Wot I Think: Brütal Legend

By Alec Meer on March 1st, 2013 at 9:00 pm.

Brütal Legend was Tim Schafer and Double Fine’s follow-up to the cult classic Psychonauts, and tragically denied a PC release. Only now, four years late, it’s suddenly got one. A strange, very hard-to-describe hybrid of hack’n'slash action, real-time strategy and open-world racing/exploring, it’s also an unabashed love letter to the golden age of heavy metal: a tale of a Jack Black-voiced roadie finding himself transported to a fantasy world of demonic tyranny and rock imagery. With a mixed reception on console, will its strategic elements and ramped-up graphics make it a better fit on PC? If you like to gamble, I tell you I’m your man.

It does help to know what you’re in for. On Brütal Legend’s initial console release 41 years ago, the world was rubbing its hands in anticipation for Devil May Cry with a hairy, sweary guy. Now we know full well that Double Fine’s follow-up to Psychonauts is in fact a real-time strategy game of sorts, so it’s hardly a shock when the camera zooms out and twatting hell-beasts on the head with an axe and a guitar plays second fiddle to ordering squads of roadies, fire-breathing cat-bear-things and Lemmys around large, open battleifields. That makes the PC, which it has finally made itself available on, its ideal home, right? Right? It’s… complicated.

I like Brütal Legend a lot. It makes me feel happy, and it makes me feel entirely enthused by two things I normally don’t have much time for, heavy metal and Jack Black. Essentially, I recommend it. But I also feel it’s a failure. While historically that accusation is because it confusingly turns from a hack’n'slash brawler into an RTS about three hours in, that’s not really the problem here. The issue is that Brütal Legend is an idea in search of a game design. In fact, it’s even more nebulous than that: it’s raw enthusiasm in search of a game design. If it was an RTS through and through it might well have been an excellent one which, in its unhinged unit design, soul-feeding and in-battle player perspective, evoked the wonderful Sacrifice.

As it is, the RTS element is just one small, rough-edged part of grasshopper-brained whole, a cavalcade of “wouldn’t it be cool if…” indulgences, few of which are as fleshed out as they really needed to be. It’s a game which oozes pleasant signs of both a lavish budget and unfettered freedom to try out whatever the devs and artists thought would be cool. “Racing bits!” “Turret sections!” “Panthers which fire lasers from their eyes!” “Bits where you can fly!” “An open world!” “God of War stuff!” “Real-time strategy!” Approved, approved, approved, approved, approved, someone in charge decided.

I can respect that, especially in a game whose ethos and personality is basically Andrew WK’s: now it’s time to party and we’ll party hard. This is a game that wants to bearhug you, then turn to the sunset, raise a fist proudly in the air and bellow “let’s go fucking nuts!” at the skies.

I want to go fucking nuts. I’m just not sure that ropey, weightless buggy-driving, RTS army control that doesn’t go any deeper than essentially Everyone Go Over There and a spectacular open world where you die if you touch water and the only thing to do outside of the storyline is cloned minigames offers me the scope to go fucking nuts that it thinks it does. Brütal Legend’s cooks might be wearing awesome leather jackets and playing guitar riffs loud enough to wake the devil, but there are still too damn many of ‘em at the expense of fully fleshing out any particular aspect.

It’s funny, I can see so many similarities to Psychonauts, in that both games are led primarily by their story, art design and characterisation, and essentially force the ‘game’ element to fit into and around those. In any discussion of story in games, many of us tend to call for that – to get the story right first, rather than awkwardly fit it into the gaps after the game is made. In Psychonauts it worked, because it had a solid core of being a (sometimes infuriating) platformer cut from Mario 64′s three-dimensional cloth, and when its story necessitated coming up with something alternative in order to realise its wonderful madness – Lungfishopolis, the Milkman Conspiracy – it was done as wildly inventive and welcome diversion.

Brütal Legend, by contrast, is all diversion, made up only of aspects which probably should have been throwaway but end up taking perhaps undue importance because there isn’t a clear, solid game design at the heart of it all.

It’s not an RTS: there are RTS bits in there, and like the driving elements and the open world aspect those bits just don’t quite stand up on their own. The ever-flipping, ever-spinning buggy you can summon to drive at any point is frequently a headache to control, while its weapons’ unreliable auto-aim rams home that sense of not really being in control. The strategy bits are too badly hampered in the name of making them work on a gamepad, with the opportunity to add much-needed stuff like per-squad control and hotkeys (I know, I know, I’m making RPS a parody of itself) for the PC version sadly not taken. The battles look great and there’s a wide variety of reliably silly, art-staff-gone-wild units, but I quickly found myself dreading the irregular junctures they’d arrive at.

I knew it meant a tiresome grind, flying back and forth from spawnpoint to frontline as your units will only accept orders if you’re next to them at the time, grimly churning up reinforcements with little concern over what type there were, just trying to keep the numbers up during a tiring push’n'pull devoid of any granular control: a war simply of attrition, not strategy.

If you’ll forgive me hitching a ride to cliché city, Brütal Legend is more than the sum of its parts, but that’s only because most of the parts just aren’t that great, so at least combining them dilutes individual failings. The tone, the humour, the character and world design are, and that lifts the whole thing enormously. Even Hollywood’s go-to obnoxious dude, Jack Black, here turns in a surprisingly restrained performance that allows both quickfire, leftfield-meets-rock-bro wit and warm humanity to come through. Perhaps it’s because his character Eddie Riggs, although very much the hero of the piece, is also a roadie – someone who only wants to support the band, not grab the mic themselves, and that tempers Black’s usual stage-hogging excess.

I can appreciate Tim Schafer’s sentiments when he says God of War wasn’t what he wanted to make, but it is odd that that the hacky-slashy aspect of the game is the most fully-formed and with it the most enjoyable. Why kick off with three hours of that stuff, and indeed keep on returning to it, instead of striving harder to make the RTS stuff bloody brilliant, if that was Double Fine’s real intention?

