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Brutal Legend
Score: 96%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: Double Fine Studios
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1: 2 - 8 (Online)
Genre: Action/ Adventure/ Real-Time Strategy

Graphics & Sound:
Welcome to the Age of Metal! From the creative insanity of Tim Schafer comes Brutal Legend, a heavy-metal adventure that came to rock your socks and blow your mind. Fans have been waiting too long for their taste of heavy-metal glory, but will Brutal Legend find the crossover success like Rock gods Metallica or will it have to resort to playing dingy nightclubs and bars?

From the opening movie to the immensely satisfying conclusion, Brutal Legend is gorgeous from beginning to end. Inspired by heavy-metal album covers from decades past, Brutal Legend captures the intensity and the ridiculousness of being in a heavy-metal world perfectly.

The world of Brutal Legend is so fully realized that it rewards players with exciting landscapes that would normally only be seen at the back of the record store, like volcanoes erupting with chrome or giant waterfalls of blood. Simply having the urge to stop to visit each landmark says a lot about the style, and Brutal Legend nailed it.

Brutal Legend would be remiss if it didn't have an epic soundtrack to match its epic attitude. With over 100 songs, Brutal Legend is packed with heavy-metal classics such as Motorhead, Black Sabbath, and Judas Priest along with a bit of the new school like Tenacious D, 3 Inches of Blood, and Dimmu Borgir. For the non-metal fans, there is a quick in-game option to remove any song from the playlist that you don't like, but most of the songs tend to have a gentler approach for any newcomers, so at least give it a shot before turning it off altogether.

The real show-stoppers in Brutal Legend are, hands down, the fantastic voice actors for each character. The eponymous Jack Black plays Eddie Riggs, a legendary roadie with the magical belt buckle while Lemmy Kilmeister (of Motorhead fame) plays the druidic ally, The Kill Master. Nearly every character is designed after their real life counterpart which goes a long way to make this heavy-metal fantasy world fun and believable. Hardcore metal-fans can expect cameos from Rob Halford of Judas Priest, heavy-metal vixen Lita Ford, and the Prince of F***ing Darkness himself, Ozzy Osbourne. It probably goes without saying, but many of these heavy-metal icons are not professional voice actors, so there may be a few stale moments of dialogue, but it is still so much fun to hear them playing such lively characters.

Brutal Legend starts with Eddie Riggs, a seasoned roadie, tuning up for his less-than-brutal new band. The new band, Kabbage Boy, doesn't give Eddie any respect and are more concerned about their tween demographic than melting faces with their rock. After an on-stage accident, Eddie spills some of his blood into his wicked awesome belt buckle. Eddie soon realizes his belt buckle is actually a conduit for a mythical fire-beast that yanks Eddie back to an age where heavy-metal is very real and very dangerous. Temples are made of the bones of enemies and big, ugly demons try to kill anyone that doesn't worship the Titans, a long forgotten race of gods from metal history. Brutal Legend prides itself on being as imaginative and as ambitious as possible. While it works marvelously for the story, it tries to extend that feeling into the gameplay with mixed results.

In the world of Brutal Legend, humanity has been enslaved by the evil Doviculus with the help of his hair-metal ally, General Lionwhite, played fantastically by Rob Halford. At first, Eddie must rely on his own wits and skill to stop the deadly demons, but eventually he commands a small army of Headbangers, who understand nothing else except killer tunes. When Eddie is alone, Brutal Legend plays like any standard action game with a few basic combos and weapons to choose from to demolish the enemy. After Eddie starts his metal revolution, he commands his troops in RTS (Real Time Strategy) fashion to give him the edge. While all of the RTS sections are well thought out and fun, it does take a while to adjust to the controls because of some frantic pacing and clunky implementation. Luckily, the A.I. is smart enough to hold their own so no one should stress too much about strategy as long as they are having fun.

