When I walked into the small room where Brütal Legend was being demoed at EA’s pre-E3 event I expected to sit amongst my blogger/journalist brethren and be shown a small snippet of gameplay, field some questions and be on my merry way into the sea of gaming overload. I didn’t expect to come face-to-face with TIM FUCKING SCHAFER running the demo, drinking a beer and discussing alcohol-related accomplishments. If that doesn’t set the mood for rock and roll happenings, I don’t know what does.
The section of the game we were shown took place about a third of the way through the story and revolved around one of the “epic stage battles.” The term used is not overblown, internet wordrrhea; instead being perfectly fitting as it’s a battle, quite epic in scope, involving a stage. Yes, as in a rock and roll stage with pyrotechnics and monster amps. Let there be rock, indeed.
Before the power of rock-and-roll-destruction was unleashed upon our eyes and minds, we were given a short introduction to the abilities of roadie-turned-hero player character, Eddie Riggs, and the surrounding world that draws most of its inspiration from metal album artwork. If you’re not versed in the imagery, Brütal Legend sports a nice change of scenery from the old stand-by joke of all current-gen games being brown, gray or gray-brown by painting the environment in bright yellows, oranges and even hints of pinks and purples. Remaining badass whilst displaying pink and purple is a true testament to the game’s awesomeness, which it delivers in spades.
Eddie, being the ultimate metal roadie, has his trusty axe (the guitar variety), Clementine, gifted with magic abilities like firing enemies into the air with pyro and summoning transportation when a ripping solo is played. Playing solos is a little like operating the ocarina in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time; a music staff pops up with the corresponding face buttons that need to be mashed. When pulled off successfully there’s a little light show, some explosions and the fruit of your labor. Plus, it’s very METAL!
The epic stage battles serve as a way of building a following/army and taking key areas of the world Eddie has found himself transported to away from the bad guy du jour, Lord Doviculus and his amazingly quaffed minion, General Lionwhyte (voiced by Rob Halford of Judas Priest for extra lulz), who’s hair grants him flight. And, of course, a rock show is a complete failure unless you have fans and something to rock to (a certain song about “battle swine” was perfectly temped in as the soundtrack to war, but I’m not supposed to mention it since the licensing rights were still being worked out). Playing a solo near specific grayish mounds will “activate” the fans which act as resources for gaining a following and powering the stage during a battle. Fans are extremely important and the enemy will try to leech them which we were shown via these flying, worm creature things that sucked face with the glowing mounds.
The stage battle itself plays out as a mix of both action and strategic elements. Before you close the tab at the mere mention of “strategy” getting in the way of metal action, it’s a simplified system that allows for a feeling of actually leading an army while still getting up-close-and-personal with Eddie’s axe (the bloody murder variety), The Separator. Units, such as the rough and tough Headbangers, that are gained by completing quests in the game can be selected and unleashed upon the opposing forces via a simple selector wheel. The strategy comes into play in knowing what strengths and weaknesses the different units possess and whom they should be smacking the crap out of.
First and foremost, Brütal Legend is an action game and the focus doesn’t stray from that. There’s no separate menu or sub-menu to use for placing units or a shoe-horned, crap interface like The Godfather II‘s Don’s View; Eddie is always at the center of the action with colored spotlights highlighting where and what the posse are up to. If you’ve ever played Planet Moon’s excellent action-meets-strategy game, Giants: Citizen Kabuto, this aspect of Brütal Legend feels very similar. If you haven’t, trust me when I say you shouldn’t worry about strategy getting in the way of the fun. Also, METAL!
Having only been shown a small portion of what Brütal Legend has to offer I really do feel like it’s something special. It’s a fantastical action-adventure set in an heavy-metal-inspired open world that blends some truly great humor, pop culture references, a who’s who of rock royalty and a little bit of strategy, from the team that brought us Psychonauts. If you’re already excited, stay excited; if not, GET EXCITEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEED!