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Joystiq impressions: Brutal Legend


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While others were stuck in boring panels or roped into demos of ridiculous new peripherals, we spent an afternoon during last week's Game Developers Conference at Double Fine, the idea factory of Tim Schafer, designer of such bona fide classics as Full Throttle, Grim Fandango and Psychonauts. We were there to see his latest, hotly anticipated creation in action for the first time -- a little game you may have heard of called Brütal Legend.

We went in with a rough idea of what to expect: an action game set in a world inspired by heavy metal, with, we hoped, loads of trademark Schafer humor. We came out having seen a game that honestly exceeded our expectations. Brütal Legend is what you'd expect from Double Fine and more. It's not just a one-man crusade; it's a war set to a thunderous soundtrack and filled with surprises.

Gallery: Brutal Legend (04-03-09) | 11 Photos

Before getting into the action, Schafer gave us a little background on what his studio has been working on since before -- as we learned -- the release of the original Guitar Hero. (Some publishers it was originally pitched to asked if Double Fine might consider a hip-hop or country setting instead. Seriously.)

"It's been in my head for at least 15 years," Schafer said of the game's basic design. "I wanted to do a game that played off of the fantasy and images of heavy metal music and all the music that I loved back in the '80s when I was in high school and I bought Diary of a Madman by Ozzy Osborne."

Schafer describes the world as "like a gatefold mural inside an album -- and we wanted you to be able to drive right into it."

"I've always wanted to bring that world to life," he said, adding that, "what you see in rock videos -- it's never really done with much of a budget or fidelity to it at all. Even though the lyrics are so evocative, there's always that one guy standing in the middle of an empty church with a plastic sword. I just wanted to do it right."

So he built a world in which players could stand still and feel like they were looking at the cover of a metal album. It's a vast (64-kilometer) seamless, open world which Schafer describes as "like a gatefold mural inside an album -- and we wanted you to be able to drive right into it."

But before there was any driving, there was fighting. Lots of it. Our demo began just after the opening cinematic, which sees roadie Eddie Riggs transported back in time by his belt buckle to an era when demons have enslaved humanity, and the few charismatic leader types still free are totally clueless about, well, everything. Yes: they're rock stars.

The game opens inside an ancient temple ... which, as it happens, looks exactly like the venue Eddie's band -- the worst in the world -- was just playing in. Realizing the druids closing in on him aren't just average groupies, he picks up his first weapon, an axe named The Separator, and gets to separating their heads from their bodies. Honestly, things were looking a little iffy -- this was really basic combat. Then Eddie picked up his guitar -- Clementine -- which had made the journey back with him. In this world of real rock it possesses magical powers, like the ability to shoot electricity and set off pyrotechnics under enemies. "It's like a traveling rock show," said Schafer.

Now the combat started picking up. We watched as Eddie used a pyro to launch an enemy into the air and split him in twain with his axe. The he played a power chord on Clementine -- a crowd-clearing move called the Earthshaker. It sent enemies flying ... and also caused the temple to begin collapsing.

Descending the corpse pile

The whole time, Eddie was cracking wise with the voice of Jack Black, who also provides his facial likeness and the basis for his facial expressions. "[Jack] just represents a lot of what this game is about in terms of 'rock energy'," Schafer said of Black. "I wrote the script, but we got Jack in the studio and he improvised a lot of stuff on top of it. He likes to do like a hundred takes on one line. We always keep the microphone on because he tends to do his funniest take after we're done with the official takes. Sometimes just the little things he says in-between takes we'll take and put in the game."

"I like to say 'corpse pile' as much as possible," Schafer said, a twinkle in his eye.

Having done away with the druids quite ... brutally, Jack, er, Eddie squared off against a "Battle Nun" atop what was now clearly a massive pile of corpses. ("I like to say 'corpse pile' as much as possible," Schafer said, a twinkle in his eye.) Once this larger enemy was taken care of, he had to descend the corpse pile (that one's for you, Tim!) on her walking alter. Cue a hilarious bit of voice-over where Black improvises an "evil prayer" to make it move. "Dear messed up demon powers of darkness, and, uh, unimaginable evil, please transport me off this awesome corpse pile ..."

At the bottom, he meets up with Ophelia, the game's love interest and a competent fighter in her own right. Now we got to see the game's team-up battle mechanic, which was described as "like another kind of weapon you have." Players will be able to recruit up to 15 "helpers" like Ophelia and perform more powerful double-team moves simply by getting near them and pressing a button. "When you're on the battlefield each one of them can do some new thing," Schafer explained. "You have your axe, your guitar, your car and up to 15 crazy warriors."

Oh yes, the car, a.k.a. The Druid Plow, a.k.a. The Deuce. It's how Eddie gets around the world -- quickly -- but it's also a weapon. After assembling it from "relics" raised from the earth by way of a fittingly titled "Relic Raiser" solo (more on those in a sec) he and Ophelia stage a harrowing escape -- but not before dealing with the first real boss. It's basically a massive tentacle that can be tricked into slamming the ground by using power-slides, and killed by boosting into it.

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