Outside the MMO Box: Brutal Legend
Two weeks ago while undertaking my usual, casual stroll through the aisles of my local video game store, I was headed towards the cheapie bin near the front of the store. I was hoping to pick up a title that I may have been interested in picking up at some point in the last year or so, but just never bothered to. That's why I played Wet. That's why I played Infamous. Every now and then you can pick up a forgotten gem for about twenty bucks, instead of the usual fifty or sixty, a few months later. So why not?
On this particular day, my choice took me all the way back to 2009 (so long, right?). As I perused through the bin, my hands lay onto a relic of mullets and metal, Iron Maiden and the sweet lick of an axe, glistening in the sweet sweat of rock; I picked up Brutal Legend. For those who don't know, Brutal Legend is the brainchild of Double Fine Productions' fearless leader, Tim Schaefer and perpetual man-child actor, Jack Black that transports a hardened roadie named Eddie from the real-world, in which metal has reached a new low, into a fantasy world inspired by the crazy artwork of classic heavy metal albums.
What I expected from this game going in was pretty straightforward. I expected some relatively chuckle-able one-liners from Black's roadie, along with a tongue-in-cheek sort of humor that poked fun at, and paid tribute to, the metal that surrounded it. I expected hack and slash gameplay and a relatively short, but ultimately satisfying, playing experience. I expected a kick-ass soundtrack. Happily, I got almost everything I anticipated out of the game, except where I expected hack and slash gameplay and a relatively short, but ultimately satisfying, playing experience, I got something else.
I did get hack and slash gameplay, and make no mistake, it's a lot of fun. There's nothing more satisfying than cutting a swath through a small swarm of goth kids and there's no way I'd rather die than by falling to a mutant, fire-breathing panther atop a wooded mountain. What I didn't expect was the sudden change in gameplay genre that occurs about 2/3s of the way into the game. I didn't expect to be raising troops and commanding the forces of metal in an epic battle against Ophelia and her gothic army for supremacy of the stage.
Like Eddie falling into his fantasy world, I found myself suddenly falling into a Real-Time Strategy game. This was an unexpected surprise. By raising merch booths on the battle field (because, naturally, one needs to hock their t-shirts and CDs to the masses that fill their concerts), you accumulate fans. With fans you upgrade your Stage and you can purchase, or raise, 'headbanger' soldiers and other troops for your army as you do epic battle against your former ally's troops. But in this battle of the Metal versus Gothic music and cultures, I got a much more rewarding gameplay experience than I ever would have expected having picked the game up out of the discount bin.
I got the hack and slash style action that I have come to expect from the action-adventure world of console gaming, but I also got a fresh take on RTS games, and my eyes were opened as to how the blending of genres is not only becoming more and more openly accepted in the video gaming industry, but is being used to enhance a game's value to the individual gamer, who may no longer be satisfied with just one-punch games. So, while this trend is gradually growing, why is it that we don't see it more often? For that matter, why is it that the RTS genre is so mired in the traditions of itself, that we so rarely see anything outside of classic fantasy, aliens versus humans, or good ol' World War II?
I love me some games in those genres and styles, make no mistake. There's a reason RTS games keeps returning to them, but in Brutal Legend I saw a brand new take on what kind of lengths a game can go to present a fresh and unique setting to its RTS-hungry audience. Brutal Legend was absolutely fantasy, but it was fantasy outside of what I like to call “Dungeons and Dragons of the Rings” fantasy. It was cartoony and fun, not hazarding to take itself too seriously to be enjoyable. There were no knights in shining armor fighting against green dragons who breathed fire under the command of an evil Warlock, locked deep in his mile-high tower, ruling over his legions from afar with a twirly moustache and, undoubtedly, a bumbling sidekick. That element of fantasy wasn't present in Double Fine's epic and, in my humble opinion, the game was all the better for it.
Whenever you're a fan of anything, it can be incredibly refreshing to see a brand new take on it, for better or for worse, because at least you can tell that people are trying and not just giving us another World War II RTS because “they sell”. It's risky, for sure, because why try something different when you can keep doing what you're doing and make the safe money, but in the immortal words of Admiral Bill Adama, sometimes you've gotta roll the hard six (for those who don't know, I'm pretty sure this is a craps reference, a hard six being two threess turning up on the two six-sided dice). Take that leap, make that reach, and bring us something different. When you have the potential to give your audience something this new, this refreshing, this fun, why hold back?
Brutal Legend presents us with a game world that is dynamic, beautifully rendered, and full of life and imagination. I, and I'm sure any fans of the game, would gladly drop the money necessary to play an entire RTS game wherein I got to command the forces of metal. Headbangers, biker-babes, long-haired, moustachioed heroes clad in leather, fighting against the demons (or alongside them, for all I care), slinging spells and rocking out with their horns thrown high into the air in tribute...of rock.
I'll be happy to keep playing out every foreseeable scenario from World War II, or every combination of good versus evil that the fantasy world has to give us or to continue pummelling the humans as the technologically superior aliens. But every now and then, may the gods of metal hear our calls; Give us something original, something vibrant and unlike anything we've feasted our originality-starved eyes on.