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Brutal Legend

9 Jun 2009  by   Paul Younger
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It’s been far too long since I’ve seen anything of Brutal Legend. It may only have been a month and a half ago since I saw it running live, but that month and a half has been sheer torture. At long last, with E3, I finally got my hands on the title.

There wasn’t anything much new on display – mostly, it was the same levels we saw back then, but polished up and now playable – but that doesn’t make it any less impressive.

As before, it opens with super-roadie Eddie waking up in a temple and coming under attack from demonic druids. He quickly gets his hands on the axe and the guitar, and before long is hacking the monks into gory pieces. This all works fine and dandy. You tap one button to rack up combos with your swings, or alternatively hold the button down to launch a slower attack which breaks enemies’ guards. The “tap a button or hold it down” functionality extends to the guitar, with players tapping that particular button to unleash lightning strikes, or hold it down to blast them with pyrotechnics. The two buttons can be chained together into different combos, and ressing the two together performs the Earthshaker, knocking enemies back.. It’s all very simple and very intuitive, but the results can be impressive to watch, with limbs and blood sloshing about with abandon.

The combat controls are rounded off with a lock-on button, and a dodge/guard button. Both function exactly as expected, although changing target while locked-on is still a little twitchy.

Before long, Ophelia shows up, and team attacks come into play. As we’ve said before, these can be performed with any of the characters you recruit with different results; in Ophelia’s case, Eddie picks her up and lobs her a short distance. She whirls in mid-air, blades extended, and acts as a sort of highly-effective mobile blender. Again, the combat controls are simple and intuitive, but there’s enough variety between them all that combat should hopefully feel fresh as the game goes on.

And then there’s the car, the aptly named Druid Plow. This is obtained by constructing it, which first requires a magical solo – and this is the first time we’ve seen how the solo system works. As speculated, it functions as a rhythm-action minigame, with four of five button presses along the top of the screen in a musical stave. Pressing them successfully completes the guitar solo. There were only two in the demo we played, one to raise relics from the ground and one to summon the Druid Plow to your location, but it gave a good idea of how the system will work. It feels a tad throwaway, to be honest, and is best thought of as a lesser version of the Ocarina songs in N64 classic The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, with a bit less freedom and less feeling. The fact that the solos were barely audible through the noise of E3 may have had some impact on this, of course.

The Plow itself handles well in a very arcade-like style and the opening tutorial level shows off the controls and the variety in the vehicle well, starting off with a romp through squishy hordes of monks, through a boss that requires some fast driving and the occasional handbrake turn, and an escape over a crumbling bridge. The second section of the demo, taken from much further into the game, involves defending the tour bus from an attack by demonic bikers through judicious use of the Plow’s chainguns. It’s fun, and involves driving fast and shooting lots.

Initially, though, is something we haven’t seen before. Following another relic raising solo, Eddie drives the Plow into a fire-lit underground cavern, where he’s greeted by… Ozzy Osbourne. Tim Schafer, you aren’t fooling anyone with the name/title “the Guardian.” He looks like a lanky version of Ozzy, and he’s voiced by Ozzy. It’s Ozzy. This character again shows off the style and sense of humour in Brutal Legend, with the character flitting around and impossibly popping up from behind scenery when he was somewhere else five seconds ago. Think cartoons. He’s brilliant, hilarious, and the voice-acting is absolutely spot-on, as with pretty much everything else in the game. I don’t think I’ve heard a game voiced this well since, well, Psychonauts.

Brutal Legend’s shaping up nicely. The more I see of the characters and the world, the more I desperately want to play it more just to see what something sounds like, or how an environment is going to come together, but at least any concerns regarding controls have been assuaged. Let’s just hope those tricky legal issues get resolved quickly.

Roll on Rocktober.

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