Home
Twitter
RSS
Newsletter
Michael Kontoudis
17 Oct, 2009

Brutal Legend Review

PS3 Review | Jack Black of all trades, master of none.
In the spirit of candour, everyone should know, upfront, that Brutal Legend is a supremely difficult game to review. Developed by legendary game designer Tim Schafer and his team at Double Fine, the game has arrived after years of expectation and anticipation, and it is fraught with tension. Brutal Legend is caught in an agonizing push and pull between genres, audience expectations, and the classic tug-of-war between narrative and gameplay. Touted as the ultimate heavy metal odyssey, and starring famed comedian Jack Black alongside a host of industry giants, Brutal Legend is a game which demands attention; it is brash, bold and witty where most games settle for the insipid and mundane. However, is a surplus of style, attitude and passion enough to carry a videogame over the line? How many defects in the core mechanics and game design can be rectified by such winning presentation?


Prepare to meet one of gaming's most appealing protagonists.

Prepare to meet one of gaming's most appealing protagonists.
Close

These questions are posed partly because the story on offer in Brutal Legend is terrific. Jack Black stars as the protagonist of the game, veteran ‘roadie’ Eddie Riggs, whose primary purpose is to make other people look good so that the audience is satisfied. While touring with an obnoxious, posing troupe of Jonas brothers-style wannabe-rockers, Eddie sustains an injury which awakens the fire beast, Ormagoden, who transports him to an alternate world, the landscape of which has been forged by the gods (or ‘titans’) of heavy metal. There, Eddie encounters a resistance movement of humans who find themselves oppressed by a tyrant named Doviculus, and comes to realise his true destiny. While the game’s plotting is far from unpredictable or new, the sublime writing and intriguing conceit (being the clever pastiche of heavy metal iconography with classic fantasy trappings) make Brutal Legend an absorbing experience for the eyes and ears. Each and every character in the game, from Jack Black’s surprisingly mellow and likeable Eddie to love interest Ophelia and arch-villain Doviculus (voiced with relish by the inimitable Tim Curry) is convincing and well-realised - even the celebrity cameos of Ozzy Osbourne et al are hilarious.

The game’s visuals are solid, if unremarkable from a technical vantage, but the compelling art design and amazing animations (at least in cutscenes) make Brutal Legend stand out from the crowd. The fusion of different styles of metal, from Goth to Glam, is particularly inspired, giving each region of the metal world a unique identity, and the reconstitution of elements such as swords and hot rods into druid-inspired architecture and landscapes is pulled-off with flair. As one would expect, Brutal Legend also sports one of the grandest soundtracks in all of gaming, delivering in excess of one-hundred licensed tracks specifically-selected by Tim Schafer. Whatever your musical predilection, there can be little doubt that the tracks fit the action perfectly, and with tunes from Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Motley Crue, Megadeth, Motorhead, Slayer and dozens more, it is likely that Brutal Legend will be responsible for more than a few converts to the church of metal.


Boss encounters are sadly few and far between.

Boss encounters are sadly few and far between.
Close

Because the diegetic universe of Brutal Legend is so endearing, attractive, populated with immediately memorable characters and boasts such an amazing soundtrack, you may find yourself wishing that Schafer and company would simply turn their hand to producing animated films. This is especially so given that Brutal Legend fails to deliver in terms of its raw mechanics, which are never as engaging as its presentation. The game tries valiantly to merge a slew of different gameplay styles and genres, but the result is less ‘chaotic genius’ and more ‘clumsy mess’. You see, while Brutal Legend begins as a fairly rote, action-adventure game in the vein of Zelda, Beyond Good & Evil or Fable, replete with a central over-world ‘hub’, accessible combat and one-on-one boss encounters, it slowly reveals its true colours, culminating an hour or two later into a light real-time strategy (or ‘RTS’) title.