I really like Brütal Legend anyway. It’s so damned enthusiastic, never taking anything seriously, never missing an opportunity for a gag, an absurd sight or a playfully reverential nod to heavy metal tropes. I’ve seen enough game-worlds full of demonic imagery to last a thousand uninspired lifetimes, but Brütal Legend’s reason for including horns and boneyards and flames and black metal isn’t because it thinks it looks all grimdark and ‘mature’ – it’s because it thinks it’s AWESOME. The game’s entire look is predicated on the belief that 80s metal was/is a crazed, anything-goes cartoon, not a tar-black statement of Satanic intent, and by God it’s infectious. I don’t usually feel anything for metal, but when I play Brütal Legend, I bloody love metal to the very pit of my gnarled and jaded soul.

As it pounds and thuds and screeches and bellows, I feel like it’s answering every question I ever had about anything, and afterwards I mourn that it didn’t play a part in my own adolescence, as it did Schafer’s. The game is a love letter to it, in appearance and ethos as much as in its soundtrack. It looks brilliant on PC too – maybe it shows its age a little, but with draw distances, resolution, frame rate and even some textures ramped up significantly from the console versions it’s a widescreen vision of pure, joyful excess. (Controls haven’t benefited quite as much, by the way – it basically works fine on keyboard and mouse, but it feels like it wants a gamepad.)

Every character, be they human, beast or monster, is either a reference to a trope, movement or particular artist, or is that artist: Lemmy and Ozzy make extended, loveable cameos, as do a bunch of other guys I don’t even know the name of but can’t help respecting the hell out of. The game’s usually open, sprawling, epic-scale world is Spinal Tap album covers made flesh, spectacular and spike and apocalyptic and ridiculous, only unlike the Tap it’s not for a second mocking anything. Exaggeration, not accusation. I don’t think even an Up To 11 gag in here, more than likely because that would raise the dread spectre of satire. This isn’t satire. It’s adoration. The car physics might be a mess, but haring around a bone-strewn desert, glam-themed palace grounds or the Dry Ice Mines in my chrome’n'skull’n'fire buggy as Motorhead blare and goth-zombies splatter under my wheels feels perfect. Until I hit a tiny rock and get instantly rotated 180 degrees and hurled to my immediate doom, anyway.

One of my fondest memories is of Kieron and I escaping some irritating peers on a press trip to Canada to meet up with a friend of his – Phonogram readers will know him as Kid-With-Knife – who owned a military jeep and a Sisters of Mercy cassette. We drove around this unfamiliar town at unwise speeds as Andrew Eldritch and co pounded and thudded and screeched and bellowed, and we drove not to go anywhere, only for the pleasure of driving and loud music. People stared, people frowned, we just turned the noise up. At one point, we even had a brief, high-speed escape from police cars because I was illegally sitting in the jeep’s open back without a seatbelt. Pathetic. Brilliant. What Brütal Legend does best is that feeling, of freedom, power, indulgence and party-time, only of course it’s Yank metal rather than Leeds goth. And, y’know, there are fire-breathing monsters and pin-headed hulks with hands the size of buses.

Brütal Legend looks wonderful, and it feels wonderful, but it isn’t quite wonderful, not really. It’s ideas without an anchor and, I am quite sure, were any developer other than Double Fine attempting to stitch these floating fancies together this game would frequently be intolerable. Fortunately it is Double Fine, and the game’s wit, charm and huge personality, both in writing and in visual style, do turn out to be capable bindings for the loose collective of brainstorming within. I like Brütal Legend in spite of Brütal Legend: as I say, it helps to know what you’re in for. Which isn’t an action game or a real-time strategy game, but instead a party. A party where nothing makes a whole lot of sense, some of the booze tastes awful and the power occasionally cuts out, but screw it. PARTY!

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158 Comments »

  1. Brun says:

    it’s raw enthusiasm in search of a game design

    Never was there a more apt and succinct description of everything done by Tim Schafer and Double Fine.

    • AngoraFish says:

      this

    • Xocrates says:

      Of course, this is what makes them one of, if not THE, most interesting developers out there right now.

      Which is kind of sad for a multitude of different reasons.

    • Rikard Peterson says:

      I thought the gameplay in Psychonauts was solid (haven’t played Brutal yet), but I’ve never owned a console, so I admit that I haven’t played that many platformers, and sadly no Mario or Ico. Love Rayman, and have enjoyed some Sands of Time. So if Psychonauts isn’t one of the greats, I’d be interested in learning about what games are (unless your references are console-only).

      (As an aside: I recently asked a similar question on tower defence games, where my main exposure had been Plants vs Zombies, and got recommended Grid Defence: The Awakening. A big thanks to those who recommended that! It’s great.)

      And I’ll always consider Grim Fandango a real masterpiece.

      • Anguy says:

        All the Sonic games are available for PC on Steam and pretty much everywhere else. I’d recommend them but only the older ones (So Sonic 1-3, Sonic CD and Sonic Generations are great, Sonic Adventure 1 and 2 I don’t like that much but they are considered to be great as well, Keep your hands of Sonic 4 though)

        • Rikard Peterson says:

          I got a Sonic pack with a bunch of the old ones a while back, but I don’t think those are games for me. They felt too “hardcore gamer”, if you know what I mean.

          • Suits says:

            I feel like those old Sonic games mostly thrive on nostalgia. (Blast-processing and what not..) Where you used to play each level a dozen times over figuring out all the possible paths and speed running etc. Sonic Generations captures the concept pretty good in a modern package though and it’s a nice starting point for anyone interested. The Adventure games have never been great at any point, just less terrible than ’06 and Shadow the Hedgehog.

        • Sparkasaurusmex says:

          Those are good games but they’re really nothing like Psychonauts. Psychonauts was only slightly short of a masterpiece.

        • Suits says:

          All the “numbered” Sonic games maybe. Around half of the main series isn’t even ported over

      • Lemming says:

        The Psychonauts platforming is just quite fiddly, and it takes a bit of getting used to when you’ve been playing the more refined platformers like Mario Galaxy etc.

      • Urthman says:

        I have no idea what the people who complain about Psychonauts as a 3D platformer are on about. OK, so it’s not quite as good as the best parts of the 3D Mario games. But it’s really good. The controls are tight, the combat is solid and offers a lot of variety with all your powers, general moving around–zipping and bouncing on the psi ball, floating on your psi-chute, slamming to the ground with your psi-hand–feels really fluid, and the level design is utterly fantastic. The last level is a little too hard, maybe.

