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Reviewed by Jason Zingale
ames as original as “Brütal Legend” don’t come around too often because they never sell as well as the critics would hope. Double Fine founder Tim Schafer is more than familiar with that scenario (his 2005 critical darling, “Psychonauts,” was a commercial flop), so this time around, he’s enlisted the talents of Jack Black to help move some units. Those concerned that Schafer may have sold out, however, needn’t worry, because the partnership is about much more than just tapping into the mainstream. Not only was Black one of the many inspirations for the game’s lead character, but he’s also as passionate about heavy metal as Schafer. And as you’ll quickly learn from playing “Brütal Legend,” metal is the lifeblood that pumps through the veins of this wildly creative, flat-out-fun adventure comedy.
The game begins with perhaps the most ingenuous start screen ever created, but to say any more would ruin the fun. From there, you’re introduced to Eddie Riggs (voiced by Black), a veteran roadie for a pop metal band called Kabbage Boy. One night during a gig, Eddie is crushed by a falling piece of the set while saving the band’s guitarist. When his blood drips onto his cursed belt buckle, it awakens Ormagöden the Fire Beast, who kills the members of Kabbage Boy and then transports Eddie to an alternate universe controlled by demons. It’s there that he meets Ophelia, one of the only humans who hasn’t been enslaved, who takes him to meet the leader of the human resistance, Lars Halford. A devoted fan of heavy metal, Eddie instantly feels at home in the Nordic-inspired Bladehenge, so he decides to join the resistance and fight back against its ruler, Lord Doviculus, to free the land.
It’s difficult to classify “Brütal Legend” as a certain type of game because it offers so much variety in the gameplay. There’s open-world adventuring, racing, and even RTS-style battles sprinkled throughout, but the core of the game is based around hack-and-slash action. Equipped with a battle axe called the Separator and your guitar, Clementine, both weapons have two moves (a basic attack and a charged attack), as well as the ability to combine for a ground-pounding Earthshaker. You can also team up with allies for special attacks that do more damage, or just hop into your roadster, The Deuce, and run over enemies or animals instead. It's a pretty barebones vehicle at first, but you'll eventually be able to transform The Deuce into a death machine on wheels.
What makes the game so unique, however, is the magical abilities of your guitar. Okay, so making it shoot lightning bolts and fire is already pretty impressive, but by playing solos (minigames designed like “Guitar Hero” chords), you can also summon heavy duty attacks and perform special tasks that aid you in your journey. In order to play the solos, though, you have to find them first, because they’re hidden on Tab Slabs in different areas of the map. Also waiting for your discovery are Motor Forges, garages that sell new combos and weapon upgrades; Bound Serpents, ancient statues that upgrade attributes; and Artifacts of Legend, tales about the world’s background history.
Another staple of the game are stage battles, which incorporate basic RTS elements like capturing resources, commanding an army, fighting enemy units, and destroying the opposition’s base, while still allowing for Eddie to literally drop into the fight at any time. (Did we mention that Eddie goes all half-demon and sprouts a pair of wings? Well, he does.) It’s a great mash-up of the RTS and hack-and-slash genres, and it’s even more fun in multiplayer where you can play as the human faction, Ironheade, or as one of the two enemy factions, Drowning Doom and Tainted Coil. It’s hardly going to tear up the Xbox LIVE charts, but it's still a nice addition to an already awesome game.
Though the story isn’t terribly original, it is much better than expected thanks to Black’s voice work and some really sharp writing. There are also a few twists and turns along the way, but it’s Shafer’s rich fantasy world that really makes the game such a memorable experience. As mentioned earlier, heavy metal plays a large role in “Brütal Legend,” and it can be seen in everything from the art style to the umlaut in the title. Shafer is clearly a big fan of the music as well, because he’s not only modeled the creatures and structures of Bladehenge after every heavy metal album cover ever created, but he’s also cast industry veterans like Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy, and Rob Halford to play pivotal characters in the story. (Rumor has it that Ronnie James Dio was also tapped to voice Lord Doviculus, but Tim Curry is absolutely priceless in the role.)
Better yet, the soundtrack is jam-packed with over 100 heavy metal songs, and though you might not fancy yourself a fan coming into the game, you’ll be headbanging to every one of them by the time it’s over. Then again, even when you have completed the main campaign, you’ll be itching to head back into Bladehenge to finish every side mission and find every unlockable – not because you have to, but because you want to. That’s how much fun “Brütal Legend” is. It may not embody all the qualities of a typical Game of the Year, but in terms of sheer entertainment value, it’s definitely worthy of the title.