Brutal Legend Hands-On Preview

If Brutal Legend knows one thing, then it’s how to rock. It’s got babes, hot rods, demons, gore, face-melting guitars, head-banging entourages, and of course a heavy emphasis on Norse mythology. This is not rock as we now know it, but its genesis. Rock and Roll was always about rebelling against the status quo and trying to make the world a better, more awesome place. What better way to do that than rid the world of demon through the power of heavy metal?

For the uninitiated, Brutal Legend is a third-person action-adventure game where you play as Eddie Riggs, a roadie voiced by the enigmatic Jack Black. Eddie gets sent back in time via a cursed belt buckle, which just so happens to be a demon, but instead of getting sent back to the past as we know it, he finds himself in a time when the gods of rock ruled the land with the awesome power of their, er, rocking. Unfortunately, said rock and roll fantasy land is being overrun by demons, and it’s your job to save everyone. Righteous!

The demo I was lucky enough to play began with Eddie being transported into this unholy yet awesome land atop a mountain of skeletons, where he gained his first two initial weapons; an axe and an enchanted guitar called Clementine. The ax came with standard heavy and light attacks, complete with suitably gory slow-motion finishing moves. With Clementine equipped Eddie was able to, as Patton Oswalt would say, “change the physical properties of things with the power of his rocking”, i.e. electrocute enemies. After dispatching a handful of red-hooded foes, I moved on to the first mini-boss, a tall nun-like demon who you’ve probably seen in the game’s trailers. After defeating her, I stole her vehicle that resembled a crab made out of metal and bones. Because it’s an unholy magical demon vehicle, Eddie had to pray to the demons above to grant it the strength to move, which laid the path for arguably the most hilarious monologue I’ve heard in a game since GLaDOS’s cries of despair towards the end of Portal.

Eddie was then thrown into some fighting some more goons, although one of them turned out to be a hot chick, so he decided to buddy up to her. He soon (and inevitably) found an altar of the rock gods, and here he had to play the right song to summon up new power – think Ocarina of Time. In this case, Eddie summoned up a badass hot-rod deathmobile that puts Ash’s ride from Army of Darkness to shame – don’t think Ocarina of Time. Eddie was then forced to escape through a long, winding road, smashing through hordes of demons. The vehicle controls were smooth and responsive, a good thing since there will be a lot of driving involved in Brutal Legend as its your primary method of getting from A to B.

Eddie eventually reached a gate that he could not open, so his new chick friend scurries about the tower to open it from behind, during which he gets attacked by a creature resembling a giant snake-like spine with a mouth on the end. After driving around, dodging his attacks, and ramming his weak points, Eddie and co escape to yet another thrilling car ride, this time over a crumbling bridge. After feeling he’s suitably impressed his new lady-friend, Eddie asks her if she likes his ride. “Yeah,” she replies in her soft, sultry voice, “I can’t wait to tell Lars”. Eddie, crushed, drives on. The game got far more open at this point, as I was let loose into the wide open expanse of green that was Brutal Legend’s version of Hyrule Field. A spotlight showed me where to go, and where to go turned out to be a shrine where Eddie was transported to the underworld to meet someone who looked an awful lot like Ozzy Osbourne, and was voiced by none other. He turned out to be the gatekeeper of the underworld – of course – but doubled up as a vendor of cool car upgrades like guns and extra turbo speed.

On paper, Brutal Legend is little more than Zelda with a heavy metal aesthetic. On paper, creator Tim Schaefer’s previous game Psychonauts was little more than a standard 3D platformer, but it was the quality of its writing, art design, characters, music, and mixture of gameplay styles that made that game stand out from other entries in its genre. Brutal Legend is clearly a labor of love for Schaefer, who has said that he wanted to make a game like for 15 years but that it was only recently that technology had caught up with his ambition. Similar to how Grim Fandango was both a parody of film noir as much as a worthy entry into the film noir genre, Brutal Legend is both a parody of rock and heavy metal, and a love letter to it. Because love, that is where real rock comes from.

Brutal Legend is due out Rocktober 13th 2009 for the Xbox 360, PS3, and PC.

Author: Jeffrey Matulef