        And on top of all that you have the stuff that Double Fine usually does well — the imagination and inventiveness, the amusing characters and witty dialogue, the crazy attention to detail (like other platformers, you have hundreds of collectables, except in Psychonauts, every single one of them is unique!, every character and monster has a unique reaction to every single one of your powers). Psychonauts is a real masterpiece, and it still holds up.

      • bill says:

        Psychonauts wasn’t at all bad as a platformer, though it was a bit niggly and it suffered from some of the issues of early-gen 3d platformers that have been smoothed out these days.

        The main issue was that it didn’t give you some of the best moves until later. Once you got some of the jump/roller-ball moves it all became much nicer to roll around.

        The other issue, if you played on PC, was that it just didn’t work with a mouse and keyboard.

        I remember trying it once with M&KB and giving up after 1 or 2 levels. Luckily I tried it a few monthly later with a gamepad, and once I got past those first few levels it got much better.

        • mr.lutze says:

          The first time I played Psychonauts, I used only mouse and keyboard and had no problems with finishing the game. It’s really not that bad, although it’s pretty obvious the game was designed with controller in mind.

          • ulix says:

            As a 3D-Platformer, it wasn’t the game that was designed with a controller in mind, it was the entire genre.

      • Tinarg says:

        If there is a genre where the PC is lacking, it is the 3D Platformer. If you want 3D I can really only recommend “Beyond Good & Evil” and Psychonauts. Other than that there is only Emulation…

        There are plenty of 2D ones that are excellent and I’m not sure what you are looking for, so I will name a few with different styles. All are excellent:
        Super Meat Boy
        Cave Story (Free is the same as plus besides graphics)
        Mark of the Ninja
        La-Mulana
        Braid
        Limbo
        Nikujin
        Rayman Origins
        Gish
        This list could go on and on…

        For Coop check Trine (2)

        • valouris says:

          this man speaks the truth. We need more 3D platformers. I might add Rayman 2 and 3 (although 3 was multiplat) to the list of good 3d platformers on PC, but still, we need more dammit!

          • mouton says:

            Mirror’s Edge, Princes of Persia and Assassins’ Creeds are kind of platformers.

          • chackosan says:

            Assassin’s Creed is more of a ‘point your guy in the right direction and press magic button to do awesome stuff’. It looks great in motion, but it’s missing out on the need to have good timing, which is usually a prequisite for platformers.

          • Tinarg says:

            If you consider AssCreed a Plarformer, you will probably think the Tomb Raider games are platformers too?

          • Suits says:

            All main Rayman games have been multi-platform

          • Teovald says:

            @chackosan : that is a very good critic of AC and my principal problem with this game (I have not tried the last one, but I doubt that has changed).. Both the combats and platforming are pretty much : push this button and look at the baddass things your character do.

          • Baines says:

            Speaking in general terms, I wouldn’t have described PC gaming as interested in 3D platforming. Yes, it was tried in FPS games, but first-person 3D platforming is a bit finicky (and was more so in the past) and often ended up being some of the least favorably remember parts of games that tried it.

            Third-person action 3D platforming seemed to be treated as “console games”. PC developers weren’t actively pursuing it, but neither were PC gamers particularly asking for it.

        • Spakkenkhrist says:

          Spelunky, free and awesome.

          • Tinarg says:

            Absolutely. I don’t know why it’s not on top of my list, as this is one of my alltime favourites.

            Btw, the HD version (sofar XBox360 only) might come out on the PC too.

        • desolation0 says:

          I would actually call Portal a first-person 3D puzzle platformer. The feel is significantly different from the traditional console-centric 3D platformer. Still it is a great game in its own right, whatever you want to call the gameplay.

          I’m glad you mentioned the Indie 2D platformers for PC. I can easily recommend pretty much all the games listed. If someone wants to pick up this style of game, look to the indie bundle deals from various websites. 2D platformers are a fairly regular inclusion, so was Defense Grid a couple times. The folks at http://www.indiegamebundles.com/ do a good job keeping up with the different offers currently available. I set up an rss feed of their active bundles to not miss any.

    • Teovald says:

      Not entirely true. Psychonauts has a pretty awesome game design..
      Its only weakness is the figment collecting part of the game (it is optional though, but games tend to make you OCD about optional missions)

      • Felixader says:

        Well, i would say that i collected all that stuff in the game BECAUSE the worlds were so much fun to look at and walk around in.

        • Teovald says:

          Oh many of the latter worlds were masterpieces and it was genuinely fun to travel in them.
          But secondary quests would have been just as good reasons to explore them thoroughly, figments were just playing on my OCD.
          One good thing to say about them is that since they are numbered, you can always look up their position on the net if you don’t want to spend 2 hours looking for that last one.

    • MikoSquiz says:

      I can’t help thinking they’d be best off sticking to making fantastic pure adventure games until they can hire someone who’s got the hang of gameplay design – not counting item puzzle design, that goes under “writing” – I mean the actual nitty gritty of creating and tweaking mechanics starting with polishing the feel of moving the main character around until it gleams.

      They’re the video game software house with the most and coolest stuff to hang on their tree. They just need a tree.

    • Douglas_Taylor says:

      what Catherine explained I’m startled that a single mom able to profit $4457 in 4 weeks on the computer. have you seen this link… http://tinyurl.com/vcbppre

  2. domogrue says:

    What a brutal assessment of this legendary game.

    • Treymoney says:

      Sounds like this might not be the game that puts Double Fine in the black, Jack.

    • Silverfell says:

      Not really. It’s quite fair. I was so very excited when this came out on Xbox, couldn’t wait.

      I played it and marvelled, and giggled through the jokes and cameos. Once the story was done, though, I dropped it like a stone. The gameplay really doesn’t shine, and the game works best as a series of gags, and less as an actual… gaming experience.

      That said, if you want to go through it for the characters alone, and don’t expect too much from the gameplay, you’re going to have a blast. Ozzy, Lemmy, Halford… the cast is amazing, and the characters truly unforgettable.

    • ResonanceCascade says:

      This is what happens when publishers metal with a developer’s game design.

    • Swanny says:

      Happy to see a Wot I Think of greatest and best game in the world, but it didn’t play anything like this game.

  3. KDR_11k says:

    I wonder what the RTS aspect is like if put under close scrutiny. AIs usually aren’t very good at that stuff and rarely demand that you play well.

