Things seem so much simpler in the Age of Rock. When hard-working roadie Eddie Riggs - enthusiastically voiced by Tenacious D funnyman Jack Black - is crushed beneath a huge chunk of faulty stage scenery, he bleeds into his mystical belt buckle, summoning a gargantuan fire-breathing beast that transports him back to a fantasy world inspired by the iconic covers from countless metal albums of the 70s and 80s.
Within the first few minutes, Eddie gets hold of a giant axe, a flying-V guitar (an altogether different kind of axe), a hot girl and an equally hot ride - the Druid Plow (or Deuce). Riggs soon discovers that he's a rock legend in this land, where excessive heavy metal record sleeve cliches are brought vividly to life.
All of the iconography you can imagine is present in some form or another in Brutal Legend, from vertiginous stone spires, towering mountains of skulls and bones and the contrasting expanses of green, verdant plains that lend a degree of nostalgic romanticism to the whole thing. This is medieval times put through the rock blender, the result being a heady, ostentatious brew chock full of fervent imagination.
Not surprising really considering that this is from the fertile mind responsible for the brilliant (and criminally overlooked) Psychonauts and also one of the genius writers behind Monkey Island, Tim Schafer. Developed by Schafer's own Double Fine Studio, there's the same brand of tongue-in-cheek humour running throughout Brutal Legend's narrative, from the opening cinematic where you're asked in a knowingly wry and cleverly droll way whether you'd like profanity and gore switched on. The answer is yes, of course.
And then you're hurled headlong into one of the most freewheeling introductions to a game ever conceived, where you'll have slaughtered swathes of hooded cultists, gangly, zipper-faced ('kinda sexy') demons and a gigantic worm boss within the first fifteen minutes or so. Then you'll have driven the Druid Plow across a rapidly crumbling bridge, nitro blazing, running over countless enemies while avoiding gaping chasms in your path by soaring off of massive ramps in the road. By the end, you'll almost be gasping for breath.
Once you reach the golden-maned Lars to join his gang of freedom fighters, the pace slows down a little bit, allowing you to take in your surroundings and get yourself acquainted with the sprawling world that awaits you. Your first port of call is starting a revolution by liberating the headbanging slaves from the mines run by the evil, preening overlord Lionwhyte (he likes wuss rock, see).
Upon freeing the first batch of 'Ironheades' you're introduced to Brutal Legend's natty squad mechanic, where Riggs is able to command a team of headbangers (predictably enough) by using directions on the D-pad. Your thick-skulled minions will follow you to the ends of the earth in the name of rock; trashing anything you tell them to in the process. They'll also surround you to create a Mosh Pit, protecting you from attacking enemies. Rock on.
Guitar solos acquired at altars dotted around the map grant new abilities such as summoning your Deuce (badass car) at any time, a Battle Cry to rally more headbangers to your cause and a 'Face Melter' that quite literally melts your foe's face. Apart from being able to call upon headbangers and execute cool solos, Brutal Legend it emerges, is actually a fairly workmanlike hack and slasher game, requiring only the hammering of two face buttons to pull off various combos.
Setting the action in an open-world however, means that the slicing and dicing seldom grows too tired, although some missions can err too much on the side of repetition. Most of the tasks you undertake are quite varied though - herding Razor Pigs to create weapons or defending merchandise stands spring to mind, for instance.
There're plenty of secondary distractions to find too, such as purchasing upgrades for the Deuce using the fire tributes you're granted by pleasing the Gods of Metal, achieved by successfully completing missions or pulling off wild stunts and so on. You can also activate Fan Geysers to recruit an army of headbangers, razor girls, thunderhogs and more to your ranks. There's simply loads to see and do.
Brutal Legend's art style is also enormously appealing, the animation and overall polish enhancing the stellar voice work contributed by Black and others (who we won't name due to spoilers). The world is fun to explore, with the only real let down in this department being the occasional areas on the map that are completely sparse, save for a few strange animals roaming around aimlessly. Being able to summon the Deuce to race through these featureless patches is a godsend.
Otherwise, Brutal Legend's fantastical world is rich with invention, boasting a great soundtrack - courtesy of your in-car 'Mouth of Metal' - and a cast of massive rock legends, who lend their voices and likenesses, that'll bring a smile to any heavy metal fan's face. Beneath the surface though, Legend is essentially an open-world hack and slash title embellished with a few, admittedly enjoyable, side quests and a big dollop of wittily written humour, which is a bit of a shame.
We were hoping for a little more innovation from Brutal Legend beyond the standard sandbox set up and button mashing, axe-wielding action. But then again, if the Gods of Metal are pleased with it, then who are we to complain?
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