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Brutal Legend Preview

By Jeff Buckland, 9/24/2009

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With "Rocktober 13th" looming on the horizon, fans of both heavy metal and video games have been frothing at the mouth waiting for the upcoming Tim Schafer game Brutal Legend. Starring Jack Black as the protagonist, world-class roadie Eddie Riggs, the game features dozens of metal bands on the soundtrack and quite a few rock legends in the voice cast. Those who have pre-ordered from GameStop are getting a chance at the demo right now, but for those who haven't played it, I thought I'd run through it.

The Brutal Legend demo starts with a cutscene showing Riggs fixing instruments and making sets for an unappreciative "metal" band that starts with some great riffs and then quickly devolves into emo/hiphop mashups. Riggs hates his life working for this "metal" band, but after a stupid move by one of the musicians, Riggs is left for dead as his own set came crashing down around him. His necklace glows and a demon takes him to a new world...

Eddie Riggs wakes up in a place not unlike what we think of as hell: fire and brimstone, piles of skulls and bones, and evil creatures everywhere. As you take control of Riggs, you'll quickly realize just how much work Jack Black put into this game: yes, he "played" his character at the MTV Video Music Awards, but he also really went into overtime in the recording booth, because Riggs has a ton of things to say, and while the comedy isn't always a hit, it is a lot more often than you'd expect out of a game. Tim Schafer knows how to make a game funny, and it's a rare talent that many developers simply lack - even the ones trying their best to inject humor.

Riggs quickly learns that the axe he was magically able to pull out of a stone and the guitar he brought with him are extremely powerful weapons in his new home. The axe, known as the Separator, is huge and hits hard, dispatching the most basic of foes, the cultist demons who are trying to summon the bigger guys, in a single combo. Riggs' guitar, Clementine, becomes a ranged weapon, electrocuting enemies from a distance and even setting them on fire with a charge up shot. The game teaches you a few combo moves, how to block, and how to break free if you're surrounded by enemies, but before you really get a lot of practice, you'll be moving on to meet a young woman, played by none other than 80s rock star Lita Ford. She'll do Simpsons Arcade Game-style team-up moves with you, and offers plenty of help while you're fighting otherwise. She's no damsel in distress - at least, not in this demo.

Riggs winds up fighting his way into a corner and right when it seems our hero is trapped by the oncoming forces of darkness, he finds a mysterious shrine and after a Quick Time Event-style guitar solo, out pop all the pieces he needs to build a smokin' fast hot rod. (Why the hell not?) He tosses it together in a matter of seconds, clearly impressing his new companion, and within no time they're busting through locked gates in Riggs' new vehicle, The Deuce, bowling over the demonic hordes that had been waiting outside. Vehicle combat early in the game seems pretty basic, as in this demo Riggs could pretty much only ram into things, but with some free face buttons doing nothing, it seems reasonable to expect upgrades to come in the full game that add new abilities to The Deuce.

After some words about the human race fighting for survival in this hellish world, a boss fight ensues. A huge tentacle sneaks up behind Riggs and he quickly jumps into the Deuce, figuring out that the slimy bastard's triple-forked tongue is too sticky to pull away from the floor after trying to eat Riggs and his vehicle whole. So the simple option is to run over the tongue! It only takes a few successful attempts to sever the tongue before the tentacle gets angrier and Riggs' companion is forced lure it under a big spiky gate. Your job will be to drop the heavy gate by severing the counterweights attached to it. With the tentacle seemingly crushed and dead, Riggs decides it's a good time to teach a little french kissing to his sexy sidekick. That's about the time the big tentacle demon comes back to life, taking out the whole arch that Riggs was standing under and leaving him buried under a mountain of stone. Out of the rubble bursts our heroic pair on the Deuce, off to ride onto the next big adventure.

One of the things that really impresses me about Brutal Legend is that the sense of humor is here, it's smart, and it knows what you've laughed at in past games (and what you haven't). It interrupts a cutscene to ask if it's ok to cuss, and if you say yes, you'll be treated to several f-bombs over the course of the demo. Saying no gets you bleeps instead. And when the gore is about to fly, the game also stops you there, pleading for you to let it show you - but only when it's "awesome", of course. These bits are perfectly timed and really do an amazing job of setting the game's tone early on.

The whole development team seems to love heavy metal, too, as you can probably guess from the extensive metal soundtrack that's coming on the disc. With tons of references to the distinct eras of metal and an overall design that starts out as a simple action game but eventually turns into something that resembles an action-RTS title before long (and works similarly in multiplayer modes as well), Brutal Legend has depth, too. If the first 20 minutes is any indication of the rest of the game, Tim Schafer, a guy who's never gotten the mainstream gaming recognition he so clearly deserved, is likely to be showered with praise very soon. Brutal Legend is set for release on Rocktober 13th on PS3 and Xbox 360.



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