For: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
From: Double Fine Productions/EA
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood and gore,
intense violence, partial nudity,
strong language, suggestive themes)
By Billy O'Keefe
Everything Tim Schafer fans expect from a Tim Schafer-produced project is all over the entirety of his latest offering, which almost certainly will emerge as the consensus choice for 2009's best-written video game. "Brutal Legend" is a both a send-up of and a heart-on-sleeve tribute to the world from which heavy metal videos and fantasies are made, and every piece of its presentational puzzle — from casting to voice acting to character animation to the sharply funny script that ties it all together — could scarcely wish for a better treatment than this.
As a nice bonus, the actual game portion of "Legend," while not quite as spotless, is pretty excellent as well.
_____ Legend's" gameplay begins in earnest as a fairly simple third-person action game from the "Ninja Gaiden" school of combat. You have a few basic attacks, and your task is to mash away while enemies rush you and the game's script explains exactly why you, a simple roadie only moments earlier, are suddenly fighting a demonic horde.
Gradually, though, "Legend" layers up. The straightforward action game quickly gives way to an open-world adventure, complete with side missions and miles of discoverable landscape. Completing optional missions and unearthing discoveries awards you currency, which you can use to expand your abilities and tinker your hot rod. You can summon your car from anywhere at any time via the game's brilliant spell-casting mechanic, which doubles as a miniature rhythm game.
"Legend" appears to peak once it gives you some minions and a small handful of basic squad management commands with which to maneuver them, but it ups the ante even further when it tacks on a real-time strategy component that has you managing an army of different units while also protecting your base, cultivating supplies and fighting on the ground. ("Legend" repackages this component as a terrifically frantic four-on-four online multiplayer component as well.)
That "Legend" manages to map all of these things to a control pad is remarkable, but especially so when it becomes apparent how easy it is to fight, lead a squad, cast a spell and manage troops almost simultaneously and without any need to pause the game.
The same can't always be said for the game's difficulty balancing, which occasionally falls completely out of whack during the most intense of these strategy missions. Enemies spawn at an alarming rate, and a failure to take a commanding advantage early on either devolves into an endlessly long battle of attraction in which defeat seems inevitable. It isn't fun when this happens once, and having to repeat a fight only amplifies the frustration.
But those moments are rare, and they provide the only real blight on what otherwise is an exceptional example of how to take on multiple genres, do them proud, and tell a terrific story in the process. Schafer fans have every reason to be delighted yet again, but you need not know word one about the man to savor what he's done here.
(c) 2009, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.