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To paraphrase Francis Ford Coppella’s character Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore “I love the smell of METAL in the morning.” If you, like me, love the smell of heavy metal music or enjoy playing a fun hack and slash game with some real time strategy thrown in for fun then you will really enjoy Brutal Legend. This game has been many years in coming as it has been in development since early 2006 by Double Fine Productions and has had issues with publishers over the years. Double Fine currently has a contract with Electronic Arts to distribute Brutal Legend. It arrived on store shelves October 13th of this year, or “Rocktober 13th” as the Double Fine team, headed by Tim Schafer, put it.

Tim Schafer has been in the game creation business for over 20 years. He started at LucasArts during their golden years of game development and helped work on such series as “Secret of Monkey Island” and the much lauded “Grim Fandago” which was one of the first adventure games to use full 3-D graphics. Since that time Schafer and his team at Double Fine Productions have put out the highly rated Psychonauts and began work on what we now know as Brutal Legend. Schafer was not alone in this project though; he managed to recruit some very highly know talent across the heavy metal and film worlds.

Brutal Legend takes place in a universe where music has the power to alter the world. The main character Eddie Riggs, voiced by Tenacious D front man and Hollywood actor Jack Black, is a roadie here in our universe. During a show where a self-proclaimed “heavy metal” band called Kabbage Boy, who were in reality a band of tween pop stars, were playing one of the actors manages to bring the house down. Quite literally in this case as the stage itself collapsed. Riggs managed to save both the guitar and the band member playing it but is injured. After doing so he wakes up in this new world and quickly finds out he has the power to help save the small band of humans still alive.

This is where the player takes over. Using a third person perspective that remains constant throughout all of Brutal Legend’s modes, the player begins by hacking and slashing their way through the many denizens of S&M gear and poorly dressed hair metal minions. The first few missions help acquaint you with the characters and factions of the world and begin feeding you all of the weapons, vehicles, and powers you will gain over the course of the game. One of the first things you learn how to use is your axe that Riggs names “The Separator” and his beloved guitar “Clementine.” Rocking out powerful riffs causes massive damage to enemies and can unlock some very powerful moves. Some of the major powers such as the “Facemelter” and summoning your vehicle “The Deuce, aka ‘The Druid Plow’” require following a quick pattern of notes on your controller. If you have seen “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time” you will be very familiar with this game mechanic.

Slowly you also get worked into the real time strategy parts of the game. Controlling your troops and building structures is quite easy though I did not find it quite as intuitive as the controls in Halo Wars; the only other real time strategy game I have played on a console. Directing your units uses the directional pad while creating new units uses the right button on the Xbox. New units get added to your army as you meet them throughout the campaign and each has their strengths and weaknesses. Your Headbangers, “What do you do with a group of kids who don’t know how to do anything but bang their heads all day long? ‘You start a revolution Lars,” are powerful infantry units but can be quite slow. Your Razor Girls are the ultimate long range troops but can be taken out by other infantry quickly. All of the units are balanced well, I have yet to come across something that cannot be beaten using the right strategy. You can still hack and slash through the real time strategy missions, Riggs is not delegated strictly to the General’s chair. He eventually grows demon wings and gains the ability to fly above the battlefield which makes giving orders a lot easier. You can still summon “The Deuce” during these battles to have its firepower added to your army. This helps to give the army and its units personality though they had quite a lot of it to spare already.

Besides Jack Black voicing characters, you have quite a few heavy metal greats voicing units as well. Ozzy Osborne voices the Guardian of Metal, a character who helps give you weapons and new moves throughout the game. Rob Halford voices General Lionwhyte while Tim Curry voices the evil Doviculus. The landscape also represents many of the greatest album covers in heavy metal history. I do not want to spoil the surprises so I will not be listing them here. To top it off, they have over 100 licensed heavy metal tracks in game that you can listen to while completing missions.

Overall this is a game I would recommend to almost anyone. If you have an anathema to heavy metal or hate real time strategy or hack-and-slash games then you will want to avoid Brutal Legend. If you love heavy metal, a great story, and interesting, well-voiced characters then Brutal Legend is for you. The controls will take some getting used to in the major strategy battles but they are quick to pick up. My only hope is that the campaign will be expanded by some downloadable content down the road. So pick up your axe and your guitar, get the Manowar or Black Sabbath going on the radio, and play this game. As Ozzy Osborne, the Guardian of Metal, put it “What *&^*$#@ took you so long?”

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