Well would you look at this. I guess Fashionably Late is a thing now. Or maybe it isn’t. Does two appearances of something officially make it A Thing? I don’t know. I DON’T KNOW. Anyway, let’s chat about Brütal Legend.
I remember Brütal Legend generating a bunch of confusion leading up to and after its launch in October of 2009. First, there was that weird Mega Publisher Battle (or lawsuit, whatever) between Activision (who dropped Brütal Legend as though it were a week-old irradiated fish taco when they merged with Vivendi Games) and Electronic Arts (who, to roll with this dubious metaphor, picked up Double Fine’s irradiated taco, dusted it off, shrugged and took an enormous bite), which was almost comical to watch, because it was the games industry equivalent of a twisted love triangle.
Let me explain: one day, Activision decided that it could do better than Brütal Legend, packed up its things and left Brütal Legend wondering what it had done wrong. If you listened closely, you could actually hear Activision muttering something about Brütal Legend being a hard 5, while it considered itself a solid 9, and the laws of teen comedy clearly classify that as an instant no-no. The next day, Brütal Legend met Electronic Arts, and it was love at first sight. In the words of Brütal Legend, it was “definitely not just a rebound, promise promise”. By day three word had crept its way through the grapevine, and Activision found out about Brütal Legend‘s new sweetheart. It grew red with rage, embarrassment and jealousy. Its ability to so rapidly and cheekily snatch up a new cuddle-chum meant that Brütal Legend was now officially a 9.5, while Activision’s failure to maintain its composure saw it drop to a shaky 7. Naturally, it vowed to drive a stake into the heart of the happy couple. Cue drama and shenanigans, and everyone came out the other side looking like a bit of a 3. Except Brütal Legend, who to me will always be a 10. That’s maths for you, kids.
ANYWAY. Even after its launch, Brütal Legend couldn’t break its confusion streak, because everyone was like, “WAIT WHY IS THIS A REAL-TIME STRATEGY?” Apparently some geniuses in marketing decided the RTS genre isn’t sexy enough or something, and so conveniently “forgot” to tell everyone that a significant chunk of Brütal Legend plays an awful lot like a real-time strategy game, presumably hoping nobody would notice. Great job, marketing.
ANY ANYWAY, today, more than six years later, Brütal Legend is still causing some smaller-scale confusion, because I can’t seem to find a review of the game in our old NAG magazine (RIP) archives. Which either means we didn’t review it, or that someone accidentally hit the “delete” button as they hunted for the “archive” button. But! I’m at least 100% (maaaaybe 85%) certain that we definitely maybe reviewed the game. Someone did. I’m 70% sure of it. Wait, did I review it? Did YOU review it, me? I very well might have. But I probably didn’t. I did find this though. It’s awesome.
ANYWAY FOR SERIOUS THIS TIME, about a month ago I played through Brütal Legend again (the updated PC version), and it reminded me just how much I adore Double Fine’s game o’ metal and fire and spiky leather apparel. If you haven’t played it, you really should. I’m going to attempt to tell you why, but bear in mind that a month is practically a lifetime in the mind of Dane, so I’m trying to put into words thoughts based on memories that aren’t necessarily fresh here.
Wait, though. Hang on a minute. Let’s dial back the positivity and rainbows and free cupcakes (!) for a moment so I can tell you what you might not like about Brütal Legend. Mostly, it’s Brütal Legend‘s many different game-y bits that occasionally let it down. By which I mean, it often feels like a game that tries to do too much all at once, and as such it’s not especially good at any of those things. It’s a button-mashing action game with combos, special attacks, dodge-rolls and sweet lightning bolts, and comes complete with fancy cinematic kill-cam thingies. On paper the combat sounds great, but in action it feels a bit wooden, a touch unrefined. It’s an open-world game with a map to explore that’s full of stuff to do, but the “stuff to do” is largely comprised of a fairly short list of activities that, while entertaining, runs the risk of becoming very repetitive, very quickly. It’s a real-time strategy game, but it isn’t nearly as fleshed out or strategically diverse as it could be, and as such it feels too heavily simplified to have any real impact. Don’t get me wrong though: there’s no part of the game that’s “bad”. It all feels completely functional and enjoyable, but I wouldn’t say there’s any game mechanic that Brütal Legend truly excels at.
Erch. That felt gross. It felt gross because I’m honestly not at all bothered by Brütal Legend‘s faults. And just by the way, I actually like the RTS bits – they’re clumsily lovable, and they remind me of Sacrifice. And Sacrifice is lovely. And speaking of things that are lovely and lovable, how’s about that Brütal Legend, ‘ey? Now that we’re back on Optimism Road, I can’t think of many games that can claim to have even a fraction of the amount of personality that Brütal Legend spews from every chromed exhaust manifold (thanks, Google), that explodes again and again with every roar of Eddie Riggs’ magical guitar Clementine. This world that Tim Schafer and the team at Double Fine carved out of rock and lava and bone and heavy metal is intensely fascinating, and I’ve spent my fair share of time tearing around in the Druid Plow just drinking in the game’s atmosphere, meeting its many colourful inhabitants and admiring its unique, inspired environments.
Of course, it helps that the game is driven by outstanding writing and a great crew of characters, with a brilliantly eccentric cast of voice actors giving them life (as do their exaggerated facial animations, which are vividly emotive). Jack Black is especially memorable (and oddly composed) in his hilarious portrayal of protagonist Eddie Riggs, and it makes me happy that his partner-in-rock Kyle Gass also makes an appearance. The unexpectedly excellent performances of rock and heavy metal superstars like Lita Ford, Ozzy Ozbourne and Lemmy Kilmister lend their weight to Brütal Legend‘s musically-fueled persona, as does the extensive soundtrack of excellent tunes that accompany you as you explore the world. Then again, if “The Hard Rocks and Heavy Metals” isn’t your cup of severed toes, you could always, I don’t know, replace it with your own selection of poppy dance music, or some electro, or some… Euro house? Is that what people call it? I actually don’t care. Just bear in mind that cruising through Brütal Legend while listening to such things would be like watching Mad Max: Fury Road with the audio from back-to-back episodes of Dance Moms dubbed over it. Seriously, just don’t do it.
Yowzers, this thing has gone on far longer than I meant it to, even though I’ve purposefully left out a whole heap of stuff you should really discover for yourself. Let’s return to the root of all this. Brütal Legend is fun. Brütal Legend is funny. Brütal Legend is one of the most imaginative games out there, in so many ways. Brütal Legend has a ton of heart, and I’m extremely jealous of the team of people who can count this among the things they’ve worked on. It’s the definition of a flawed gem, and it says a lot that six years later I still think about it weirdly often. Playing this while watching Double Fine Adventure on YouTube (even with all its chaotic ups and downs and WHAT HOW EVEN? moments) reminded me why Tim Schafer and Double Fine are one of my favourite dev studios. They make cool things. And I like cool things.
So yes, I’m excited for Psychonauts 2.
If you’re ready to rock (sorry), you can grab Brütal Legend on Steam, GOG or Humble Bundle for the price of a cheap meal for two (if you buy it on Steam, at least – curse you, rand-dollar exchange rate!). I’m sure it must be available for digital purchase on consoles as well.
Oh, and unless I’ve counted wrong, there are 29 umlauts in this here bit o’ text. Someone call Tim Schafer and tell him I charge by the ‘laut.