is never intended to be. Brütal Legend is a game born of love. Love and metal. It is a game which is voiced and performed by people I grew up listening to, and even some people I’ve grown to love in the years since. While I no longer cover myself in metal spikes, this game is one which appealed to me on a very basic level and if you are in any way a fan of metal, Tenacious D, Jack Black, or even if you just want a game which is different, this is a game I strongly recommend. The last thing that I will say is that if you hate metal or even the frivolous day-dreaming about of a metal-head, Brütal Legend is not for you.