Digital Polyphony

film, games, memories & random thoughts


This Legend Be Brutal (Brutally Awesome, That Is)

Posted on January 12, 2010 at 4:11 PM

Tim Schafer is a genius. Anyone who says otherwise obviously has no idea who Tim Schafer is. All it takes is an hour with any of his games, and you soon begin to see why.

Oh, great. See what I started there? Now I have to tell you about Tim Schafer. Let me keep this brief. He is pretty much the brainchild of adventure games as we know today with games such as The Secret of Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, Monkey Island 2, and what many consider one of the greatest games ever made: Grim Fandango. These titles were all the rage in the 1990s.

New generation of gaming comes, Schafer changes his gaming styling along with it (after an odd time away, I might add, as he left Lucasarts to create his own company). First was Psychonauts, a unique little platformer that was always under the radar but people that found it ended up loving it. Imaginative and original are common words amongst Schafer's games, and Psychonauts certainly was that.


As is his latest offering, Brutal Legend. I would put the two little dots above the "u" for authenticity sake, but I can't figure out how to do that.


As with any of Schafer's games, you will soon find that you can't really compare Brutal Legend with anything. It's really something that is so one-of-a-kind you can't really throw labels at it. It has some Zelda elements, sure. It has a little bit of that in terms of questing and finding random things. It has a some Real Time Strategy segments which are a nice change of pace. But really, when it comes down to it, the gameplay is merely a means to the ends that is the game's world. There's simply nothing like it.


From a river of blood, to monumental statues of guitars, trees with nooses, overgrown gothic churches, mountains of skulls and caverns of fog and ice. The aesthetics of Brutal Legend is its defining nature.


Although that's only one of its artistic achievements. It also does what Schafer has always been great at: presentation. The voicework by a handful of rock legends serve our lead, Jack Black, incredibly well. So great is Black that, honestly, you simply can't imagine this game without him. There is no other person I would want either, for that matter, as the character of Eddie is brought to life thanks to his voice. Eddie himself is actually a damn good character as written, even without Black's voice. Mutli-dimensional and well-rounded with the qualities of a leader, but Black gives him the personality and it's utterly brilliant. Throw in the likes of Lemy, Rob and Ozzy, and you got something even that much more better.

And to that we go to the third fantastic element of this game: its music. If you aren't a fan of metal, you will be after this game. I hadn't really listed to Heavy Metal for decades, but after tuning into Megadeath, 3 Inches of Blood and classic Judas Priest, my fondness for it was rekindled. Hell, I even threw some Dokken on my ipod last week as a result. It's not merely music to listen to as you rove around the open world in your mammoth vehicle, but is utilized brilliantly in action scenes, environments and really bring home some powerful, and surprisingly emotional, cutscenes. The story itself is really nothing new, it's a familiar plot and has conventional twists, but the setting is what sets it apart. Sure, you might have seen this story before in some fantasy realm, but not in a Heavy Metal one with the unique Tim Schafer quirky humor.


Ultimately, it's that quirky humor that will make it all so memorable. Again utilizing Jack Black to his full potential, we actually have a terrific script with some of the best dialogue you'll see in a game. The comedic touches and beats are all hit at the right moments, and Schaffer takes a familiar plot and turns it into something utterly remarkable, well-told and certainly something you'll remember once done (which is saying a lot, these days).

It's not without problems, however. It's an open-world game, although you unlock other areas as you progress, and is primarily mission based. Here, you find little icons on your map, drive to the, do the mission, and get experience points (for lack of a better word) to upgrade your weapons and car, learn moves, or buy easter egg-like statues (which don't do anything). The problem here are the missions. Very few are really worth nothing as being unique, and usually those that are happen to be the ones that are story-determined. The optional ones are the problem. They are the same old "ambush" mission or "race" mission or "kill this number of things" mission. There's no variety outside of that, and considering the remarkable nature of the world, is completely disappointing to not have more options to enjoy it in.


The other issue is the strategy elements. These are the main focus of the game because the battles are pivotal. You have your battlefield, usually somewhat small, and fly around creating new troops, gather more fans to make more troops and upgrade your stage (meaning you unlock newer classes of troops), and then send those troops into battle. The battles, really, aren't that difficult, but the controls sometimes make them so. You can't really select individual classes without having to get next to them, many times you have to stop being the general and jump into battle to save your people or help defend your merchandise booth/stage, then run back and try to order more troops around and there's really no indicator or where or when enemy troops will show up. It's a very shallow segment that is more tedious than enjoyable and much of the time is confusing because you aren't sure where you are or where to go.

This could have been correct by one little thing: a map. That's it. In fact, the overworld and main game badly needs a map also because hitting the start button every five seconds to figure out if I'm going the right direction is utterly annoying. It also needs a pause feature during the army battles, one where you can still order people as the action is halted. In reality, the map would have done so much wonder for the game, that I would concede the pause feature because most of the time, it was just me needing to stop and look around where to go. A map would fix everything and I actually consider this a glaring oversight.

Other than that, the only other issue is the playtime. Brutal Legend can be beaten in a weekend. Here's the thing, though: am I griping because the game is so good that I demand more, or is it a problem in the design itself to want more? I don't know, but I know I feel as though more could have been done. Perhaps more missions or something outside the main story, because the story as is offers plenty and is perfectly told.


Brutal Legend isn't a masterpiece, it tries desperately to be one, though. It's a great game based on its uniqueness alone, but it falls just short of the unfair bar Schafer has set for himself. You'll want more. You'll demand more. Hopefully he'll give us more with a sequel (the lands of Brutal Legend can surely be expanded). If you're a fan of music, and know even a little about Metal, this is for you. It's made by metal fans for metal fans, but I think any music aficionado will appreciate it. Throw in a great sense of humor and a well told story, and you have something, perhaps not a masterpiece, but certainly something special.


Signing Off


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