    • Xocrates says:

      While I haven’t played the Multiplayer yet, so I can’t give an acessment regarding balance, I was actually pleasantly surprised by how good the RTS component actually is.

      While the lack (or more precisely, the clunky) individual unit control harms it considerably, things like unit composition, and resource management, are still important. Add in the double-teams and solos and you actually end up with a surprisingly deep RTS-lite.

      Quite frankly, in many ways, the RTS component feels better than Sacrifice (which while amazing, people keep forgetting it’s a VERY flawed RTS)

    • lowprices says:

      I enjoyed the RTS bits, but only because they are simplistic enough for my RTS-phobic brain to cope with. There are only two real orders: EVERYONE GO OVER THERE, and MORE GUYS, PLEASE. Not enough depth to stand on its own, but still fun.

  4. Tei says:

    I only played a few hours, but I am surprised by great scenarios (no pun intended) and musical ambition of the whole thing. It really feels like a travel to hell and back. Is probably the master piece of Double Fine, superior to all the other games that DF has made. It seems enormously popular on the consoles, for good reasons. If double fine where a country, Brutal Legend would be the capital city.

    I am really happy is now on the PC. Now we can somehow replace some music with Lady Gaga sounds.

    • Phantoon says:

      I’ve never been able to figure out what country you’re from.

      Now I’ve figured it out. You’re from the moon.

      • lijenstina says:

        He is from a pebble that orbits an another pebble that orbits a small ball of gas in the infinite void of the Universe.

    • SkittleDiddler says:

      I heard that Lady Gaga is making a video game. It’s going to be called Ms. Space Cadet and her Loony Fans.

    • Teovald says:

      I have spend 2 evenings on that game, I have to say I had an absolute blast.
      Not everything works, many side missions are pretty weak. The races especially switch between very easy and very frustrating.
      The story is awesome so far. I have next to zero knowledge of metal, but now I want to buy a dozen albums. It is also one of the rare occasions where I stop playing to rave at the creativity and beauty of the landscape.

  5. Phantoon says:

    I wasn’t a fan of Jack Black, especially because of his love of starring in dumb things, until I saw Bernie. Go see Bernie. He does a terrific job in it.

    • SMiD says:

      God yes. Seconded. Bernie was great; Jack Black was absolutely terrific.

    • PopeRatzo says:

      Absolutely.

      When he sings “Beautiful Dreamer”, I had such a complex reaction. Part admiration of the sheer beauty and sincerity in his rendition and part revulsion and curiosity about the choices.

      I look at Jack Black differently since seeing that movie. Also a wonderful piece of work by Richard Linklater.

      • TaroYamada says:

        I love Jack Black, I don’t think he’s uproaring hilarious but I love his spirit. He’s great in Bernie but you guys are selling him short. I also like the first Tenacious D album (never listened to the second) and he was also good in High Fidelity, Tropic Thunder and King Kong (though that last one in particular is your typical hollywood blockbuster, so expectations should be lowered). Another movie he stars in is harshly judged by audiences it wasn’t really intended for; School of Rock, which frankly, is an excellent children’s movie. It’s not The Goonies or Big but if you have kids, it has more respect for a child’s intellect than the vast majority of crap produced for children nowadays.

        He’s been well received in all of those movies by critics as well, so I know I’m not going insane.

        Edit: I should mention, School of Rock came out when I was 11. It introduced me to a shit-ton of music I had never heard before. Before that movie came out I literally thought I didn’t like or care for music because all I heard on my sister’s radio was shit-tastic pop/rap, which entirely disinterested me. That movie created my interest in bands like the Ramones, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Cream, The Doors, The Darkness, The Black Keys and T. Rex.

        • Werthead says:

          I like Jack Black, but I think his movies can veer off into lazy overreliance on weed jokes and swearing way too easily. That’s what ruined the Tenacious D movie for me (though I really liked their first and third albums, and the second is okay).

          SCHOOL OF ROCK, being for kids, of course couldn’t feature those things. It had to rely on a genuinely funny script and a really good performance by Black, and they both delivered in spades. Probably my favourite Black movie and the bit with the Immigrant Song probably my favourite moment; the bit on the special features where Black gets 500 people on camera to beg Led Zep for permission to use it is also brilliant.

          Anyone seen MARGOT AT THE WEDDING? Caught a trailer for it on a DVD the other day and Black looked reasonably understated in it. But I was suspicious as it was a film I’d never heard of, and reviews seem mixed.

        • derbefrier says:

          Yeah I am a pretty big tenacious d fan. Even saw them in concert a few months ago. It was a fun show and those guys are awesome musicians . Jacks movies are hit and miss some are pretty decent while others suck. But I think a lot of people only see his moviesz a lot of wich aren’t that great and don’t realize how talented he really is. I was like that untill a roommate brought home the tenacious.d master works DVD. Some good stuff there.

      • Jenks says:

        I had the same reaction to his musical number in Run Ronnie Run

    • Aerothorn says:

      Margot at the Wedding.

      • Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

        Shaka, when the walls fell.

        • Gap Gen says:

          Colonel Mustard, in the sitting room, with a hand grenade.

          Oh, idle question: how did the people in that game not immediately figure out where the murder was? Unless the killer is supposed to have lugged the corpse to another location as a misdirect.

          • SuperNashwanPower says:

            Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra

          • Durkonkell says:

            He just kept talking in one loong incredibly unbroken sentence moving from topic to topic so that no one had a chance to interrupt it was really quite hypnotic.

            What do you mean, it’s not as catchy as “Shaka, when the walls fell”?

            Uh… The first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth! Whether personal truth or… or those other kinds of truth. Um. The line must be drawn here! Something about chaining us all irrevocably! You’ll have to call again! Bah.

            (Interestingly, a Tamarian might use the phrase “Shaka, when the walls fell” to describe this very post).

    • Hypocee says:

      Luv ‘im, though I totally acknowledge that there’s a lot of his work to avoid. Guy’s got bills, man!

      In addition to the serious stuff others mentioned, I dig his schtick in The Jackal and Tenacious D is sporadically great high-concept humour (One Note Song, Karate, Wonderboy, Drive-Through, Tribute). I also couldn’t avoid seeing bits of The Big Year and though the film’s a howling atrocity, JB pulls out all the tolerable bits, selling this meek birding enthusiast who convincingly loves what he’s doing.

