Metal is not dead. It can never truly die, for according to Brutal Legend, it was passed down to humankind by our creators, the Titans, and it is the weapon by which we defeated great evils (read: shitty music). Tim Schafer, the man behind Psychonauts, the game we’ve guilt-tripped you for not buying almost as much as we’ve mentioned Okami, is one funny game designer. He also clearly loves heavy metal, while at the same time poking fun at every aspect of its undeniable ridiculousness.
Hold up one second: please know that you don’t have to even like heavy metal to enjoy Brutal Legend. You might not get every joke or awesome guest appearance by a real-life metal legend, but there are many hilarious aspects to the game that will appeal to anyone with a sense of humor, and the creative world that roadie Eddie Riggs (Jack Black) explores isn’t just cool for headbangers. Hell, even if you HATE heavy metal music, you’ll be amused by all the ways Schafer points out its worst traits.
Brutal Legend’s gameplay is also broadly rounded enough that if you don’t like one aspect of it, you’ll probably like others. Part of it is a butter-fingered console RTS (with fun elements despite the awkwardness). Part of it is a competent third-person brawler. Part of it is a free-roaming driving game that makes exploration a joy. None of these three pieces stands out as truly excellent, but together they make a mashup of styles that holds interest all the way through the game’s conclusion.
Sprinkled into the core mechanics are a shit-ton of collectibles that unlock Fire Tributes you can spend on upgrades, or new songs to play in your hotrod, or gravely-narrated tidbits of legend that tell the backstory of Brutal Legend’s world. The world itself is hugely entertaining to scour, and the collectibles turn the exploration into tangible rewards. Still, even without powerups to be had, just seeing the sights will inspire awe or belly-laughs. Tucked away you might find a gigantic V8 engine or an entire coastal cliff made out of speakers and amplifiers.
The inhabitants of the Brutal world are another fantastic part of the experience – aside from the rock-god cameos, it’s the main characters that manage to not only make us laugh, but also evoke sympathy. Eddie Riggs, while emanating typical wise-cracking Jack Blackness, has multiple dimensions and manages to keep the more hyper aspects of Black in check. Lars and Lita, brother and sister rulers of Bladehenge, are simple but warm characters, and Ophelia, Riggs’ love interest, is badass and vulnerable at the same time, making her a girl you want to save.
The sheer love and enthusiasm that Schafer imparts to Brutal Legend’s world helps make up for the weaker points, but even the weaknesses aren’t a huge problem. The brawling elements are very simple – don’t expect God of War levels of combos. Eddie has an axe to sever body parts up close, and his guitar, Clementine, for ranged attacks (strumming produces lightning bolts from the heavens or flames from below). Combos can string together both forms of attack, so Eddie can lay down a few chops and then launch an enemy into the sky with a guitar-fire attack. Still, actually learning and purchasing greater combos is unnecessary – any enemy can be beaten with mashes of the axe or guitar attacks.