The Power of Metal

Originally Published 31 August 2010

Last week, I finished my playthrough of Brutal Legend. Brutal Legend is the Jack Black heavy metal game from late last year.

Brutal Legend begins with the Jack Black character (Eddie) as a roadie for a band consisting mostly of characters who are expies of characters from Psychonauts. He is quickly smashed by a portion of the band’s stage and apparently dies. Upon waking, he is on an alter being worshipped by cultists who seem disappointed to have found him rather than whatever they were attempting to summon and begin to attack him. A few moments later, he has found a guitar and a literal axe and is cutting them up. Eddie quickly finds some freedom fighters who are trying to overthrow the evil cultist power structure and he signs up. The game thereafter follows the progression of their rebellion.

The main distinguishing feature of Brutal Legends is its setting. The game is set in a sort of post-apocalyptic future (incorrectly recognized by the protagonist as the past) where music has been forgotten. Of course, the whole point of the game is the Metal, so the game features a soundtrack almost completely filled with it as well as characters who are designed to look like (and often voiced by) famous Rock and Metal artists. Ozzy Osbourne is the Guardian of Metal–a mystical shopkeeper of sorts–for instance.

Unfortunately, the gameplay of Brutal Legends is rather disappointing. The game has two main modes. The first is an uninspiring free-exploration type game mode. In this mode, you play as Eddie and have the ability to do sidequests, search for power-ups, and the like. Despite my normal tendency to wander in open worlds, I found myself completely disinterested with such a proposition, primarily due to the lack of much to do in the world near the beginning of the game and the relative ease of dying.

The second game mode is the real core of the gameplay–real-time strategy. Unfortunately, this game offers up a real-time strategy model that is mostly untenable. Firstly, you still can only directly control Eddie (who acts somewhat like a Hero unit from Warcraft III), so you spend most of the time in any given RTS encounter by running around the map relaying orders. Secondly, it is difficult to impossible to deliver fine-grained orders or to control troops tactically. Instead, you often are forced to control units en masse and hope that your unit mix is successful at defeating the enemy. The whole system tends to encourage an attitude of “rush first; restart if you stall” since enemies are almost always better able to manage their troop mix.

I had initially been somewhat interested in the plot of the game. The writing was generally decent and the characters somewhat interesting, but the quality tended to fall over the course of the game. Eddie began to show knowledge that he had no business having (since he wasn’t from this time period) and the last third or so of the game is actually revealed to be an idiot plot right before the final fight.

Taken together, I can’t say there was much to like here. The music is decent, but that should be expected of a game that gets to choose the best metal of the last 30 years as its soundtrack. Luckily, the game is very short–perhaps 4-6 hours if you only do the main plot.

Brutal Legend: 0

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