If you happen to be a metalhead and/or a huge Jack Black fan, and you own an Xbox 360 or PS3, you should probably already have played Brütal Legend. Seriously, if any of that applies to you, just stop reading, go out and rent it. Nothing I say from here on will really matter. If you’re like me and you think Jack Black is pretty ok, and you’re down with metal (when it’s played at a bar, randomly) let me tell you how much you need to play this.
Brütal Legend, which was released last week, is an adventure game set in a world inspired by the album art of metal bands. (Sadly, the steel eagle from Judas Priest’s Screaming For Vengeance does not make an appearance.) Essentially it’s The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, but instead of blowing an ocarina (like such a pussy!) you are literally melting the enemy’s face off with a guitar solo.
The story and atmosphere are easily at the top of whatever grading scale you want to use. The same goes for the voice acting and the music. The game features 108 tracks for you to listen to as you drive through the grim world of Brütal Legend. They range from the current (3 Inches of Blood, Mastodon, Dragonforce) to the classic (Black Sabbath, Megadeth, Judas Priest). Iron Maiden and Metallica are conspicuously missing, but I think one of those bands lost their metal cred circa 2000. Original music created for the game is also used for cinematic cut scenes, but the best of those scenes are when they are put to songs yet to be unlocked. One of the best moments late in the game is when Ozzy Osburne’s “Mr. Crowley” plays over a key scene.
The voice acting doesn’t stop at Jack Black either. Tim Curry voices the boss, Doviculus. And Ozzy, Lemmy from Motörhead, Rob Halford from Judas Priest and Lita Ford all play roles in both voice acting and as models for characters. I won’t go into too much detail in risk of spoiling any of it for you, but I’ll just say while Ozzy’s one liners eventually get tiring they are golden the first time you hear them. Black also has a few of his comedy friends make guest appearances, but that’s even deeper into the game. The dialogue falls somewhere between hilarious and hilariously cliché. The writers are very aware of their audience and play to them.
Now the gameplay is mostly your typical hack-and-slash, but the boss battles are a stripped down real-time strategy game. Once your stage, which is definitely a nod to some past Iron Maiden stages, is built up you use that as your base. This is where you can create your “troops,” which range from headbangers and bouncers to metal beasts. You gain new troops as you go through the game and meet the aforementioned cameo stars. In short, you build an army, destroy their army, destroy their stage and move on. I wouldn’t worry about this part of the game getting all Starcraft on you however; it’s more in the easy vein of Pikmin. The simpler button-mashing is more prevalent throughout the game and still important in these battles too, as it should be. The RTS aspect didn’t annoy me, but it also didn’t have me looking for more of it.
This brings me to the online multiplayer, which is essentially more of it. It’s your stage vs. theirs. You build up your army, travel across one side of the map to the other as the other person does the same thing in an effort to capture your towers and destroy your stage. It only offers a limited amount of fun and extends the replay value of the game for just a brief distraction. There’s nothing to see here.
I’ve been mostly gushing about this game, but it’s not flawless by any means. I definitely can’t in good conscience recommend that you buy this game. It’s an absolute must-play, but I don’t think it’s worth $60. I ended up completing the main story in about 12-15 hours and after that I wasn’t compelled to finish the secondary missions. Some of them you will bump into naturally as you travel through the game, but doing them after the fact turned into a chore. The collecting is the biggest offender in that regard, but I will admit viewing the landmarks is a great way to take in the beautiful job Tim Schafer and Double Fine Productions did creating the Brütal Legend universe. Rent it, borrow it or find it on sale. Play it for sure, but it’s simply not long enough to warrant paying full retail price.