Take Jack Black, put him together with Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy Kilmister from Motorhead and Tim Curry and ask the man who made One Of The Best Games Ever (AKA Grim Fandango) to boss them around and make a game about it and you start getting close to imagining what Brutal Legend might be like.
It is: totally awesome.
Telling the story of Heavy Metal roadie Eddie Riggs (Jack Black), Brutal Legend starts when Eddie is crushed under a stage prop and spills some blood onto his belt buckle. Normally, that wouldn’t be a problem as, even if Eddie did wash, you can’t exactly stain a steel belt buckle. Unfortunately, this belt buckle is cursed. A giant metal demon comes out, eats the band and deposits Eddie in a fantasy world where humanity is enslaved by a race of demons and where music has never been invented. Oh, and neither have cars, apparently.
Naturally, when Eddie comes to his senses he attempts to rectify all this, aided by the beautiful Ophelia and her boyfriend Lars, to whom he introduces the tenets of modern engineering and hard rock. It pleasantly turns out that both ideas are going to be handy, too, as the legendary rock titans who once ruled the land approve of Eddie’s musical taste and manifest all his guitar riffs as pyrotechnical displays of awesome destructive power. One of the basic moves in your musical arsenal is a literal face melter.
Thus begins an epic story of human triumph over adversity and big metal demons, with you running and driving around the huge world killing things and saving everyone you can, usually winning them over to your side by introducing them to Heavy Metal. Slowly, your army grows and takes the name Ironheade – “with an E on the end so that people know we’re fu**ing serious!”
Of course, while the story itself is as typically over the top and filled with laughs as you’d expect from either Tim Schafer or Jack Black to be, the gameplay is actually pretty standard stuff. You drive around the open world, scouring for collectible items, completing side quests and buying new gear and moves from The Guardian of Metal (Ozzy Osbourne) until you’re ready for the next story quest.
What sets Brutal Legend apart, though, is that each mission is usually focused explicitly on introducing you to a new type of character, be they enemy or ally. The full cast of Brutal Legend boasts a mammoth array of personalities, from headbangers with reinforced craniums that they can use to clobber demons, to The Killmaster (Lemmy Kilmister) who drives around on his huge motorbike healing your forces with his bass. Getting to know everyone is crucial to winning in Brutal Legend‘s equivalent of a boss fight, Stage Battles.
Stage Battles, which are also extrapolated into a multiplayer segment of the game, are where the main draw of the game really is and see you floating around, calling in new units and directing the flow of the battle from on high. It’s a little at-odds with the third person perspective and does take some getting used to, but if all else fails the game does let you jump in and settle the battle yourself. That’s not totally advisable, though – much better to stay up above the carnage and keep an eye on things, in our experience, though the people look like ants from that height.
Like everything else in Brutal Legend, these stage fights are based around the iconography of the heavy metal industry, with your most vital resources being your fans and your overall objective being to crush the enemy’s stage. It really is a literal Battle of The Bands, but with axes and flamethrowers and not just the usual arbitrary signing away of a record contract.
It’s also this constant tie to heavy metal music which makes Brutal Legend such an absolute joy to play through, even if you’re not a fan of the genre (which I’m not). The game is clearly a labour of love and the soundtrack and art styles have been closely co-ordinated to fit with the core mechanics and script. Even the geography of the game world is based on the art of Heavy Metal album covers!
The dialog especially is worthy of praise, proving incredibly funny even on multiple playthroughs, while the plot is excellently paced and reliably engaging. There’s even an in-built swear and gore filter, which makes Brutal Legend suitable for all ages.
In the end, what sets Brutal Legend apart from other labours of love is the sheer ability with which Schafer’s vision has been accomplished. He’s reportedly been planning this game for the best part of 14 years and based the character on a roadie friend he once knew – and Schafer has really done him proud. Brutal Legend isn’t just a fantastically fun game, it’s also one of the most hilarious and well-realised games we’ve played this year.