By Matt Carey
You know you are getting old when you realise you are turning into your Dad. When the hair starts disappearing from your head and growing out of your ears, when documentaries on the Yesterday channel appeal to you, and when you start berating kids playing football in the street – even though you yourself did the same thing – you know that you are edging eve closer to feeding the worms. But worse than all this, and the biggest tell tale sign, is when you realise that you just don’t understand modern music, can’t make out what they are saying, and describe it as just “random noise”.
Not all modern music is bad though. A lot is, but not all. My biggest problem with music is that Heavy Metal died in the early nineties. Sure, rock has remained, and been fantastic on occasion, but honest, misogynistic, death loving, growling, sweaty Heavy Metal has been on the mortuary slab for a long, long time. See, I grew up on Heavy Metal. My first gig was Faith No More, and I was there on Bruce Dickinson’s last tour with Iron Maiden before he went off to become a pilot. I owned the leather and denim jacket combo, emblazoned with patches and buttons. And yes, I had long hair too.
I thought I would mention all this so you would know, dear reader, that I mean what I say when I tell you the Brutal Legend is fantastic. It is the game that every man with receding hair, large mortgages, 2.4 children and nagging wives has waited for. The game that takes us straight back to our youth and reminds us of sweating copiously in mosh pits and waking the following morning with necks aching from excessive head-banging.
Before I tell you about the game proper, I must mention the opening sequence leading to what is quite simply the greatest game menu of all time. Upon starting, we find Jack Black stood on a street. This makes sense as he does voice the games’ main character, as well as provide his facial animations. Jack takes us into a record store, informing us of something so awesome we simply have to see it. After some searching he pulls out a record, asks if we are ready, and places said LP down on the counter. The record is the menu. The cover says “press start” and upon doing so, Jack opens up the record. The inside sleeve, the back and the record itself all provide various parts of the menu, with Jack himself manoeuvring you to each segment. Yes, I know. It’s only a menu. However, it is so well thought out, presented and original, you cannot fail to be impressed.
Jack himself plays the lead character; a good, old fashioned Heavy Metal roadie by the name of Eddie Riggs. Eddie, his name an amalgamation of the names of both the Iron Maiden mascot and the man who created him, is a good, old fashioned roadie. Always with cigarette dangling off bottom lip, and happy to make sure the instruments are in perfect working order so that they may deliver the message of Rock unto the world. Unfortunately, as he endeavours to save the life of one of the band, the stage collapses on him. As you would expect, when his blood combines with his weird metal ring, a large metallic fire breathing demon appears from within the bowels of the stage and drags him straight off to an alternate universe. Because that always happens.
The story, as you may have gathered, is utterly bonkers. The world which you now find yourself in is based entirely on ten million heavy metal album covers. The beast that drags you off into this land looks to be inspired by a Motorhead album sleeve, for example. There are skulls, weird creatures, guitars, amps and stage lighting littering the landscape, along with other less recognisable structures. Some are decorative, some have function, such as the doors which lead to the fiery depths of hell.
The aforementioned portal, once traversed, leads you to one of the many cameo appearances in this game, namely Ozzy Osbourne, appearing here as the Guardian Of Metal and full of typical Ozzy-isms. Here Ozzy is used as, essentially, a shop. Traverse the world, and as you progress your actions and the discovery of certain statues and constructions, followed by a quick riff on your guitar, you will be rewarded with points. Pop down to the Guardian, and you will be able to upgrade your attacks, your ride, and so on.
And if it isn’t a cameo, then its’ a characters voice; Rob Halford lending his vocal talents to General Lionwhyte for example. The references don’t stop there either. Band names are typically Metal-ified, and the protagonists have names such as Lars (as in Ulrich) and Lita (as in Ford). And then there are the Headbangers, an obvious, yet humorous rib at the fans themselves.
A special note goes out to the soundtrack too, featuring a huge 108 tracks from all sub-genres of Metal. Some are more obscure, but the selection covers everything from Saxon to Tenacious D (unsurprisingly). This sonic backdrop never interferes with proceedings, and is more than ample in setting the mood and tone. That is nearly the soundtrack of two Guitar Heroes put together. Bargain!
And so, onto the game-play itself. There are three distinct and separate genres melded together here, and whilst a combination as diverse as open world hack n slash, driving, and RTS doesn’t sound all that appealing on paper, the execution of welding these separate entities together has been accomplished more than adequately. During the first couple of hours, the player would be forgiven for thinking that this is essentially a game like Jak And Dexter, but more adult. In some ways that is correct as the open-world nature of the game play would lend you to believe exactly that. However, over the course of the game, the other sections are given more than ample to bring their own positives to the mix. Handling on the assortment of automobiles is straightforward and they manoeuvre surprisingly well, whilst the RTS portions of the game are not the most complex by design, but are fun, irreverent, and easy to master. Your minions can easily be guided, and the option to join in and hack’n’slash your way through the enemies alongside your cohorts is a welcome one.
The main sections of the game do play more like a sandbox title, with Eddie fully able to go where he wants, when he wants (story permitting). The size is pleasing too. I didn’t measure it, but it officially I would estimate it to be ‘very big’. Maybe ‘very, very big’. Combat is simple enough, with only two buttons controlling melee and guitar attacks, and the obligatory block button. Different game types have slightly more controls, but for the most, everything is easy to find and intuitive once you do.
Graphically, the game is superb, with an admirable draw rate, characters that are a nice cartoon / realistic hybrid, and some animation that is truly superb. Honestly, we’re talking Pixar quality animation here. In short, not only the characters, but the creation of a world envisaged across hundreds of album covers over the years is exemplary. The landscape is lush, yet dark, all at the same time, and the transition from luscious green hill tops to dark, grim, metallic lairs is seamless and sensible. My only real problem with the graphics is the main character himself. Jack Black is an inspired choice, and much kudos to EA for snagging him. He is funny, his voice and acting are superb for the role, and the physical input he provides to the character is perfect. However, his face is the problem. Jack Black has such distinct features, that to copy them too closely means that the characters can look similar. So, in this instance, yes you can see Jack Black, yes you can see Eddie the roadie, but you can also see Po, from Kung Fu Panda. Needless to say, this is quite disturbing.
There is much to praise about Brutal Legend. From the word “go” everything here is set to please. Sure, each individual game-play type isn’t the most complex version you will ever find, and it certainly isn’t a game that will easily sustain your interest for more than an hour or two at a time. Heavy Metal may not appeal to everyone either, and the in-game option of turning the swearing and gore on or off seems a little pointless (who would select ‘off’?). But the positives far out-weigh the negatives. The graphics, playability and sheer originality of character and story make this one of the most unexpected hits of the year. EA are often criticised for multiple reasons, and deservedly so, but their decision to rescue this game from lawsuit and development hell (two developers were arguing over the rights to it) is possibly the best thing they have done this year. Metal is Heavy once more.