  6. nimzy says:

    I give this review one ümlaüt out of 15. It’s the least I coüld do.

  7. Shakes999 says:

    Only played the demo, I was disappointed about the inital reviews but I love Metal too much not to play it. Especially at the new price point and being on PC and everything.

    • str4 says:

      That’s how I feel. I didn’t love the demo… but I love metal. Angel Witch? 3 Inches of Blood? It’s calling to me. I want it despite the flaws I know I’ll find.

  8. dftaylor says:

    The conceit got thin very fast for me, so all that was left was an occasionally amusing, but utterly half-assed mish-mash of styles. I often love waifs and strays in games (like Dark Sector, which I replayed a whole bunch of times), but BL was just smug self-indulgence.

    When I got to the RTS, I just gave up. I don’t like RTS games, especially not sloppily designed ones that (as the review above puts it) are just resource management and then “click to kill”.

    It’s nice that Double Fine tries new ideas, it’s just a shame they don’t build a game that I’d like to play underneath.

  9. Iceman346 says:

    Having played through the game on the 360 and doing it again on the PC currently I have to say that I agree with this review 100%. Brütal Legend has flaws everywhere and the gameplay never quite feels right or really fun. But then you turn a corner and there is a 15 meter stone axe embedded in the ground or a 10 story high anvil with burning lava coming from the side. The whole game is just completely bonkers in a endearing way and a joy for every metal fan out there.

    It’s an acquired taste which will certainly not please everyone but metalheads NEED to play this game.

  10. Kreeth says:

    “I knew it meant a tiresome grind, flying back and forth from spawnpoint to frontline as your units will only accept orders if you’re next to them at the time”

    You didn’t find the “set spawnpoint” solo then? Or “rally”? I can see the RTS bits getting very annoying without them if that’s the case.

    I’m really enjoying it. Haven’t listened to metal in years and years, but it’s hard not to be enthused by the love for the genre on display.

    The stage battles I just tend to get everyone to come with me, team up a lot and keep busting out solos to keep em all buffed/together etc. I’m enjoying it as a brawler with a bunch of AI teammates rather than an RTS really. Seems a better way to play it than trying to treat it as a real RTS.

    • Quickpull says:

      1) Game Starts
      2) Summon your Rally Flag
      3) Walk up to the flag and pick it up
      4) All new units will come directly to you when they spawn
      5) If you die, repeat 2-4

      It pained me to read about him running back and forth like that, I created this account just to ease his pain.

      • Kreeth says:

        You…

        You can pick it up?

        Wow. That’ll save me a lot of solos…

        • Xocrates says:

          Yeah, the game is great, but does a crap job at explaining a lot of mechanics. I only found out you could upgrade the basic troops in the last mission, and didn’t find out you could double-team with the stage until after finishing the game.

        • Serpok says:

          “A lot of solos”?

          In all “RTS” mini-games I used this banner only once or twice, first one next to a first fangeiser, and second time – close to enemy’s scene/gate.

    • KenTWOu says:

      I knew it meant a tiresome grind, flying back and forth from spawnpoint to frontline as your units will only accept orders if you’re next to them at the time

      Clearly, this is ‘you’re playing something wrong’ case! :D

  11. amateurviking says:

    It’s called ‘Lick My Lovepump’

  12. Rotteredder says:

    Lemmy’s in it, that’s enough reason for me to buy this game!

    • Kreeth says:

      The cast would be impressive if it was just for the names involved, but that they pretty much all turn in an excellent job with the voice acting is amazing. Lita Ford is fantastic, and Rob Halford screaming away in the Lionwhyte battles was tremendous as well.

  13. webwielder says:

    More evidence for my theory that Tim Shaffer would be better suited to making movies and cartoons than making games.

    • MeestaNob says:

      No, I think he needs to to transition to being a creative consultant or something, and leave the Game Design (TM) to others. His work of late strikes me as more suited to being a ‘finishing touches’ kind of guy, rather than the core designer.

      • The Random One says:

        If the Double Fine Adventure Game documentary is to be believed, (and I’m not saying it is), then Tim has done just that lately – instead of being the in-your-face ideas guy he’s sitting back and doing a job more akin to counceling and management.

        • webwielder says:

          Which would explain why Stacking and Costume Quest have better gameplay than Brutal Legend, Psychonauts, Grim Fandango, etc., but less personality and humor.

          • Ignorant Texan says:

            Well, the idea for the the puzzle in Stacking you solve by urinating had to come from someone. As did the farting.

          • Patches the Hyena says:

            I’d like to see a game with more charm and humour than Stacking.

  14. MeestaNob says:

    It should be noted that on the Steam hub page, there is an ongoing discussion thread in which a few Double Fine staff are diligently attending to peoples concerns and daily patches are coming out that address the core issues, such as video performance and interface glitches.

    The game really needed one more week of (double) fine-tuning, however for the price and due to the amount of support they have already given, it can be forgiven.

    Above average video game, exceptionally lovable game.

  15. maximiZe says:

    Not a single word on the shamelessly bad port? I thought this was a PC site.

    • The_B says:

      I feel both that you didn’t read the paragraphs specifically addressing the PC version, and I also feel you may not have inferred from said paragraphs that Alec did not have many issues with the port?

      • maximiZe says:

        That’s highly unlikely.

        • Grape says:

          Highly, highly, highly unlikely.

          • OfficerMeatbeef says:

            Depends on which days he played it on really. They’ve been patching pretty much daily and as of the last update or two it’s been very smooth. Before that it varied depending on what was being tinkered with, but the game has always been playable since release on my system, though updates have cleared up many niggling issues and smoothed out performance wonderfully.

    • Lagwolf says:

      Yes sounds great, looks great, plays like crap…. another rubbish console port. And I don’t give a damn if it works “fine” using a controller. If I wanted to play with a bloody controller I would have an Xbox or PS3 you dolts!

      • yourgrandma says:

        I hope you’re kidding… i have been using controllers for pc gaming for more then a decade. Get your head out of your ass and get a controller, some games just play better with one.

        • Harlander says:

          Remember when you had to plug your joystick/gamepad into the sound card’s godawful joystick port?

