After releasing Psychonauts in 2005, Double Fine Productions would spend the next four years working on their next big project — Brütal Legend. Brütal Legend was an action-adventure game / real-time strategy hybrid that celebrated the heavy metal music genre. It featured an art direction inspired by heavy metal album covers, characters voiced by real rockstars, and a licensed soundtrack that compiled some of the greatest hits in metal history.
I remember loving this game back when it first came out on October 13, 2009, on the Xbox 360. I spent hours driving around in the open world listening to Judas Priest, Motorhead, and Black Sabbath as I mowed down bad guys with my badass hot rod. Thanks to Xbox Game Pass, I can now relive those glory days and show you why Brutal Legend deserves a big Xbox Game Studios sequel.
There are some story spoilers for Brütal Legend beyond this point!
The Brütal Land
Brütal Legend tells the story of Eddie Riggs, the world's greatest roadie that unfortunately works for the world's worst heavy metal band, Kabbage Boy. After an accident during one of Kabbage Boy's gigs claims Eddie's life, his blood trickles onto his ornate belt buckle and causes it to summon the spirit of Ormagöden, the Eternal Fire Beast.
With a mighty earth-shattering roar, Ormagöden revives Eddie Riggs and sends him back in time to an age where the world looked like a heavy metal album cover come to life. But this Brütal Land is under the thrall of the Tainted Coil, a race of sadistic, evil demons that have enslaved humanity to do their bidding. So with his roadie skills and newfound abilities, Eddie vows to free humanity and melt demons' faces off with his guitar along the way.
I absolutely adore the art design of Brütal Legend's setting. It perfectly captures the larger-than-life nature of heavy metal. The starting area alone has fields covered in skyscraper-sized swords, complete with a towering Mt. Rushmore stand-in that you can customize the faces of. It features mountains made entirely of amplifiers, trees made out of spears and car exhausts, and so many more metal-inspired landmarks.
As you venture further into the game, more areas will start to opening up. These include a jungle inhabited by amazons with KISS make-up and panthers that shoot eye-lasers. You'll traverse a swamp infested with zombie goths that skulk the wasteland. As you progress, the Tainted Coil will start to corrupt the land in retaliation to your rebellion — reddening the sky and defiling your metal monuments, wrapping them in cybergoth bondage gear.
Brütal Legend's world design is still so unique, bursting with imagination and creativity. It's like an interactive homage to every alternative music subculture, and translates that effortless music industry coolness with confidence and style. The depth lore covering how this world came to be is impressive in its own right. There are collectibles scattered throughout the world that tell bits and pieces of the Brütal Land's creation. From Ormagöden's death shaping the world and giving birth to its races, how the Titans created this world's heavy metal, to how the Tainted Coil came to despise and enslave humanity. It's engrossing. Each piece of lore is relayed through amazing illustrations and an epic narration provided by Corey Burton (the voice of Disney's Yen Cid and Shockwave from G1 Transformers). The world juxtaposes alien landscapes with familiar pop culture, and that extends to its colorful cast of heroes and villains.
The characters of Brütal Legend are also one of the game's highlights. Like the corny but endearingly charismatic Lars, the battle-hardened but mistrusting Lita, and the terrifying leader of the Tainted Coil, Emperor Doviculus (voiced by the legendary Tim Curry). As mentioned earlier, there are many NPCs in the game voiced by real rockstars. These include Black Sabbath's Ozzy Osborne, The Runaway's Lita Ford, Judas Priest's Rob Halford, Kyle Gass from Tenacious D, and the late, great Lemmy Kilmister from Motorhead. Their appearances are brief but sweet additions that add charm and authenticity to Brütal Legend's world.
But by far, the star of the show for me was Eddie Riggs. He is an unabashed lover of heavy metal, who immediately sets about undoing the injustice of this strange land. Eddie finds his true calling in Brütal Legend, finding a spot in the limelight after a life as a thankless roadie for faux-rockers. And to top it off, Eddie's metalhead personality is brought to life by the vocal performance of Tenacious D's Jack Black, which is just crimson-painted icing on a glorious death metal cake.
Gameplay: Hack n' Shred
Unfortunately, as awesome as the setting and characters are, Brütal Legend's core gameplay had some controversial aspects that held it back from its most awesome potential. The beginning of Brütal Legend was a fun open-world action-adventure game, but then it gradually changed into a strange action-adventure / strategy hybrid. Suddenly we had to worry about resource management and building armies to take down an enemy's stage in a literal Battle of the Bands.
This shift in genres surprised and turned many people off because they felt the real-time strategy gameplay was half-baked compared to the open-world gameplay. For a long time, we all wondered why the developers never advertised these RTS segments but many years later, we would finally get an answer.
According to an interview done by NoClip with Brütal Legend's creative director, Tim Schafer, it was originally going to be a real-time strategy game in its entirety, inspired by the likes of Warcraft and Herzog Zwei. But over time, as they worked on the single-player campaign, it gradually evolved into the action-adventure / RTS hybrid we know today.
We all thought Brütal Legend was going to be an action-adventure game because Brütal Legend's publishers (Vivendi Games and later EA) forbid Double Fine Productions from talking about the RTS elements. They did this because at the time, they felt nobody cared about real-time strategy games anymore. If anyone saw the RTS gameplay and asked questions, Double Fine Productions was ordered to change the subject and any trailers they made were to showcase the action-adventure gameplay only. The developers also considered making the RTS segments optional in the final build, but they ran out of time to do it. It's rather unfortunate this happened because if consumers were aware of the RTS elements from the start, perhaps Brütal Legend would have had a better reception.
My own personal feelings on the gameplay are mixed. The RTS elements definitely felt subpar compared to the action-adventure mostly due to the game balance. I destroyed entire armies using the Facemelter guitar solo and only used the units to attack the buildings, so there was barely any strategy involved. The only time I had to worry about strategy was during the final boss where I had to coordinate with my army to take down multiple objectives. However, it wasn't a deal-breaker for me because there was still plenty of open-world exploration and sidequests to accompany the RTS segments.
But let's get back to the positives of Brütal Legend, like the combat. The combat system was simple but effective — chaining melee attacks together with my guitar attacks to form satisfying combos that sent enemies flying off cliffs. And playing the guitar solos that blew my enemies up, buffed my army, or summoned bears with bear-traps for mouths. Plus running over demons in my customizable hot rod never gets old.
And how can I talk about Brütal Legend, a massive tribute to heavy metal without mentioning the music? In addition to its awesome original soundtrack, Brütal Legend features over a hundred licensed tracks from dozens of heavy metal bands. Tunes from Black Sabbath, Motörhead, Judas Priest, The Runaways, Megadeth, Cradle of Filth, Bracos Helm, Iced Earth, Dragonforce, Tenacious D, Manowar, Mötley Crüe, and many more.
You can unlock these tracks to play on your car's radio by finding collectibles through the world. The game also plays these tracks during special moments, making you feel like the protagonist of your very own OTT heavy metal music video. Like Brocas Helm's 'Cry of the Banshee' during the Metal Queen boss fight. Or Dragonforce's 'Through the Fire and Flames' while escaping General Lionwhyte's crumbling Pleasure Palace.
The music was also used to greatly enhance dramatic moments in the story. A good example of this is my favorite moment in the game. Before the final battle, Eddie Riggs has a dream of being with his love interest, