Brutal Legend Preview
Tim Schafer, I owe you. Not only because you're one of the reasons I became an avid gamer, but because this fall, with the release of Brutal Legend, you're helping me realize a childhood dream. When I bought my first Dio record at the age of 13, I thought Metal was the coolest thing ever and wished I could jump right into its lurid world of leather and fire. That might sound nuts, but I'm guessing it was a fairly common wish among those of us growing up in the late 70's/early 80's when Metal was king.
At this month's EA press event in downtown San Francisco, I was treated to an extended preview on Xbox 360 of Tim Schafer's latest game offering; an open-world, 3rd person action/adventure title starring an unusually resourceful heavy metal roadie named Eddie Riggs. I'm told Eddie was originally designed to look like Lemmy from Motorhead but these days he's looking more like a cooler, less-tubby Jack Black, which isn't surprising since Jack Black is the voice of Eddie Riggs. The story goes that while working a show, Eddie is suddenly and unexpectedly transported by his skull-headed heavy metal belt buckle, to the mythical Age of Metal. It's an alternate universe where humanity is enthralled and forced to work in the mines by the evil Lord Doviculus and his army of demons. There's a lot more to the story than that, but the gist of it is that Eddie's destiny is to defeat Lord Doviculus, liberate the people and teach them to live through the power of Rock.
The demo was given by the Man himself, Tim Schafer, whose charisma definitely added to the presentation. The first level we saw was Eddie's entry point into the Age of Metal; the candle-filled Temple of Ormagoden. The trouble started immediately as Eddie realized he was surrounded by hostile, skull-headed Druids. Fortunately for him, he found a hefty battleaxe (descriptively called “The Separator) lying around to defend himself with. Melee combat looked to be fairly familiar to anyone who's played an action/adventure game but the real fun started when Eddie used his guitar “Clementine” to blast enemies with lightning. In addition to rock-magical and standard melee attacks, Eddie demonstrated special moves like “Earth Shaker” (a combo chord that brings things crashing down) and “Grand Slam” (a combo of axe and guitar that sends enemies flying into the stands); moves he learned by finding ancient tablatures left behind by the Gods of Metal.
At the end of the Druid fight, Eddie met up with his first ally, a hot rocker chick named Ophelia, who's part of the resistance movement working against Lord Doviculus. She decided to take him to meet their leader, Lars, at the Halford Settlement. Lars Halford it turned out, was a blonde, impressively coiffed commander with a similarly styled sister named Lita. From the start, the game is peppered with rock references but here the heavy metal ball really gets rolling. Metal fans will get such a kick out of Lars, seemingly named for every metal drummer in history, Lita named for the irrepressible Lita Ford and of course, Halford Settlement, named for legendary Judas Priest vocalist, Rob Halford. Incidentally, Halford lends his considerable talents to the game as the voice of Lord Doviculus' cohort, General Lionwhyte, as well as being the screeching voice of some hilarious motivational kiosks found in the mines.
After Lars makes the plight of humanity plain to him, Eddie sets out first to liberate the miners, a group of impossibly thick-necked, shirtless guys in bandanas and zebra-striped pants who extract auto parts from a mountain using nothing but their heads. This is where the squad mechanics were demonstrated to us. Once Eddie had liberated the hapless miners by acquainting them with the awesomeness of rock, he issued commands to them such as Attack, Follow or Stay/Defend by using the directional pad. [A quick aside—Brutal Legend is such a clever game that even in places like this, funny little touches appear. The icons for the squad commands for instance, looked like hand gestures you'd make at an arena concert, especially the icon for Attack which was a hand making the familiar headbanger devil-horns.] Anyway, once Eddie had gained control of his new army of Iron Heades, he directed them to overrun their bouncer/overseers and the ensuing brawl culminated in a boss fight against a Pit Boss wearing an executioner's mask. This fight wasn't about just swarming and bashing the boss; it had a unique puzzle element to it that I won't give away here that made the fight much more interesting.
Actually, unique approaches to gameplay were apparent throughout the demo. In addition to the Temple of Ormagoden, the mines and the Halford Settlement, we got to see Eddie use a good range of varied mechanics to look for auto parts, confront creepy monster-faced “Battle Nuns” and drive a weirdly insectoid vehicle with a platform/seat that looked, as Tim said, “nothing at all like an anus” (It totally looked like an anus). The humor of the game is everywhere and ridiculous sequences like Eddie trying to drive the bug anus vehicle using nothing but prayer are going to contribute hugely to the game's entertainment value.
Before closing the demo, Tim also showed us Eddie's third most-prized possession after his axe and his guitar; his hot rod, “The Deuce”, which with its flame paint job and decidedly retro look, (an homage to the Bone Wagon in Grim Fandango perhaps?) is one of Eddie's most powerful weapons. We were treated to a three phase boss fight wherein Eddie first used the Deuce to battle a giant, fanged snake/worm creature by speeding around and around it with the help of Nitro boosts, launching into when it was vulnerable. The second phase of the battle once again included a puzzle element that required some thought (no spoilers!), and the third phase entailed making a quick getaway by taking the Deuce - dare I say “full throttle”? - down a quickly crumbling road.
From what I saw this month, Brutal Legend is going to be the action/adventure game to beat this year. The graphics are a heavy metal album cover come to life in all their demon-baby-using, flaming-torch-wielding, corpse piling glory. The sweeping vistas look incredible with the huge Mount Rockmore and the gigantic guitars towering out of the ground silhouetted against the miasmic red sun. The characters appear to be living up to this epicness as well and will likely bring a nostalgic tear to a few eyes. The effort put into getting Lars' fluffy feathered hair to flutter dramatically in the wind alone gets me all choked up.
After what I saw, I'm confident in saying that fans of Tim Schafer's games will not be disappointed. In fact, after experiencing the thrill of leading a horde of headbangers in battle against an army of demons to the tune of “Put Awesome Heavy Metal Song Here” (licensing issues are still being worked out so for now some songs must remain nameless), I'm thinking Brutal Legend just may turn out to be the most awesome gaming experience ever.
Brutal Legend is due out this “Rocktober” on Xbox 360 and PS3.