Perhaps one of the biggest problems regarding the critical reception of games is the preconceived notions of what any particular title is “supposed” to be. From the moment a game is announced, the public is swept away by the undertow of an overwhelming promotional stream that often serves to skew our perceptions.
In the case of Brütal Legend, one can’t help but compare the reality of its RTS elements to the more traditional action/adventure fair found within its demo and promotional content. Certainly these concepts are present in the final product, but many players will be turned off by the increasingly prominent “Stage Battles” throughout the campaign.
In that way, Brütal Legend is a bit of a mixed bag. Though it offers its fair share of brilliance and ingenuity, it suffers from a hodgepodge of conflicting gameplay mechanics that bar its admission into gaming excellence.
From the offset, the voice acting, dialog, and character animations help craft one of the most unique and interesting stories in gaming history. The script is chalk full of wit and style, and will have most players laughing within the first five minutes, and doesn’t quit until its conclusion. For fans of metal, there are dozens of in-jokes, cameos, and tributes to the genre including a massive soundtrack that can be sorted, filtered, and customized to the player’s individual taste.
The tale follows the adventures of professional roadie Eddie Riggs as he’s transported to a heavy metal fantasy world and tasked with assisting a human rebellion against their demonic overlord, Emperor Doviculus. Every aspect of the outrageous environment is lovingly crafted and absolutely begs to be explored.
Unfortunately, the plot can feel rushed at times, and players who stick to the main quest may be disappointed in its overall length, but the abundance of side-missions and collectables help to extend the experience.
At its offset, Brütal Legend is very much an action game. Enemies are dispatched with a mixture of melee and magic combos (Spells are cast via your guitar, Clemetine), and the game’s focus is very much on combat and exploration. Completed objectives reward the player with “Flame Tributes” – a form a currency which can be offered to the Gods of Metal to upgrade Eddie’s axe, guitar, car, and various other attributes.
As the campaign progresses, it slowly introduces the aforementioned RTS elements that may turn some players away. Eddie begins by commanding small squads of melee and ranged units with simple commands such as follow, attack, and defend. The player is also instructed on how to perform “Double Team” attacks, which are power unit specific abilities that allow the player to take direct control of their forces.
This later evolves into the player’s first “Stage Battles” which add unit production, resource management, and base defense into the mix. The player must gain control of “Fan Geysers” which serve as the game’s resource nodes, and use those fans to purchase additional units and upgrades. Eventually Eddie gains the ability to fly, offering the player a better view of the battlefield and a more efficient method of managing troops. The gameplay eventually migrates away from the exploration and action and more toward Stage Battles as the campaign reaches its conclusion.
These same mechanics are utilized in Brütal Legend’s multiplayer mode, which allow up to 8 players to battle it out for metal superiority. The game features three playable factions – Eddie’s Ironheades from the single player campaign that focuses on direct damage; the Goth/metal forces of the Drowning Doom, which supplements its weaker units with powerful area of effect debuffs; and the Tainted Coil, Doviculus’ own demon army that uses a hierarchy system to deploy units throughout the battlefield. Each faction offers its own unique style in gameplay, aesthetics, and music.
Unfortunately, stage battles – both in the single player campaign and the multiplayer – can feel like a conglomerate of gameplay mechanics that simply do not work well together. It’s often difficult to issue squad specific commands, the lack of a minimap can make troop management a chore, and the powerful guitar solos effectively halt the action.
Despite its shortcomings, Brütal Legend is an extremely unique experience that is not to be missed. Approach this title with an open mind, set aside your preconceived notions on what a game like this “should” be, and enjoy the ride.
Reviewer’s note: The Xbox 360 version was tested for this review
Brütal Legend is a sight to behold. The rich and detailed environments are unlike anything seen in gaming, and the characters and their intricate facial animations help deliver the devilishly clever dialog.
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Brütal Legend attempts to be many things, and unfortunately succeeds at none.
Combining phenominal voice acting with a schmorgasboard of metal tracks that would please any fan of the genre, Brütal Legend excels in the audio department.
The campaign can feel rushed at times, and wraps up sooner than one would expect. Side missions and collectables help add some milage, but many feeled tacked on, and repetitive. Those who enjoy Stage Battles can take the fight online, but the multiplayer is nothing to write home about.
Brütal Legend is a bit of a mixed bag. Though it offers its fair share of brilliance and ingenuity, it suffers from a hodgepodge of conflicting gameplay mechanics that bar its admission into gaming excellence.