After producing the critical darling -- and consumer flop -- Psychonauts, video game designer Tim Schafer had to go back to the drawing board. Schafer, who worked on popular point-and-click comedy games like The Secret of Monkey Island and Grim Fandango, decided to return to his heavy metal roots and Brütal Legend was born.
Brütal Legend begins with the Jack Black-voiced Eddie Riggs, the "world's greatest roadie" waking up in a heavy metal fantasy world where humans are slaves to Lord Doviculus' (Tim Curry) demonic hordes and General Lyonwhite's (Judas Priest lead vocalist Rob Halford) treacherous mines.
The game is a brilliant send-up-cum-tribute of all the fantastical tropes found on every generic '70s and '80s metal album cover. The character design is spot on, many affectionaly homaging popular genre icons like Motörhead's Lemmy Kilmister, who voices and provides his likeness for the mysterious Kill Master.
Other times the game caricatures the genre's more excessive indulgences -- General Lyonwhite is a parody of the '80s hair metal scene with locks so luscious and long he can use them to fly.
Gameplay-wise, Brütal Legend offers players a fairly open-world with linear main missions throughout. The regular grammar of the open-world action-adventure game applies here: do side missions and uncover secrets to get power ups, do main missions to further unlock the story. It's fairly repetitive and typical of the genre, so haggard veterans may not find much to write home about.
A lot of games that focus on comedy tend to fail mostly through constant repetition. The same joke is funny once, but ad nauseum leads to eye-rolling and a wish for something less lame. Brütal Legend suffers from this problem in its open world elements, but not when it comes to its in-game movies. These cinematics are funny, intelligent and totally in keeping with the tongue-in-cheek full-frontal metal mayhem found within.
Special credit goes to the incredible voice work found within Legend. Metal legends like Kilmister, Halford and even Ozzy Osbourne give strong performances, something not usually expected in the realm of celebrity cameos. Yet the voicework is unstilted and unusually funny, a real coup for fans and game players.
Black, fortunately or unfortunately depending on the moment, puts himself fullbore into the role of Eddie Riggs. There are numerous points when it's incredibly clear that Black is just playing himself and ad-libbing like mad, leading to some uneven jokes or deliveries that can either fall flat or end in a busted gut from laughing.
Lastly -- and most interestingly -- is the online multiplayer mode available. This is a supremely mediocre addition that plays more like a real-time strategy game, but with all the complexity stripped out of the genre to only its most aggravating micro-management aspects. Some people will love it, some people will hate it, but this multiplayer mode is supremely mediocre.
Brütal Legend, while not the most complex game in the world, manages to be an entertaining romp through a fantastical über-metal wonderland thanks to the entertaining voice acting of Black and company. While the gameplay leaves something to be desired, it still offers through the charmingly brutal art direction a great narrative experience for metalheads and metal neophytes alike.