Heavy Metal Is Back
It’s unfortunate that the biggest news regarding Brütal Legend this E3 was the lawsuit between Activision and Double Fine, because the game was shown in playable form for the first time, and it was easily one of the best games of the show. It’s not hard to tell why Activision is experiencing some remorse after cancelling the game following the merger with Vivendi; the Brütal Legend kiosks were consistently packed in both the Sony and EA booths.
There’s an honesty to the game that makes it stand out from the countless other titles at the show. Where most games these days are shoved through a focus group meat grinder until they perfectly reflect the tastes of 18-34 year olds that have nothing better to do than sit in market research sessions at the mall. Brütal Legend is Tim Schafer’s tribute to the 13-year old inside of him; a willfully dated pastiche to everything that is heavy metal. That includes giant demons, battle axes, hot rods, and yes, even teased hair and makeup. Brütal Legend isn’t so much trying to be cool as it is a loving homage to everything that we used to think was cool once upon a time.
The demo kicks off when Eddie Riggs (a roadie sent through time to the mythical land of Metal lore) finds The Separator, a legendary double-sided battle axe, perfect for hacking apart the minions of hell. The controls are pretty basic hack-‘n’-slash, with some simple combos, and a button to fire elemental powers from Riggs’ trusty guitar. At first this seemed fairly mindless, but even within the demo we saw things open up with more complicated enemy patterns, as well as new moves and combos to learn, and new guitar powers.
More than any other game we played at E3, Brütal Legend was loaded with cutscenes to break up the many diverse segments. These really brought the experience together with some really funny dialog and charismatic, likable characters. We’re usually a bit wary of celebrity voice casts in video games, as they tend to be rushed, unenthusiastic performances. It’s probably a testament to Schafer and the game’s writers that Jack Black and the other actors deliver top notch performances with a ton of energy. Even Ozzie Osbourne, who makes has a short role later in the demo, delivers his lines clearly and enthusiastically, sounding very far from his usually distant, muttering persona.
After a few battles, we raised relics from the earth and assembled “The Deuce,” A top-chopped hot rod, with flames on the side, and chrome exhaust pipes that could belch the real stuff. The first driving sequence was a linear race across a collapsing bridge, followed by a fight with a 100-foot tall worm monster, but after a while we saw how the car and the on-foot sequences were better integrated. You can leave the vehicle at just about any time, and you can use your guitar to summon it whenever you need it.
Ozzy’s character introduces the player to the game’s RPG elements. Eddie can buy upgrades for himself, his weaponry, his car – even cosmetic upgrades like custom paint jobs. We tricked out The Deuce with a pair of Gatling guns and took off on an escort mission where we had to shoot down demons on motorcycles. After this, things opened up a bit and we actually had to explore to find the way ahead, suggesting that this might not be the pure linear action game we thought.
It was a strong showing, for sure. The generous 30 minute demo packed an impressive amount of variety, even if no one particular gameplay element stood out. Brütal Legend is just a charming, charismatic game so packed with personality, it’s easy to forgive it if the nuts and bolts aren’t entirely original. We might be less forgiving if the game succumbs to endless repetition, but if the demo levels – and Double Fine’s previous game, Psychonauts – are any indication, we aren’t worried.
The Wait Will Be Brutal
April 30, 2009 – If there is one thing that can be said about a game made by Tim Schafer, it’s that it will at least be quite unique and humorous. Take Psychonauts for example, a great game that took place inside various characters’ minds that was fueled by witty and hilarious writing throughout. If there is something else that seems intrinsically linked to Schafer’s games, it’s that they often tend to have troubles making their way to the market. Pyschonauts is once again a prime example; it was dumped by Microsoft and later picked up by Majesco who hardly marketed the title, which directly resulted in its poor sales.
Brutal Legend has had similar issues recently; originally slated to be published by Sierra (a Vivendi Games holding), it was then discarded after the massive merger which formed Activision Blizzard. Fortunately, EA has since picked up the publishing rights to this title, and we were able to check out a good chunk of its beginning as demoed at the recent EA spring press event.
Brutal Legend is the story of the world’s best roadie, Eddie Riggs, who is being brought to life with voice work from the actor/comedian/musician, Jack Black. The game starts off with Eddie accidentally dripping a small amount of his own blood onto his beloved belt buckle, which then magically teleports him to another world. While this new world initially appears somewhat similar to his previous surroundings, much has changed indeed. Instead of being on a stage surrounded by a band and fans, Eddie is standing in a large stone arena surrounded by bones and several characters wearing black cloaks.
These cloaked characters are known as druids, and they immediately attempt to put a violent end to Eddie’s life. Luckily, close by are two of his three main weapons throughout the game, the Separator and Clementine. The Separator is a large axe that will make up Eddie’s melee attacks and Clementine is his musical axe (guitar), which will provide his ranged attacks. These initial druids were no match for the combos created by the combined usage of axe slashes and the magical attacks provided by perfectly played guitar riffs on Clementine. The two ranged attacks shown included calling lightning down from the sky onto foes and a move called Earthquake, which can stun enemies as well as reduce your surrounding environment to rubble.
