Brutal Legend: Truly metal gaming


When you hear the phrase "music game," you probably think of musical rhythm games like Guitar Hero or Rock Band, games that give you a list of songs and make you emulate playing them by hitting keys or buttons in a specific order at specific times. They're certainly games that involve music, but are they really titles that fully take advantage of music? They're certainly entertaining, but when you break them down they're little more than complicated games of karaoke and Simon Says. You follow the music, but you don't really take part in it.

Brutal Legend might be one of the best music-related games of the last few years, and digs into what really makes music (or rather, one specific genre of music) so engrossing. I call it a "music-related game" and not a "music game" because it's more than following a pattern of button-presses. Brutal Legend is a game about metal, and everything that makes metal awesome: over-the-top thematic brutality in a variety of flavors.

You play roadie Eddie Riggs (voiced by Jack Black), who is ripped out of a concert and thrown into a world that can only be described as metal. Demons, fire, blood, bass riffs, stage pyrotechnics, every sort of metal trope you can think of is embraced as an essence of life in this world. It's full of the kind of brutality you'd expect in Black Sabbath lyrics. It also does more to really look at the metal genre than any other game to date.

Metal's about fantasy. It's about brutality. It's about extremes. There is no ambiguity or subtlety in metal, just the sheer awesomeness of whatever insanity you can come up with. Dragons laying waste to a countryside? Metal. A mountain of skulls? Metal. A dragon made of burning skulls laying waste to a mountain of skulls that's also on fire while devils ride motorcycles around it all? So metal. And that's Brutal Legend.

Virtually any screenshot you could take of the game could be art for a metal album cover. If something's on screen, it's probably on fire, made of skulls, covered in spikes, or otherwise totally brutal. The imaginative landscape comes from Tim Schaffer, developer of Psychonauts, Grim Fandango, and Full Throttle. He's responsible for some of the most beloved and atmospheric adventure games ever released, and his sense of humor shines through every inch of the game.

Of course, all the demons and motorcycles and medieval weapons don't mean anything if the music simply isn't there. Fortunately, Brutal Legend has, unequivocally, the best metal soundtrack of any video games. It has over 100 tracks from 75 different bands, ranging from Antrax to Whitesnake. Heavy metal, hair metal, industrial metal, death metal, it's all in the game, and it can all be listened to by the "mouth of metal" music player in your in-game hot rod.

The game also features some of the biggest names in metal. Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy Kilmister, and Rob Halford all play major characters in the game, and they're every bit as entertaining as Black.

You don't hold a plastic guitar, you don't sing, and you don't follow colored lights (except when occasionally performing "riffs," the equivalent of magic spells in the game). Still, the Brutal Legend experience is one of the most metal games you'll ever play, and embraces both music and video games as art forms better than the majority of "music games."

Will Greenwald