Video Game Review: Brütal Legend

(EA, Xbox 360; also for PS3)
Game ••• Graphics •••• Sound ••••

A minute or two into Brütal Legend, it's obvious that creator Tim Schafer and his Double Fine team love metal more than teenage girls love Twilight.

The game follows the often humorous exploits of roadie Eddie Riggs, a cross between School of Rock star Jack Black, who voices the character, and metal maniac Glenn Danzig. After Eddie dies in a stage accident, he's resurrected as the savior of a medieval fantasy world. And you're Eddie, equipped with a massive battle-ax, a magic-infused guitar, and a heavily armed hot rod. Gameplay involves hack 'n' slash action, vehicular combat, Guitar Hero-style soloing, and real-time strategy. Too bad that Brütal Legend ends up a jack of all trades but a master of none.

Fortunately, the game's imaginative presentation is more than enough to compensate. Black's top-notch turn is complemented by entertaining performances from the supporting voice cast, featuring the likes of Motörhead's Lemmy Kilmister and Judas Priest's Rob Halford. There's Ozzy Osbourne as well, who is shockingly comprehensible - which speaks volumes for the game's audio.

So, too, does the soundtrack of more than 100 songs, ranging from the anthemic arena rock of Def Leppard to the punishing black metal of Dethklok. In many instances, song placement takes into consideration what's happening onscreen - so when you're in the hot rod, and Anthrax's "Metal Thrashing Mad" is blasting from your speakers, you'll feel like you're actually living the lyrics: "Racing down the road / In a street machine of steel / Gears are jammed in full / I'm the madman at the wheel." The killer cuts are combined with an original orchestral underscore and classical- guitar bits, giving the game's musical landscape a full range of emotion. And the Dolby Digital 5.1 sound may not feature a discrete 6-channel mix for the music, but it's immersive enough to get your heart racing.

Your virtual playground is a strikingly rendered world inspired by the cover art of classic metal albums. Mountains are made of amps, giant chrome-plated creatures spew fire from exhaust pipes, and women walk on spidery legs made of their long black hair.

All told, Schafer and company have created a near-masterpiece of artwork (as opposed to computer graphics) with an engaging story and captivating characters. Hopefully, a sequel will boast some equally invigorating gameplay.