Hands-on: Brutal Legend

icon_preview1Three of EA’s top upcoming releases were on display at the publisher’s India showcase in Mumbai a few days ago. We’ve already brought you our impressions on FIFA 10 and Need for Speed: Shift, but easily the most fun of them all was Tim Schafer’s Brutal Legend. To those who’ve been sleeping on Brutal Legend, wake up! This is a game you are not going to want to miss.

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To be honest, Brutal Legend’s biggest draw for me was the fact that Jack Black was playing the main character – Eddie Riggs. Anything that Jack Black is in can’t be bad – fact. But once you start playing, more and more aspects of the game reveal themselves and they’re all so brilliant that there is no longer just one reason for me to look forward to this game.

To start things off, you’re handed a broad axe (The Separator) and an electric guitar named Clementine as your weapons. The guitar summons lightning strikes from the heavens, temporarily incapacitating your enemies, who look part monk, part grim reaper. Once they’re stunned, the axe takes over for the slicing and dicing, and this is the part that really surprised me. The combat is really, well, brutal. There’s quite a lot of bloodshed and there are so many ways to kill, from chopping off heads to spilling the enemy’s guts out, and they’re often shown in brilliantly gory slow motion as the camera zooms in.

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I didn’t have a chance to play the game at length, but the combat certainly wasn’t as shallow as I’d expected it to be. You have various combos at hand, including the Earthshaker, which creates a mini earthquake, taking out nearby enemies. You also have a block button, and you may actually feel the need to use it. Surprisingly, there is no jump button in the game, which shouldn’t be a problem as long as the level design doesn’t make you feel like you need it.

Being an open world game, there may often be times when you’re just traveling between missions. That’s where Jack Black comes in to keep things interesting. Even when you’re just driving around or getting to the next checkpoint, Eddie will humorously start thinking out loud as he tries to make sense of his new surroundings or enemies he’s just encountered. A car ride that may otherwise seem boring is livened up with these entertaining monologues, and I hope this is the case throughout the game, because I just couldn’t get enough.

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Based on videos that I had seen, I wasn’t a fan of the art style. It looked bland and unimpressive, but once I started playing the game, it quickly grew on me. The colour palette is spot on, and even without the detailed facial textures we’ve come to expect from current-gen games, facial expressions are great. While overall, the character models still look a little ordinary, the game world certainly doesn’t. As you travel down a mountain of skulls and bones seated on a four legged creature-slash-vehicle-slash-table-top (screenshot above) at the start of the game, you really start to appreciate this Rock n Roll netherworld that Double Fine have created. Eddie’s interpretation of the scenery before him makes the experience all the more fun.

While in other games, you unlock items by picking locks or hacking into computers, in Brutal Legend, you do it by playing a Guitar Hero-like sequence of tunes, which is a nice touch. The first of these unlocks is The Deuce, Eddie’s hot rod. There’s quite a lot of driving to be done in Brutal Legend. In fact, the game’s first boss is fought from within The Deuce. The car handles very well and takes no time at all to get used too.

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You will also encounter several allies throughout the game, the first of them being the cute-as-a-button Ophelia, and each of them can help Eddie in combat with special co-op moves to dispatch off enemies. However, in the bit that I played, those co-op combos hadn’t been unlocked yet, but encountering these various characters will certainly help to liven up the combat as you progress through the game.

I went into Brutal Legend as a Jack Black fan curious to see what he brought to the table, and I came away impressed with a game that includes fun combat, brilliant visual style and level design, variety in gameplay, and loveable characters. Yes, Jack Black is a major part of what makes this game great, but there’s so much more that goes into making it the complete package that it is. In fact, come to think of it, there were so many aspects of the game calling for my attention that I didn’t even get the time to notice the brilliant soundtrack.

After the 20 minutes or so that I spent playing Brutal Legend, it instantly moved up into my top five games to look forward to this year. If you ignore this game, it’s your loss.

Title: Brutal Legend
Developer/Publisher: Double Fine/EA
Genre: Action
Rating: 18+
Release date: October 16, 2009
Platforms: PS3,
Xbox 360

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