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GDC 2009: Brutal Legend Preview
Post by trog @ 03:32pm 16/04/09 | Comments
Brutal Legend - from the guy that brought us Full Throttle, amongst other classics - is coming. "It's all about the power of metal."

Remember Full Throttle? Ahh, the glory days of PC adventure gaming; how we miss them. Well, Tim Schafer, the guy behind titles like Full Throttle and Grim Fandango, now has a new gaming company called Double Fine Studios and they have a new project in the works called Brutal Legend (actually, there's an umlaut over the 'u', so it's technically 'BrĂ¼tal Legend', but it's too hard to type), and it's looking pretty cool. Is that something you might be interested in?

We got the chance to check this out at the Double Fine studio in San Francisco as a peripheral event at GDC this year. Schafer demonstrated a big chunk of the game in a special preview session, running through the story, the environment, and giving us a great glimpse of the main character and his supporting voice talent - performed by a little-known actor named Jack Black.

The story was described as the game was being played; it was kept relatively high level so we could just get straight into the game, so this summary will be equally brief. It begins with your character, Eddie Riggs. He's a roadie - the best roadie in the industry. Unfortunately he's currently attached to the worst heavy metal band ever. Eddie has this belt buckle, which somehow turns out to be a long-lost amulet of the enchanted kind. Whilst at a gig, he gets some blood on it and bam - he's magically transported into a galaxy far, far away... you get the idea.

He wakes up in what looks like a replica of the gig he was just at - think crazy heavy metal demon imagery - except this one is not constructed from the usual stage materials and looks suspiciously real. Not only that, a couple of creepy druid types start attacking him, which (while not far off) is not an everyday occurrence for a heavy metal roadie. Eddie looks around, grabs a massive axe (dubbed "The Separator"), and the game begins in a spray of blood and severed heads.

Another weapon is discovered shortly afterwards - Eddie's guitar. Dubbed "Clementine", it assists you in ways no other guitar can, offering the ability to electro-shock enemies. We had no hands-on time but we were shown quite a bit of the action; you're looking at your fairly standard combo system for attacking. As you progress through the game you'll unlock new attacks and new powers for the guitar, including the Power Chord, which rips the environment apart causing massive destruction to anyone who has the misfortune of standing near you.

At this point a new enemy was introduced as part of the story - the "Battle Nun", who you might've seen in the Kind of Sexy trailer. Schafer pointed out here that the idea was to try to make all the art in the game look like it was from a heavy metal album cover, something which they've certainly achieved - it has a very unique style.

After the Nun battle, Eddie jumps onto this creepy massive vehicle thing and pilots it down a massive, huge ramp thing - which, upon closer inspection, is revealed to be a hugely massive pile of bones. As you flog your way down the corpse pile, little bits of bones skitter and roll down in your wake - a nice little bit of attention-to-detail that probably will go unnoticed by many, but it just looks very cool.

Eddie then meets up with Ophelia, the first person in the game that you're not supposed to kill immediately. This opens up a new system in the game - double teaming with friendly characters who help you battle your way through this crazy new hell you've entered. After some more combat, Schafer mentioned the guitar-based spell casting system, which sounds cool - but it's still in heavy development so they didn't want to show it. So stay tuned. This skipped ahead to using the guitar to raise the third 'weapon' - the "Druid Plow", or "Deuce" - basically a mega-hotrod that Eddie can use to, uh, plow through Druids at speed. This opened into a fast sequence of racing through the massive, awesome, spooky environments - with comets and flying demons tearing through the air around you - which, while it looked visually awesome, felt a littttttttle bit protracted (and easy).

After all that gameplay, we found out that it was basically the introduction sequence to the game. From that point on, the game opens up into an almost-sandbox type of affair - the game-world is set in around 64 square kilometres of which you can explore at your leisure. Obviously there're a stack of missions you're supposed to accomplish, but (just like in GTA) you can also have a lot of fun just fanging around the countryside in your vehicle. And also just like GTA, you have a radio in your car you can listen to with a stack of music, ranging from classic metal to more obscure or new bands that Schafer and co have selected. More songs, like a lot of the other things, can be unlocked as you make your way through the game.

The story unfolds from this point on as you make your way to Bladehenge where you learn there's an evil Emperor you need to overthrow. You then meet up with Lars, the leader of the human resistance, in hilarious fashion - suffice to say it really adds to the game's comical "rock God" look and feel, which pervades throughout the game in almost all aspects.

At this point you start getting your actual story-driven missions - the first we saw was freeing a bunch of hilarious head-banging slaves, working a mine (by head-banging the walls) belonging to the evil emperor Doviculus (voiced by none other than Rob Halford of Judas Priest fame). Your goal is, of course, to free the slaves, which opens yet another game mechanic - the ability to team with groups and give them orders. The quick training sequence was shown and it looked pretty easy with a bit of flexibility - you can give your newly-freed head-banger cohorts orders to attack or stay and defend. This ability is worked into various battles so you actually need to pay attention to what is going on and use your troops properly to come out victorious.

The ability to control crowds means you end up in some pretty cool battles - when asked, Schafer mentioned that at the moment there are some battles with up to 40 people on each side, leading to some pretty neat scenes in the game. In fact big numbers are par for the course: 64 square kilometres of terrain, 80-person battle scenes, 23 main missions, around 30 side-missions - there's a lot to do.

More importantly, it looks like a fun game to play. The cut scenes are well written and they're actually funny, not the usual sort of half-assed drivel we seem to get in videogames. Jack Black fits the role perfectly, Schafer mentioning that he contributed a lot to the character that they weren't expecting - though it seemed like a pretty good fit right from the outset. There're very few games that I could stand to watch someone else play for around an hour and actually still be enjoying - clever writing and great Jack Black delivery make this something you'll want to keep an eye out for.

Oh yeah - in case you're wondering if you need to be a heavy metal fan to enjoy the game, the answer is a definitive "no" - I know basically nothing about heavy metal. Just knowing that it exists is enough, though if you truly despise it you'll probably find yourself wanting to play the game with the music turned off (weirdo).

Brutal Legend is due for release at the end of 2009 and is coming for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 (sorry, PC gamers, it seems we've been abandoned for this one).