          Those were the days, my friends

          • jrodman says:

            I liked the part where your controls would get screwed up if the CPU was busy for a bit.

          • SuperNashwanPower says:

            I was an amiga / c64 user, so it was joysticks for most of my gaming career. Amiga eased me into mouse and keyboard for certain games though, like Thunderhawk (Attack Chopper ‘sim’)

            Joysticks. One button, one stick. GO AND JOY.

        • Stellar Duck says:

          I have a controller. I don’t use it. I don’t like playing with less precision. It is a sucky device for doing stuff with. Lagwolf is right. If I wanted to play with a controller I’d be playing this on my 360 or PS3. The PC is where I play to avoid terrible controls so saying I should use my controller here defeats the point.

          Aside from that, aside from Euro Truck Sim 2 I’ve yet to find a game that plays better with a controller. Most recently I played through AssCreed BroHo again and tested out the controller. It blew. Needing to use might right thumb to look around means I can’t use the face buttons while looking around. Or it means I can’t look around while sprinting. It’s bad. It’s as simple as that.

          • SkittleDiddler says:

            The Batman Arkham games play better with a gamepad. Using a keyboard and mouse in those games is a chore.

            If you have problems with gamepads, you could always turn aim assist on. I have a feeling a gamer like you would consider that a crime punishable by death though. Personally, I don’t give a shit.

          • SuperNashwanPower says:

            3rd persony games like Dark Souls / Darksiders etc definitely work better with a gamepad for me. FPS though utterly sucks balls, feels like getting back on my childhood old Noddy Ride-On (good job small children have no sense of innuendo) after driving a car.

          • Asurmen says:

            In what waywere they a chore? I played Asylum on Xbox and City of PC and they played the same in my head :( I’m generally interested in how you thought they differed.

          • Stellar Duck says:

            Turning on aim assist doesn’t solve the problem that it feels like playing with oven mits on. Aside from my misgivings on aim assist as being boring, it doesn’t do anything to solve the inherent sluggishnes of controllers and the bad implementation of looking around.

            Aside from that, I played both Batman games on MB+K and had zero issues at any point. I played part of the first on PS3 and didn’t like the less precise control. Again, a controller feels like another layer between me and the game that removes tons of control and adds sluggish frustration. Just turning the camera is a damn chore.

            As for Dark Souls, yes, that works, arguably, better with a controller but not because on any inherent properties of the controller but because the MB+K implementation is cack handed to a degree that still baffles me.

          • Josh W says:

            Dark souls uses the natural sluggishness of the controller to it’s advantage, mapping the analog stick sensitivity to details about your character’s manoeuvrability, whereas adding that in to the pc is like putting one of those rpg expanding reticules onto the camera movement itself, which comes across as hobbling itself for no reason.

  16. PopeRatzo says:

    It sounds wonderful. Even the bad parts sound wonderful.

    High energy and high spirits in game design are crucial. Many a AAA game (Crysis 3) lose out because nobody on the development team was excited and having fun.

    • SuperNashwanPower says:

      Thank you for your input. As a result of your customer feedback, we have now implemented scheduled mandatory Fun Breaks at our company, which are cost effective solutions implementing Party Blower and Paper Hat (TM) technologies. All employees now look forward to and value the opportunity to interact with these technologies at contract-stipulated intervals in their individual Content Generation Cubicles.

      To ensure that quality fun levels are maintained, those who do not score adequately on daily fun-o-metrics are to be sent on a half-day Joy Orientation Course, delivered by expert instructors from the Barney The Dinosaur Institute of Utopian Sciences. Disciplinary action may be sought only in those that ardently refuse to let go of reality.

      We appreciate your input and hope you will remain our loyal customer.
      Bob, Community Dissent Mitigation Oberleutnant
      ProductShifter Studios

  17. The_B says:

    I may be wrong – I’m going on fading memories of the console version here – and I apologise that I am also being an awful pedant but:

    I think there is indeed a subtle “up to 11″ joke in there – I think the in-game volume controls (or at least one of the settings) go up to 11.

    • Xocrates says:

      Just checked, all the options seem to be sliders with no numbers attached.

      • The_B says:

        Fair. I could’ve sworn there’s some really subtle nod in there, but as I say it’s been a while so I could well be misremembering it and it has been a while – I let my brother borrow my copy of the game on 360 years ago, and then got a phone call from him about six months later telling me he’d traded it in thinking it was his. And I’d only just bought the DLC at the time as well.

        Even if the joke is overused, it seems weird if they don’t have that in somewhere though.

    • Magnusm1 says:

      I think both Burnout Paradise’s and Guitar Hero’s volume sliders went to 11.

  18. Moni says:

    It’s the game’s world alone that I love. I didn’t really get along with the gameplay at all, but Double Fine have made one of those worlds that I just start to imagine living in. It’s an amazing piece of fantasy.

  19. Magnusm1 says:

    I want to make this clear:
    This game is very good.
    If you don’t like the RTS-segments, you are probably actively avoiding fun, or you are just playing it the wrong way. You are supposed to give your dudes some general directions, and then lead the charge.
    Then maybe pop back up in the air again, call for backup, and then back to the action.

    • Dominic White says:

      Yeah, if you play the stage battles like a strategy game, you will not only make things really hard for yourself, but enjoy the game a ton less.

      Just get a bunch of dudes and dudettes together, give the order to charge and lead from the front. In the campaign this works 100% of the time, even on Hard mode. In multiplayer and skirmish, still works most of the time.

      If you try to play Brutal Legend like a strategy game, it sucks. If you play it like Brutal Legend, it works great.

      • Lemming says:

        Sadly, playing like that only exposes the sub-par design of that part of the game. What’s the point in having all the different units if that’s the only strategy that works?

        • Grape says:

          Sadly, playing like that only exposes the sub-par design of that part of the game. What’s the point in having all the different units if that’s the only strategy that works?

          Double Team-attacks.

        • OfficerMeatbeef says:

          Why build anything but Zerglings? You can just win by rushing them!

          Well, yeah but not against anyone competent. Moreover, correct unit selection is still necessary for victory (appropriate counters, powerful doubleteams) and it is not the “only way to win” either.

      • SeismicRend says:

        How would you compare gameplay once all the elements have been introduced to Mount & Blade: Warband? Is that a better comparison than the ‘RTS’ label?

