Brütal Legend Review – PC


Tim Schafer is responsible for some of my favorite games in my 30 years of gaming including Monkey Island, Maniac Mansion, and the 1995 Full Throttle biker adventure – a game not all that dissimilar from the heavy metal masterpiece, Brutal Legend that released more than three years ago on console and has finally made its way to the PC. With a fresh coat of paint (enhanced graphics) and some cool new bonus content (free multiplayer maps) it’s time to check out this awesome hybrid game once again and see if it can stand the test of time…or at least three years.

While Brutal Legends slips into the Steam store with an almost stealth-like approach, back in 2009 the Internets were all atwitter with nonstop media hype for the game thanks to the participation of Jack Black and a handful of legendary rockers. The end result was something that could only be described as “the adventure game of the year”. And when you combine these vocal talents with a soundtrack that simply “kicks ass” you have a game that is as much fun to listen to as it is to play. Since then we have seen games like Borderlands that have borrowed on the large scale maps, open world design and mission structure, and stylized comic book graphics, but nothing can beat the signature charm and humor of Tim Schafer…especially when he’s writing for Jack Black.

While it’s not required that you have a fondness for heavy metal music or Jack Black, it’s certainly going to help if you do. After all, the title character, Eddie Riggs, looks, talks, and acts like Jack, and the two decades of metal is enough to melt PC’s sound system. The story starts off quite simple. Eddie is a roadie working for a lame band that is trying to blend tween tunes and metal without much success. Eddie dreams of a better time…the early 70’s, but fate has other plans in mind.
After a freak accident Eddie finds himself transported into a mystical heavy metal world – an afterlife fit for a roadie. Armed with only a giant axe and his guitar, he must fight the forces of evil and save this land from an ancient and dark power. Along the way he will make some friends, form a rebel alliance, build a hotrod roadster with machine guns and rocket launchers, and unlock the secrets of this ancient land born of metal.

Brutal Legend works on multiple levels and includes several genres of gameplay. You have a hack-n-slash combat game not unlike God of War or Devil May Cry. You can run around attacking with your axe using various combos or you can play your guitar to shock or burn your enemies from afar – this attack requires frequent cool downs but combos nicely with the axe.

Then you have a driving experience where you get to drive around shooting enemies with various mounted guns on the front, flame shooters on the side and a rear-mounted mine dropper. You’ll spend a lot of time in the car exploring this massive world comprised of three large maps. Exploration is key because there is a lot of stuff to find including 120 serpents statues, 32 Vista Landmarks, 11 Motor Forges, 13 Legend statues that reveal the important backstory, 107 songs, 24 lightning plug jumps, 12 solos that can be added to your guitar library, 47 upgrades, and 83 pieces of concept art.

The Motor Forges are important, as they serve as your drive-thru base of operations where you can purchase upgrades for your Deuce’s primary and secondary weapons, new paint jobs, or purchase new abilities for your axe or new strings for your guitar that bestow more powerful elemental attacks. You can even purchase special attacks and rock carvings so you can change the face of Mt. Rockmore. No matter which Motor Forge you enter, you always end up at the center of the molten world hosted by none other than Ozzy Osbourne himself.

So the game works a clever mix of driving, running, fighting, and even some side missions like turret defense, hunting, ambushes, and even some one-on-one racing with a toad-like demon. What might surprise some is that Brutal Legend also contains a bit of RTS thrown in – not much, only a few battles that make up only about 10% of the entire game experience. I’m not a huge fan of RTS games but Brutal Legend really makes these six or so levels really work.

First off, these RTS stages are all infused with a heavy dose of music culture. Fans are your resource, and you mine them by building merch booths over green geysers to direct the flow of fans into the stage. You then use these fans to build various combat units like head bangers, chicks with razor rifles, bass-playing bikers, and in later levels some seriously kick ass units. None of these levels are impossible, and they actually get quite fun trying to figure out some basic strategy balancing the number and type of units you can have on the field at any given time and maintaining a hold on your merch booths. In all but the first of these levels Eddie will sprout demon wings, allowing him to fly around out of the range of attack, where he can summon units and direct them with point and click commands.

If you enjoy this aspect of the game then you will likely be entertained with the multiplayer modes that allow for up to eight players to engage in heavy metal warfare on several unique maps using three nicely balanced factions, each with their own units. While I enjoyed the RTS gameplay within the confines of the game’s story, I really wasn’t compelled to play it standalone. It works and is amusing, but there are better RTS games out there if that is your thing. It’s still fun to mess around with but I seriously can’t see anyone spending more than 3-4 hours with this.

