Review: This is not the greatest metal game ever, this is a TRIBUTE to the greatest metal game ever.
Sometimes, just sometimes, a developer manages to craft a title that winds up being more than ?just a video game.? Harmonix managed to do it with The Beatles: Rock Band, turning it into an interactive documentary of The Beatles' illustrious career. Blizzard has done it with World of Warcraft and the way that it has penetrated darn near all levels of pop culture. With last year's release of Brutal Legend, Double Fine has managed to turn their tribute to heavy metal music into a well scripted and funny love letter to the entire culture of metal.
Brutal Legend wastes no time at all in establishing the tone of the game. Before you even start the game itself, Jack Black, who also voices the main character, is on-screen and introducing you to the idea of a metal album. An album whose origin no one can explain. An album that no one person can ever own. The game's intro also does a great job of introducing us to Eddie Riggs, roadie, and the pansy-assed emo band that passes itself off as the current state of metal. Both my wife and I laughed out loud repeatedly as the story unfolded and Eddie found himself transported into a fantasy world that seems pulled directly from classic metal album covers.
Jack Black owns the main character, Eddie Riggs, and the supporting cast of Lemmy Kilmister (Motorhead), Ozzy Osbourne, Rob Halford (Judas Priest), and Lita Ford (The Runaways) lends credibility to the metal ambitions of the game. The voice cast goes even deeper with the venerable Tim Curry voicing Doviculus, a demon whose nightmare-inducing design I just can't get out of my head, and comedians David Cross and Brian Posehn tackling supporting characters. You know, I could just keep rattling off names but what you really need to know is that if the decision was made to make Brutal Legend into an animated movie then they wouldn't need to change a single casting decision.
At the end of the day, Brutal Legend is about the metal and it presents a crash course in the backbone of heavy metal music. By incorporating a stellar musical soundtrack and several legends of the metal movement into the production, Double Fine established validity for Brutal Legend that elevates the game from funny parody to ?embodiment of all things metal.? I mean this in the sincerest way possible; Brutal Legend makes jokes involving metal, but the metal never becomes the joke. I don't think that anyone other than Tim Schafer could pull this off successfully.
There is a lot of fun to be had when it comes down to actually playing Brutal Legend. The metal background shows through here too, as Eddie swings his axe and cleaves foes in two or plays his other axe ? his guitar Clementine ? to summon his car The Deuce, cast spells, and interact with the environment. There is also a wide variety and high volume of side missions that you can choose to engage. Ranging from races to small skirmishes between you and your cohorts (you name your army Ironheade) and the forces of glam and goth, these are a nice distraction from?well?anything you need distracting from. They are also a fun way to earn additional fire tributes from the gods that you can spend on upgrades to your car, axe, or guitar.
Unfortunately, while competent neither the hand-to-hand combat or driving The Deuce feel inspired. They almost rest on the laurels of the metal, the humor, and the acting. It works better than the gameplay in the last funny game I played, Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard (okay, I'll be honest, much better), but it doesn't move the action/platforming genre forward. This isn't to say that I didn't enjoy playing the game. I just don't foresee playing it again for the sake of playing it again. Then there are the real-time-strategy inspired epic battles and multiplayer mode. I never really felt at home during these sequences, so much so that I only played the multiplayer mode to say that I tried it and to try and earn an achievement or two. It does a great job of adding variety to the action, it just doesn't have the polish and balance that I needed to go back to it again.