The trouble is that while Brutal Legend is a competent action-adventure title, with streamlined combat and fun vehicular controls, the RTS segments are shoehorned in a manner which is inelegant, and at worst, not fun to play. Most of the RTS battles consist of capturing ‘fan geysers’, upon which you can build merchandise stands. These stands allow you to harness the power of your fans and deploy more units in your attempt to capture the enemy’s stage. Sadly, these portions never feel organic and come off as contrived, frustrating forays. Controlling the various units through the D-Pad and a bevy of radial menus can be extremely clunky, highlighting the notorious difficulty in translating mouse-based mechanics and interfaces to the console world. These portions are likely to prove too frustrating for the mainstream Guitar Hero-crowd, attracted by the game’s star-wattage and metal-trappings, and too crude for RTS veterans accustomed to the genre’s best titles. The worst part is that upon their introduction, these under-explained strategy forays comprise the majority of the game thereafter. This is unfortunate, because this fundamental design-snafu destroys what could have been a fun, albeit simple action-adventure and turns it into a shambling Frankenstein. In their attempt to deliver variety and produce a unique generic hybrid, Double Fine has unwittingly made a mess of Brutal Legend and spoiled its vast potential; vast tracts of the game feel like a hard slog, chores to complete before one is graced by the next compelling story sequence.


Spicy.

Spicy.
Close

Brutal Legend is also a slight package, boasting a campaign of a half-dozen hours which feels longer due to the interminable RTS battles. There are a wealth of collectibles and optional missions on offer for the anal-retentive crowd, ranging from races to search-and-destroy missions, but these are all fairly repetitive and serve only to provide the player with ‘fire tributes’, the in-game currency used to bolster Eddie’s abilities and equipment. The fully-featured online multiplayer mode performs well and offers up an interesting gallery of factions and units to experiment with, but in all honesty, it is difficult to imagine too many gamers will still be playing Brutal Legend online in the coming months, given that the mode is based on the single worst component of the single-player campaign.

As foreshadowed in the introductory paragraph, Brutal Legend presents a dilemma for any person seeking to critique it; passion and love flow from every pixel on the screen, and the game presents a universe as rich and compelling as any seen in gaming – and yet, controller in hand, Brutal Legend fails to consistently engage. The game is never bad, certainly never terrible, yet that is faint praise for what should and could have been an action-adventure classic. Blame a lack of focus, or blame over-ambition, but Double Fine have inadvertently produced one of the most disappointing games of the year, worth a play for worshippers of all-things metal, but destined above all else to be remembered as a missed opportunity.
The Score
Melding exemplary artistic merit with uninspiring gameplay, Brutal Legend is by turns captivating and clumsy, and certainly more fun to watch than it is to play. 7
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related Brutal Legend Content

Brutal DLC in November
28 Oct, 2009 PS3 owners get it for free.
Brutal Legend Preview
17 Aug, 2009 You can't kill the metal.
Brutal Legend brings the RORRK!
10 Aug, 2009 Can't... write... banging... head.
16 Comments
4 years ago
Every review of this game follows the same pattern - nobody believed it was an RTS, despite this being fairly well known albeit not advertised, and it gets rated down because it's not what people believed it would be, rather than for any technical shortcoming.

It was hardly a hidden factor. Heck, your very first real mission begins the RTS aspects. It's not a conventional RTS but I don't believe the game is worse off for it. There's half a dozen conventional RTS games on the 360 if you want one of those.

PALGN wrote
The trouble is that while Brutal Legend is a competent action-adventure title, with streamlined combat and fun vehicular controls, the RTS segments are shoehorned in a manner which is inelegant, and at worst, not fun to play.
This is an example of what I was saying. The shoehorning is the third-person action-adventure into an RTS title. It's a clear case of reviewers forming an opinion of the game after the first ten minutes and once that opinion is challenged by the game they find it hard to accept.

Low scores don't belong to this game, they belong to it's marketing.
4 years ago
Yeah but who sees Jack Black and thinks RTS? Who hears they were going to actually include a guitar and controller and still thinks RTS?
4 years ago
Phreakuency wrote
Yeah but who sees Jack Black and thinks RTS? Who hears they were going to actually include a guitar and controller and still thinks RTS?
Who sees Jack Black and thinks video game?
4 years ago
I had a blast with this game. The only thing I didn't like was how short it was.
4 years ago
For the purposes of clarification, our main issues with the game were that (a) the RTS segments felt shoe-horned into the experience, and inelegant. We say 'shoe-horned' because the first hour and a half is fairly standard action-adventure fare with a bit of vehicular open-world traversal and then all of a sudden the player is capturing fan geysers and commanding units with radial menus. If one prefers to think of the action-adventure elements being shoe-horned in, well that's fine, because the second issue, (b) is that the RTS mechanics are clumsy and we did not find them to be as enjoyable as the hack-and-slash and exploration-based gameplay.

