It's not often that a game I'm expecting a lot from exceeds my expectations, yet that's exactly what happened when I saw Brutal Legend at Double Fine Productions last week. Going in, I knew that the heavy-metal infused game's personality would be off the hook -- the art, music, dialogue, delivery, and humor were everything I expected and more. What really caught me off guard was the gameplay; in the portions I saw, Brutal Legend's melange of over-the-top action, real-time strategy, and driving sequences blended together for seamless and enjoyable fun. And really, that's what this game is all about: fun. You could spend hours thinking about the game's deceptively clever gameplay, all the care that went into crafting the game's world and tone, and the side-splitting delivery by Jack Black, but at the end of the day Brutal Legend is just flat-out fun. I'm positive that every writer that attended the demo was thinking, "I want to play that!"
Brutal Legend tells the tale of Eddie Riggs, the finest roadie the world has ever seen. Unfortunately, he's working with one of the world's worst bands. As he's breaking down the set of the band's latest show, he's injured and his blood drips onto his belt buckle. The belt buckle is actually a magical artifact and being touched by Riggs' blood triggers its powers. It transports him back in time to a world where demons have enslaved humanity. It's a wild and untamed world, where gods of rock still walk the Earth. Using a combination of his deft roadie skills and an overabundance of temerity, Riggs must save humanity with the power of metal.
The story sounds ridiculous -- and it's supposed to -- but it's brought to life with visuals and dialogue that forcefully grab you into the game's world (perhaps making you consider its plot more seriously than a sane being ought to). Double Fine's TimSchafer said that the game's art style was influenced by classic album covers from Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest, and more. The goal was to make those album covers come to life in a 3D world. The world is occupied by huge beasts, demon nuns, Nordic heroes, scantily-clad babes, brutish thugs, and more. The art style is spot on, making the game fun to watch.
Like I said, the dialogue is also an important part of bringing Brutal Legend's world to life. The parts of the script I heard were deftly delivered by Jack Black. I only saw less than an hour of the game being played, but it was clear that Black did a masterful job at making Eddie Riggs a colorful hero. You want to party with him and laugh at his ridiculous bluster, but you're also totally cool with the idea of jumping into a fray with him at your side. I'm pretty sure Riggs is going to end up being an awesomely goofy hero that will be right up there with Big Trouble in Little China's Jack Burton. Adding to the game's fun and metal authenticity is voice work by Motorhead's Lemmy Kilmister, Judas Priest's Rob Halford, and Lita Ford.
The bulk of the gameplay I saw consisted of exaggerated action. Eddie fights with magic axes and guitars. They can be used individually or together, to form combos. Axes are useful for cleaving demons, while guitars can be used to electrify foes and shoot pyro at them. Both weapons are upgraded as the game progresses, unleashing special moves for each. The action reminded me of God of War, but in an (obviously) very different way -- almost as if the two games were opposite sides of the same coin. If God of War is realistic action taken to the extreme then Brutal Legend is ridiculous action taken to the extreme.
As Riggs makes his way through the game's world, he encounters numerous characters that serve as his minions. Using basic real-time strategy techniques, he can command them to attack targets, defend areas, stay put, or follow him. These RTS -style actions are performed with the d-pad and well integrated into the game's main combat. In addition to the strategic elements, this type of gameplay is used in puzzle scenarios as well. What surprised me was how well it's disguised. I'm guessing it was intentional, but these game mechanics are presented as another type of fighting. Gamers that shudder at the thought of strategic gameplay probably won't be intimidated or put off by Brutal Legend's strategy elements.
Lastly, I saw a few driving sequences, featuring what Riggs dubbed "The Druid Plow". While I didn't think they were as fun or clever as the game's melee combat and RTS battles, I fully admit that it's probably my personal preferences. I'm sure there are plenty of gamers that will dig the driving in the game. Part of it was basic rail style, where Riggs must navigate his way through a course, avoid objects, and attack enemies. The boss fight was much more interesting. Fighting a giant plant creature, players have to use nitro boosts and the handbrake to fight effectively.
One aspect of the game I didn't see was its open-world elements. Brutal Legend features a 64-square kilometer world. Players are free to explore it and discover hidden sections. This can also impact the main missions, since gamers can discover ways to upgrade their guitars and axes through side missions and exploration.
Even though I only watched the game being played, I had a ton of fun seeing Brutal Legend. The art, music, gameplay, and dialogue just scream fun. I was already greatly looking forward to the game's release, but after seeing it, Brutal Legend has skyrocketed to the top spot of games I'm looking forward to most in 2009. I'm going to have a more detailed walkthrough of the game's intro sequences and first mission. It'll have more specific on the gameplay and dialogue. Keep your eyes peeled for it later today!