  20. Vagrant says:

    I was not a fan of the RTS bits, but more than that, I just thought that the world design went from ‘most amazing ever’ in the first area, to ‘boring’ in the snow area, finishing up in ‘repetitive & confusing to navigate’ in the final 2 areas.

    What’s worse, you’re mostly banned from returning to the amazing first area once you reach a certain point. Which is sad, because the pinnacle of the game is just driving around zone 1 banging your heat to awesome music.

  21. JimmyWild says:

    I think i did myself a disservice by not playing this when it came out. I’ll pick it up on Steam, if only to support Double Fine. But i think with the right expectations, thanks to RPS and the responses, i can have a blast and just rock out! :)

  22. Shadrach says:

    “I don’t usually feel anything for metal, but when I play Brütal Legend, I bloody love metal to the very pit of my gnarled and jaded soul.”

    This, so very much this, for me. Played it first on PS3, it looks so much better on PC. Play on easy, breeze through the crap RTS bits and just enjoy the world and the music.

  23. Lemming says:

    I agree with everything in this review, and I really would’ve liked to see the game live up to its potential

  24. Continuum says:

    Yep, the review is spot on. But it should be stressed that in spite of the crappy RTS sections, you should absolutely buy and play this game if it seems the least bit appealing. Yes, the car control is crappy. Yes, the RTS has terrible controls and largely fails as RTS.

    It doesn’t matter. The hack’n'slash bits work well, the art is fantastic, the voice acting is great, and this game will make you love metal. It’s just awesome. Personally, I’d be perfectly happy with it completely forgoing the RTS sections, and it’s a shame that they aren’t optimized for PC (the console controls for RTS work about as well as you might expect – poorly), but that isn’t enough to ruin the game. And bombing around the metal-ified world in the car is awesome, even if you run in to things a lot.

    I was so disappointed when I heard there wouldn’t be a sequel. This game holds a treasured place in my “will not sell” block of PS3 games, and I’m contemplating buying it for the PC just to try to encourage the slim possibility of a sequel. Please, if it appeals to you at all… buy it!

  25. tobecooper says:

    The best part about Brutal Legend coverage in here are all the little metal quotations. Nathan was magnificently laying the metal eggs in various places and the glory continues here.

    If my black heart was capable of lovin’, I’d love you all. But you have to remember Alec – the pleasure is to play, it makes no difference what you say.

  26. aliasi says:

    Like Tim hisself said, Brutal Legend draws far more on the Herzog Zwei school of ‘RTSness”, not the Warcraft/Starcraft school. I’d like to think with the presence of MOBA games like Defense of the Ancients or League of Legends, it’d be easier to ‘get’ Brutal Legend’s gameplay since they have a similar ‘fine control of your units isn’t important, but having units with you IS important because you’ll die horribly by yourself’.

    I admit hiding some of the really good quality of life commands on the various monuments is a bit of a pisser. You don’t have to keep running back to the stage to give commands thanks to the rally flag and the ‘everyone over here!’ solo, but they aren’t introduced in the storyline and it’s quite possible to miss the monuments even though they’re right by places you have to go to in the story campaign.

  27. OfficerMeatbeef says:

    A great, fair review and I totally align with nearly all of it, certainly when I originally played through the game. Though I never minded the car controls at all; it always felt to me just like how a heavy, rad hotrod should handle. Kind of a cool bit of trivia: actually just found out yesterday that all the vehicles are purely Havok physics-based, which includes modelling gearboxes that needed to be working or the bigger vehicles couldn’t climb hills.

    It was only later, after finishing the game and still being so enthused from the sheer charm and metalness of it that I didn’t want to leave it yet, that I started to dig in and truly understand and enjoy what is actually the heart of the game’s design: those RTS battles.

    Knowing what I know now, I feel the greatest failing of BL is not the gameplay design, but more accurately its very poor messaging of said design, though some of this can also be blamed on our nature of bringing our own expectations and biases of what a game is trying to be or do when we see it has strong elements of a particular genre. This was a big problem on its initial release, but it clearly persists here as although Alec was keenly aware of the RTS gameplay going in, the game still doesn’t communicate how important (or indeed unimportant) many of its mechanics are to that design.

    The complaint of “constantly having to fly from spawnpoint to frontline” to pick up units, for example, immediately shows that Alec was unaware of the use of both the “Rally” solo and the use of the Rally Flag, two essential elements of the gameplay that avoid just that sort of back-and-forth frustration. In a similar vein, the trappings of what we all think of when we hear “RTS” leads to expectations for things like “per-squad control” (which you can actually do in a limited fashion) or grouping hotkeys, despite the game specifically being designed to not require these elements not just because it’s on a console but because it’s just not necessary for the game they’ve made.

    However, it needs to be made clear that is in indeed the game’s fault, not Alec’s, for not solidly communicating these mechanics. In many ways it reminds me of playing Warcraft 2 back when I was young, not really knowing the concept of counters and making the simple assumption that most expensive unit=best, then throwing them at the enemy until I won.

    With BL, like most any RTS game, you can always win by sheer resource dominance and attrition, but fun strategic play is not about microing multiple groups of units around but instead composing a smart army with units that properly counter what your enemy is pulling out, and then using that “hacky-slashy” stuff & the double-team abilities of your units to crush the enemies. Like Men of War, this is a game that has strong RPS trappings but is really about your own direct control and actions that determine wins; sending off more than an extra group or two for special operations or distractions is counter-productive because you yourself are the strongest, deciding unit of the game.

    Anyway here’s loveable curmudgeon Tom Chick saying all this and more better than I probably can.

    • Ignorant Texan says:

      OfficerMeatbeef -

      Thank you for saying well, what I’ve been racking my brains attempting to organize in a way that doesn’t come across as complete incoherence. And props for the Tom Chick link.

      All I’d add is that the game is takes place in an open-world, and that interesting bits to explore are, well, sign-posted by GINORMOUS landscape features. I took the first hot-rod upgrade as a hint to explore. Eddie does tell you there is something worth finding when you/he are/is close to it, the Tour Book tells you which units are upgradeable and you are given the same information as Eddie is, with occasional prompts to consider using a skill/ability. I think perhaps DF gave players too much credit for being able to figure things out for themselves.The initial game menu is a bit of design genius and the choices in the prologue are handled brilliantly. I do wonder how it takes people 3 hours to get to the RTS bit, for it is introduced in the second mission

      A flawed gem? Perhaps, but I’ll take that over a perfect rhinestone any day.

