Friday, 22 March 2013 20:40

Brutal Legend Review

Brutal Legend's heavy metal take on real-time strategy makes a solid transition to the PC, though playing with a controller is still the way to go. The most important piece of knowledge you need going into Brutal Legend has nothing to do with heavy metal music. Sure, a deep love of that genre can play a huge part in your overall enjoyment of the game's guitar-solo-fueled and star-studded story.

But it's easier to find satisfaction in what the game is when you're not expecting it to be something it is not. With this PC release of Brutal Legend coming years after its 2009 console debut, it's easier to prepare for the unique experience it offers while also enjoying it at a higher resolution.

Merely looking at screenshots or old prerelease marketing materials for the game can make it appear to be many things, yet it's not "Zelda with a guitar," and it's not "God of War as told by Black Sabbath," as cool as either of those things might have been. It's a real-time strategy game, even though that term may not accurately represent the first couple of hours of the campaign.

Brutal Legend follows Eddie Riggs, a roadie (voiced by Jack Black) with a profound love of classic metal who finds himself transported to an appropriately brutal fantasy land that's part The Lord of the Rings and part Iron Maiden album art. The game's strongest qualities lie in its writing, its characters, and its world. The magic (and much of the humor) is in how many fantasy tropes are twisted to fit into a heavy metal world. Basic melee characters, for instance, are literal headbangers who smash their craniums against anything in their way. Roadies are your strong but stealthy units; guitar solos can literally melt faces; and "fans" are your mystical, music-loving resource. This all combines with a well-acted cast of characters featuring voices from the likes of Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy Kilmister, and Tim Curry. The story does lose some of its whimsy toward the end, when the plot is in danger of taking itself too seriously, but the over-the-top nature persists through the six- to eight-hour adventure.

The first time you take control of Eddie, you might feel as if you're playing a rather standard character action game, since mashing out simple combos is your path to bloodily slaughtering groups of enemies. Soon, however, the world opens up, and you may get a strong The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time vibe as you search the landscape for collectibles and play your magical instrument (a guitar, which is, of course, much more hardcore than an ocarina) to perform solos that can summon your trusty car or reveal hidden garages. Just when you feel like this might be what the game is about, Brutal Legend starts letting you give orders to small squads of units, which is when the strategy aspect becomes more apparent. This is a good thing, due in no small part to the fact that an entire game of nothing but Brutal Legend's on-foot combat wouldn't be the most pleasant of experiences.
It's a little while before you reach a point where this feels like a more full-fledged (if simple and action-heavy) real-time strategy game. In the game's stage battles, you are given a single stage (your base), which can be upgraded and which produces all of your units. Fans serve as your band/army's single resource, and controlling fan geysers spread across the map is key to victory. It's never possible to amass as large an army as you might be used to in other strategy games, and there is only one simple upgrade path to pursue, but there is a good variety in how each unit behaves, which can allow for many different strategies.

You always control Eddie directly and can get your axe bloody in on-foot battles yourself, but you need to spend a lot of time managing your troops from the air. A simple button press sends you flying into the sky, where you can quickly survey the land and order troops around. If you're serious about doing damage with your own hands, units at your command have double-team attacks that let you control them more directly, whether by marching with a mosh pit of headbangers, driving a vehicle, or operating a turret.


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