Perhaps my favorite element of the game are the visuals. While not technically mind-blowing, the artistic style rocked my world. I’m a big fan of the Heavy Metal movie and this was like seeing that world come to life in a video game where massive stone and metal monuments dot the landscape, towering temples serve as gateways to new lands, and sickly green swamps seamlessly morph into eerie blue bone yards or lush green forests. I’ve never seen so many creative ways to integrate skulls into the landscape, as rocks, parts of trees, or even the full moon.

A day and night cycle keeps the sky in constant flux with sunsets, raging storms with fiery comets or clear starry nights with streaking shooting stars. There is rain and snow and all sorts of terrain, and it blends together so seamlessly you almost don’t notice you have entered a new land. Also integrated into the landscapes are the hidden pick-ups like the dragon statues, legend statues, and dozens of buried metal that you can raise to unlock new songs for the soundtrack. And I loved the giant wall of speakers that sent out routine shockwaves of sound.

There are some amazing characters with excellent designs and textures and the assortment of monsters and creatures is by far some of the most metal-inspired creations of our time. You’ll get to encounter all of these creatures up close and personal if you choose to participate in the numerous hunting challenges. Gore is extreme with dismemberment and plenty of spraying blood, or you can turn off the gore if it gets too extreme.

The only thing better than the graphics is the audio, both in content and quality. I have to give awesome kudos to the stereo in the Druid Plow. It sounds great while you’re driving but when you hop out of the car you can still hear it just like you would hear a car stereo playing. You can even use this sound as a directional finder to locate your car as the sound pans around the 3D environment. It’s a great effect.

The voice acting is superb; especially considering most of these people are rockers first and actors second…or last. Jack Black is right in his element with this character and delivers his lines with deft perfection. Ozzy had me rolling on the floor with each and every line, and while there is a bit of profanity, you can choose to bleep it from the very first instance, which is often funnier than hearing the naughty words.

But we all know we came here to play Brutal Legend and rock out to the greatest game soundtrack in the history of games. The soundtrack plays out when you are in the Deuce, and you have full selection of available tracks. We’re talking over 100 songs from 75 legendary artists like Def Leppard, Judas Priest, Anthrax, Black Sabbath, Megadeth, Motley Crue, Quiet Riot, Dokken, Motorhead, Ozzy Osbourne, Kiss, Scorpions, Slayer, and Whitesnake just to name a few. You can even go in and modify the playlist to disable songs you don’t like. As you uncover more metal throughout the game the track list grows and you use the D-pad to move forward and back through the library while you drive. RTS battle sequences will have their own music and should you choose to explore the land on foot, there is a mystical and quite compelling orchestral score that accompanies your adventure.

Brutal Legend is about a 10-12 hour game that will take you another 3-4 hours to fully finish if you are a completionist. I finished the story and the credits rolled around 80% leaving me with just a few dragon statues and some buried metal. While it is quite possible to rush this game and finish it in 5-7 hours you would have to bypass the side missions and that is not recommended since they provide Fire Tributes (currency) used for upgrades, as well as power-ups for your guitar and axe.
There is a nice selection of humorously named Achievements that reward you for finishing the various chapters as well as the entire game and for locating all the music, dragons, legends, and other collectibles and purchasing all the upgrades. I typically don’t like hours of fetch questing but the soundtrack in Brutal Legend makes it quite enjoyable, like a road trip with kick ass tunes. There are also a handful of multiplayer achievements for winning online matches.

I can’t think of too many negative things to say about Brutal Legend. Sometimes I got annoyed that Eddie couldn’t jump but if I needed to go somewhere the landscape would slope so I could get there. I got stuck a few times in the landscape but summoning the Deuce popped me out of the hillside and into my car. I found it was often too easy to drive blindly over a cliff but if you hit Y fast enough you jump back to land and only your car falls into the ocean.

Brutal Legend was an amazing game in 2009 and it was just a fun and refreshing to play again in 2013. If you love heavy metal, Jack Black, Tim Schafer or any combination of these elements then this is a must-own adventure game infused with a thoughtful balance of action, combat, and real-time strategy. The story is epic, the landscapes are magical, and the humor is consistently present throughout the entire game from start to finish. This is heavy metal heaven! Buy it today and rock on…