    • SurprisedMan says:

      Totally agreed with all of that. Especially about the Rally Flags. It was about the time I figured out (through chance) how to use the rally flags well that the whole of the RTS segment clicked and I didn’t find them at all frustrating from that point. But then that made me wonder why the game didn’t make it clear enough that knowing these tactics was so important. And it was disheartening at the time to see Tim Schafer saying ‘you’re playing it wrong’ when the game itself didn’t explain how to play it.

      I get a feeling if I stood behind someone after they picked up the rally flag solo, and gave them a crash course in rally-flagging, they’d give the RTS segments much more of a chance. But sadly many people just don’t get to that point, or get frustrated on the way to that point, and that’s the game’s biggest failing.

  28. Slade says:

    Brütal Legend’s initial console release 41 years ago, the world was rubbing its hands in anticipation for Devil May Cry

    Was the game intended to be sold on a record ?

  29. Shadowcat says:

    I don’t even understand why anyone would want this on PC.

    It’s really an action game, that when you play it you’ll see that it was meant to be on a console.

    • SkittleDiddler says:

      Derp.

    • PikaBot says:

      Possibly because I would like to play it and do not possess the consoles it was released on.

    • zeekthegeek says:

      There’s this new invention that’s only been around for roughly 20 years called a game pad wot plugs into a PC. I know, it’s bizarre.

      • Dominic White says:

        For the love of god, don’t say that around here! It’s like the mating call of the miserable, fun-hating PC grognard, a breed that apparently gorged themselves on Microprose simulations in the 90s, then hibernated until the present in order to tell us that nobody has ever used gamepads, nor would want to.

    • Shadowcat says:

      Perhaps I should go back and edit in the missing quotation marks and the ‘– Tim Schafer’ attribution to that quote.

      I really wish I’d gotten in earlier with this, as it might have generated a few more responses. I just find it slightly surreal that in all the recent articles about Brütal Legend on PC (both here and elsewhere), I’ve not seen a single reference to Schafer’s original dismissal of the platform when this game came out. I’m sure there must be some discussion on it somewhere, but it’s fairly bizarre that there’s not more of it.

  30. Jackablade says:

    For an amusing and not, from memory, clearly documented diversion, you can ride on all of the non humanoid enemies, even the big guillotine monster thing. For the most part it’s not really more practical than driving the Bonewagon or using your weapons to fight, but in a game that’s rather more style than substance, thundering about on a Mighty Hextadon, or tearing across the landscape on a Razorfire Boar are pretty damn stylish.

  31. Patches the Hyena says:

    My rating for Brütal Legend is 8.5/11.

  32. FurryLippedSquid says:

    Why is there an umlaut? Is it in respect of some heavy metal link I’ve missed?

  33. Rao Dao Zao says:

    Now I hope this paves the way for a 80s synthpop/new wave equivalent. Kraftwerk and OMD are surely fertile ground for some kind of sci-fi…

  34. pestilencemage says:

    The game IS very much more then the sum of it’s parts. But that seems to be by design. He harks on how no single element seems fully realised to compete in that one area’s competition… but why would they even TRY to do that? Why challenge the pros of a single genre with such a silly concept to draw, when you can put a decent addition to… I count 4 types of games at least… and jam them into one game so darn well! I call this game fantastic. A game with such an odd concept should not be trying to push the boundries of a single genre to begin with (at least not by conventional means).
    He seems to like the hack/slash sections and loath the RTS parts… I had the opposite opinion. He did not seem to grasp the controls as he claimed there was no individual control… but there is. Also, if you bothered to play the solo that summons your rally flag at the start of the battle, then pick it up… All units produced will come to you and join the hoard. I RARELY left the ground in the RTS sections. The auther here would get run over in a multiplayer match with no real chance for victory until he learns how the controls really work. I don’t think he played enough of the single player, or slept through the lessons taught.
    Though it was not the first to add the commander as a unit in a RTS (Perhapse sacrifice or Giants: citizen kobuto might have that honor) they did it better then any before it with the double team feature. I like that the coil use hiararchy units, makes them alittle less cookie cutter as a team.
    I wouldnt say this game is for everyone. It takes a light heart, and a love for games that do not follow the “copy some other game and try to add something insignificant that makes it technicly better” approach to game developement. Though “unique” may not be the best word as they seem to have chopped off pieces of those other games and magicly crammed them into one… I dont think anyone WILL ever cram so many game types together as well as they have. And the crazy story and world are just a great cherry on the top, reminding you to not take it so darn seriously.

  35. Teovald says:

    I have just finished this game.
    STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING AND GO PLAY BRUTAL LEGEND !!!
    It is a flawed masterpiece. None of the various gameplays (rts, hack & slash, racing, exploration, ..) of BL are perfect but they form a pretty unique and compelling game. The lore is second to none, all game writers should be subjected to BL while screaming at them “see, that’s how it is done!”, it avoids the stupidest gaming tropes brillantly. It goes in a lot of direction, it is a bit frustrating to see that with a little more polish, many of the parts of this game would be 10 times better but the experience is worth enduring its defaults.

  36. OfficerMeatbeef says:

    So are there plans to ever do a Wot I Think for the multiplayer of this? Though the review is very reasoned when it comes to the campaign, it’s rather troubling that the multiplayer is not given even the slightest passing mention at all, as it was actually the original focus of the game design and the campaign basically acts in many ways as an extended tutorial for it. Not speaking on the multi is a bit like only reviewing the single player campaign for Starcraft or something.

    I know RPS likes to split SP and MP reviews for some titles but this one is certainly not presented as such, it just seems to ignore that MP exists at all.

  37. Meats_Of_Evil says:

    Man Its been hours since I started playing this game and I completely agree with this review. I’m trying to love this game so much but the clunky gameplay is making it hard for me. I also think this game has some problems with 16:10 aspect ratios, the FOV looks too weird, even with the adjustments on the sliders this game looks kind of stretched horizontally, I still can’t get used to it and the damn camera makes playing this game dizzying for me.

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