After the first few missions, Brutal Legend unleashes you out into its huge open world. While it may not be the size of Liberty City, the world map is just packed tight with details and landscapes that always look like the album cover of a some obscure 70's metal band. Dozens of side-missions are spread out in between story segments and are super-quick, which makes the missions incredibly addictive. The various types of missions include hunting down different beasts out in the wilderness, like Laser Panthers, and protecting newly acquired allies from Eddie's enemies, like the Drowning Doom, who are born from the sea of black tears and constantly surrounded by dark storm clouds.

One thing that makes Brutal Legend stand head and shoulders above the rest is the humor. The satirical take on a heavy-metal world pokes fun at the absurdity of metal history, while at the same time embracing it strongly. The rich facial animations make so many of the jokes genuinely funny that anyone can appreciate the humor in Brutal Legend even if they aren't well versed in heavy-metal lore. I think out of all Tim Schafer's games, Brutal Legend is the most approachable for any skeptics.

To many people's disappointment, the multiplayer is an extension of the RTS sections from the single player, called Stage Battles. The Stage Battles are very similar to an old PC game called Sacrifice by Shiny Entertainment (if anyone is familiar with that reference.) Players choose from one of three legions: Ironheade, which consists of Eddie and his classic metal followers, The Drowning Doom, in which the goth and black metal followers become known as "Tear Drinkers," and The Tainted Coil are for the industrial metal and S&M enthusiasts. Each legion has a leader unit that commands their army from the ground or air to protect the Stage. Much like an altar or command base in other RTS games, the stage must be guarded at all costs because it supplies the battlefield with new units and attracts fans which help to build more troops. With a handful of multiplayer maps, the Stage Battles are a fun distraction for anyone that just wants more action from Brutal Legend. Although it is easily the weakest part of the whole experience, I still found it really enjoyable and much better than anyone expected it to be. It is a little disappointing to see only one multiplayer type because there was so much more potential to deliver more and it seems that it is content at being an addendum to the main campaign, but I think everyone is holding out for some substantial downloadable content.

No one ever said metal is for the weak. Brutal Legend can be downright tough at times, but unfortunately it is pretty inconsistent in the difficulty curve. Things go fairly smoothly until the next Stage Battle, then Brutal Legend kicks your teeth in. Most of the main mission types and story quests are fairly easy or at least have a decent amount of challenge, but after a certain point in the story, the Stage Battles take a long time to finish and almost assuredly, you will repeat at least one of them more than a few times.

I have always been a proponent of games being as long as they need to be in order to tell their stories, but as a word of caution to other players, do NOT rush through the single player campaign of Brutal Legend. While Brutal Legend does tell its entire story completely, it ends much quicker than it leads you to believe at first. While it isn't a deal-breaker, I only mention it because it ends before I was ready to say good-bye. It tries to remedy the problem by letting you explore the world after you beat the final boss, (which is great,) but I couldn't help but feel like there could have been a few extra hours of story to tell before it ended.

Game Mechanics:
Probably the only real problem that Brutal Legend faces is that it tries to reach too far beyond what it does best. The best parts of Brutal Legend are when it lets you run wild in the world. The action and open world portions work remarkably well for the subject matter, but when it attempts to merge those gameplay portions with a rudimentary RTS system is where many people will get turned off.

During the Stage Battles, Eddie flies high above the battlefield or gets down and dirty with his metal minions. Juggling the varied gameplay styles of an action game, an open world adventure, a rhythm game, and still managing all of your troops and resources proves that this genre mash-up doesn't necessarily make a fresh, new genre. The action controls always work well and the special team-up attacks with your ally units are endlessly entertaining and fun. But when the battle gets frantic and troop supply is running low, Eddie pulls up a radial Menu to summon more troops or perform guitar solos that can be used for offense or defense. This is the most obvious break in cohesion between the three elements. The rhythm action of the guitar solos takes up precious time on the battlefield and begs the question "Is it necessary?"

Despite any shortcomings, Brutal Legend maintains an immensely enjoyable and utterly unique story that more than makes up for any faults. Brutal Legend is fast, fun, and simply rocks... hard. Newcomers will find an enjoyable action game with an original premise, but for diehard heavy-metal fans, Brutal Legend is the holy grail of tributes.

-HanChi, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Hanchey

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