If the strategy elements were fleshed out, properly-explained and more enjoyable, then we would have formed a different opinion.
4 years ago
As a huge fan of both Schafer and metal I am in no position to present any form of reasonable opinon regarding this game icon_sad.gif
And though I often strive to post within the confines of reason, with thought and consideration...
I fucking love this game!
Apologies.
drinniol wrote
Phreakuency wrote
Yeah but who sees Jack Black and thinks RTS? Who hears they were going to actually include a guitar and controller and still thinks RTS?
Who sees Jack Black and thinks video game?
Who doesn't? Goofy lookin' overweight bearded man with unusual sense of humour? That's, like, every video gamer I've ever known. Having him in a video game is far more genuine than most video game heroes.

This has been relegated to rental for me. After reading the reviews and watching videos on YT, it doesn't look like the type of game I want to fork out the big bucks for, but I do have a desire to play it.
4 years ago
Michael Kontoudis wrote
If the strategy elements were fleshed out, properly-explained and more enjoyable, then we would have formed a different opinion.
Um, the whole first hour and a half of fairly standard action-adventure is the fleshed-out explanation. All units are introduced one at a time. New abilities are introduced one at a time. Heck even the movement commands are introduced one at a time. I don't see how you could have it explained any simpler and not sound like it's catering for a drooling Queenslander.

As for the enjoyment? That's the entirely subjective part. I found all the battles incredibly enjoyable. But then again I'm not one to snob a game merely for it's platform or genre.
4 years ago
It's good that you enjoyed it.
4 years ago
drinniol: Getting a bit edgy heyyy.
You don't agree with the review, get over it.
I don't complain every time my favorite series of games gets worse scores than this.

Being a metal dude I will be checking this out though, and i hope I enjoy it.
4 years ago
Dark Raven wrote
drinniol: Getting a bit edgy heyyy.

You don't agree with the review, get over it.

I don't complain every time my favorite series of games gets worse scores than this.
It says 'Comments' not 'Agreements' icon_razz.gif In the vast fora that is the Internet you can't expect anything to go without criticism. Granted, my last comment came off much snarkier than I intended, and you have my apologies Michael.
4 years ago
Michael Kontoudis wrote
certainly more fun to watch than it is to play
Really says it all. Schaefer should go back to what he does best: point-and-click adventures.
4 years ago
Se7en wrote
Schaefer should go back to what he does best: point-and-click adventures.
Bit harsh considering how well Psychonauts went down with the critics. I recall it received PCPP's first ever 10 (on their new scale).
4 years ago
InvivnI wrote
Se7en wrote
Schafer should go back to what he does best: point-and-click adventures.
Bit harsh considering how well Psychonauts went down with the critics. I recall it received PCPP's first ever 10 (on their new scale).
I played Psychonauts and "more fun to watch" also applied. Full Throttle and Grim Fandango were far more enjoyable as interactive experiences.
4 years ago
Gotta disagree there Se7en.
Psycohnauts had great gameplay. Best platformer of the last generation IMO. Sure the story was amusing, but the platforming and amusing use of powers was what really made the game.
4 years ago
Just to chuck my two cents in (not that anyone asked), but I found Psychonauts similar to Brutal Legend in many ways, not least of which in the way the characters and world drew me in but the (in my opinion) unsatisfying platforming mechanics turned me off.
Add Comment
Like this review?
Share it with this tiny url: http://palg.nu/3Kk

N4G : News for Gamers         Twitter This!

Digg!     Stumble This!

| More
  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  15/10/2009 (Confirmed)
Publisher:
  Electronic Arts
Genre:
  Adventure
Year Made:
  2008

Read more...
Currently Popular on PALGN
Australian Gaming Bargains - 08/12/11
'Tis the season to be bargaining.
R18+ Legislation
R18+ Legislation
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations Preview
Hands on time with the game. Chat time with the CEO of CyberConnect 2.
PALGN's Most Anticipated Games of 2007
24 titles to keep an eye on during 2007.
PALGN's Most Anticipated Games of 2008
And you thought 2007 was populated.