This is the first part of what I hope will become a much larger part of this blog.
I have played a lot of games that I consider “Hidden Gems”, games from the distant and not-so distant past that really merit more attention than they recieved at the time of their release.
The exact name of this series is still to be decided but suffice to say it will go ahead as I have a lot of material to work with!
Okay then, without further delay…
Game Review: Brütal Legend (2009)
Developer: Double Fine
Publisher: Electronic Arts (EA)
Director: Tim Schafer
Starring: Jack Black, Tim Curry, Rob Halford, Ozzy Osbourne, Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister, Lita Ford, and Jennifer Hale.
Are you a fan of rock, metal, black metal, thrash, or symphonic metal? Do you despair at the state of modern music, at he likes of Korn/Slipknot/MCR and pretty much anything from pop artists? Do you ever listen to the sounds of the 70’s and 80’s and ever think that you were born in the wrong time? Do you enjoy a damn good hybrid game that has an engaging cast and world? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these you really should play Brütal Legend as it will be a real treat for you.
Brütal Legend puts players in the shoes of Edward “Eddie” Riggs (Jack Black), the greatest roadie of all time. Riggs career is stagnating though as “the greatest roadie in the biz” is working for the sh***st rock band in the world which only makes him despair at the state of modern music. During a concert Riggs is crushed by a chunk of stage and is transported to heavy metal heaven where he must assemble an army to rid the world of demons that have infested the land. Along the way Riggs is joined by legends of music such as Rob Halford of Judas Priest, Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister of Motorhead, Lita Ford of the Runaways, and Ozzy Osbourne of Black Sabbath – All of which lend their voices and likeness to the story. All of these icons put their heart and soul into this project, you can tell that they are not merely cashing paycheques and that they really care about what is being portrayed here – they are as invested in this as the player is. Having such big names is only a part of what makes this game work so well, the plot is engaging and very funny at points so expect a lot of cameos, character jokes, and attacks against other genres that really deserve a grilling. The opening scene of the game is essentially a short video of “spot the reference” as Riggs looks on in horror at the phoney-rock band ‘Kabbage Boy’ performing on stage, the perceptive eye will spot the visual references to Korn, Limp Bizkit, and My Chemical Romance in a heartbeat.
Plot and characters alone cannot constitue a classic game so what about the meat on the bones? How does the game play? Brütal Legend is a mix of playing styles all meshed into one coherent package; there are hack-and-slash segments, musical segments, driving and racing parts, real-time strategy segments, and even tower defense events. All of these styles rolled into one might sound like a disaster on paper but in practice it actually works very well. Each style is kept simple but here that is actually a good thing, if things got more complicated the potential to trip up would be correspondingly greater. The games graphics are presented with a bizarre “Cartoon” look which follows suit from Tim Schafer’s other games like “Psychonauts”, this presentation is surprisingly good considering the nature of the setting and gave the design team real freedom to animate this world. The world of Brütal Legend is littered with references to the rock culture and the environments differer from each other in really neat ways and have ‘themes’ to them. Word of warning to the younger or more squeamish players: Brütal Legend is fairly violent, bloody, and frequently uses profanity – all of which can be toned down in the options menu if you so feel like it.
Now onto a really big part of the game and arguably it’s strongest suit, the soundtrack. Oh man, the music on offer here is staggering. On top of the excellent original soundtrack there are over 170 classic rock and metal songs scattered throughout the game, all there for the taking. The bands present range from Black Sabbath to Mastadon to Marylin Manson and all the way to Rob Zombie. Of course, there are more bands than that but not only would I be here for hours detailing each one but I would be spoiling a fair chunk of the experience of playing this game. Suffice to say if you were not a fan of metal and/or rock music before playing this game you sure as shoot will be during and after playing it!
So, what happened to this game? Why didn’t it sell enough copies to warrant a sequel let alone more attention? Honestly I’m not that sure, but if I were to go with my gut feeling I would say that a fair amount of modern and younger gamers are not aware of what real music is and therefore did not gravitate towards this game. Brütal Legend manages to be a giant history lesson on the culture of rock and metal whilst still managing to be it’s own title with it’s own story. The premise is awesome, the world stylish, the cast of characters engaging, the gameplay tight, and the replay value extensive – It’s just a shame it didn’t do so well in terms of sales. It’s greatest contribution to the gaming community has to be it’s education in proper music, it takes people back to when artists actually cared about their craft and were not in it to sell products like perfumes and clothing.
Oh, for the record… I am not a straight-up “Metal Head”. I will listen to music that has heart and purpose behind it, which is why I have such a strong dislike of pop music – it feels artifical and bland to me. My Mp3 player’s contents range from Depeche Mode, to Johnny Cash, to Eminem, and to Black Sabbath – groups and musicians I have found that actually give a rat’s ass about their art.
My ranting against pop music and “watered down” rock music deserves it’s own post at some point.