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Review: Brutal Legend


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I have to start by being brutally honest with you: Brütal Legend is not the game I hoped it would be. As a huge fan of director, designer and writer Tim Schafer's body of work – especially Double Fine's debut effort, Psychonauts – I had prepared myself for a wonderfully written, laugh-out-loud funny, constantly surprising experience filled with compelling characters that would have me grinning in anticipation of where it was taking me next.

What I came away with after beating the game in about six hours (granted, I didn't embark on many of the battle- and racing-based sub-missions, but I did do quite a lot of exploring) was the opinion that Eddie Riggs is a truly awesome character, along with a sense of wonder at the fantastic – and very metal – world Schafer and crew had created. Unfortunately, I also came away with a questioning of why so much of the game felt like a b-side to the hit single that had been its first couple of hours.

Gallery: Brutal Legend (10-13-09) | 57 Photos

If you've played the demo, you know exactly how the game starts off. And, truly, this small slice of Brütal Legend contains some of the finished product's very best laughs -- and had me eager to find out what happened next.

The scenery changed, but the game simply stopped surprising me.

I'd gotten the idea that the gameplay mechanics I'd just been introduced to (the ground smash, which proved to have multiple uses; double team attacks; precision control of Eddie's ride, The Deuce) would only become more important as I played on. But after these early, promising steps, I was met by a series of short, hack 'n' slash missions, the point of which was to get various factions -- each with their own unique abilities -- to join my army. After that, Brütal Legend became a series of real-time strategy battles, in which those factions became units to command (most easily from high above the action), and escort missions involving The Deuce. The scenery changed, but the game simply stopped surprising me in any significant way. The plot became predictable, the dialog lost its "Schaferisms" and I failed to care about the supporting cast. It almost felt like the game had been handed off to a different developer.

Schafer's last game, Psychonauts, is filled with story, gameplay and dialog moments that are among some of my very favorite gaming memories. In the case of Brütal Legend, those sorts of things vanish early on, providing me at best with, "Hey, wasn't it cool how the final battle was a little different than all the rest?"

The overall experience just doesn't live up to its billing.

It's no secret that Brütal Legend began life as a multiplayer game concept, as the single player's focus on RTS skirmishes bears out. The mechanics of the stage battles are never fully explained in single player, and something that obviously has a lot of depth -- as evidenced by the fact that the online multiplayer is quite a lot of fun -- boils down to "build the strongest units possible and send them toward the enemy's stage."

But it's also evident in that fact that one-on-one combat as Eddie -- this really cool guy with a giant battle axe and a guitar that shoots electricity -- is rote, rough and nothing special, no matter how many magic guitar strings, axe enhancements or combos I purchased.

The single player game ultimately feels like Double Fine tried to force the RTS concept it had come up with into an adventure game. Yes, it's lovely; yes, its presentation is top-notch; yes, the voice talent and soundtrack are pretty amazing. The overall experience just doesn't live up to its billing.

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