After this initial battle was over and the entire building had crumbled around Eddie, he was confronted with another type of enemy. This demon, referred to as the battle nun, was a tall and skinny adversary that was stronger than the druids and harder to take out. Using the game’s lock-on targeting system, the nun was felled, leaving Eddie to hop onto her giant, mechanical spider vehicle to take it for a spin.
As the spider walker continued to make its way down a long ramp made entirely of bones and skulls, it was clear that this world was unlike any seen in a game to this point. Schafer explained this place as a world where everything rock is made real, which definitely came through loud and clear based on the surroundings. Everything in the game is said to be adapted from the covers of heavy metal albums, making piles of bones, ancient stone structures, giant mechanical spiders, and even hot rods mainstays in the world of Brutal Legend.
After fighting through some more demons and druids and coming upon a friendly warrior character named Ophelia, who Eddie can perform double-team attacks with, the two characters find themselves surrounded by an army of druids. Further checking out the temple they had barricaded themselves within, Eddie discovers ancient writing and symbols that he can awaken by playing Clementine. By playing the Relic Raiser song on his guitar, he is able to summon his third weapon, The Deuce, which is a tricked out hot rod. Living up to its nickname, “The Druid Plow,” Eddie and Ophelia make their escape by driving through and over the druid army.
December 5, 2007 – Guitars and rock music are making a sudden encroachment into gaming. The recent releases of both Guitar Hero III and Rock Band have made certain that gamers can get their rock fix while gaming. However, what if you could combine gaming and rock n roll without making your game rhythm based? What if you could base an entire game around rock n roll music without shoehorning it into the music genre of gaming? We will find out in 2008, when creative mind and gaming celebrity Tim Schafer releases his latest brainchild, the aptly named Brutal Legend.
Brutal Legend is the story of a talented, well-known roadie named Eddie Riggs. In a bizarre, uniquely Schafer-esque twist, Riggs unknowingly possesses a cursed belt buckle, and the game begins in earnest when he accidentally gets some of his own blood on it. The belt buckle sends him back in time to an ancient time…with another Schafer twist. Instead of the history that most people know from school teaching, the time that Riggs is sent back to is a strange hybrid of Nordic mythology and rock n roll legends. For example, giant tires are sprinkled in with huge sprawling forests, and exhaust pipes jut from the ground like fossils.
The story is already weird, but it quickly becomes a good premise for a game when Riggs learns that he is somehow skilled at axe combat. Riggs soon encounters the humans in this ancient, parallel world, who are being oppressed by the numerous heavy metal entities in that world. They plead with him for his aid, and he sets out on a journey to free the world from the tyranny with the knowledge he’s gained as a roadie.
The rock and roll backdrop isn’t just for show either. Riggs can pull out his guitar and play, which nearly amounts to a magical attack. After completing a rhythm button press mini-game, Riggs will be able to call down a fiery pyrotechnics display that will enflame the enemy, or assault foes with a strong solo that damages them, or even summon the Deuce, which is Riggs’ hot rod. The Deuce can be used to run down enemies as well as the obvious main mode of transportation.
Riggs also frees different contingents of people, of which each gives him a different type of support ability. The headbangers will surround Riggs in a protective circle that attacks enemies when they get too close. Fire barons ride into battle on their motorcycles, trapping foes in a ring of fire. Bouncers attack foes directly, and the runaways are female dancers that ride into battle on your shoulders. Squad based commands allow Riggs to order these teams to a specific point, to attack foes or defend him with a touch of the control pad.
The enemies in this strange world also carry the odd rock and roll theme. There are huge spiders roaming the lands, but they are made of metal and weave webs composed of guitar string. The denizens of the land wear black and have spiked accessories. The heavy rock influence is felt throughout the game, cleverly being interjected into ancient mythology in a way that is interesting, entertaining, and makes the player curious to see the next enemy, friend, or landscape.
With such an intense focus on rock, the game wouldn’t feel complete without some actual real world grounding. Many gamers will be happy to know that Jack Black, of School of Rock fame, will be headlining the game along with a host of other familiar voices, including names like Rob Halford of Judas Priest and Motorhead’s Lemmy. The game will also feature a great soundtrack, including tracks from bands like Kiss, Black Sabbath, and Judas Preist, as well as some completely original tracks from artists like Rob Halford, Zakk Wylde, and Wolfmotther.
Brutal Legend is definitely looking to be a game that will make some noise in 2008. The combination of Tim Schafer’s imagination with the current-gen technology and the rock and roll motif seems to equal a game worth attention. We will see if the game rocks as hard as its pedigree when it releases next year.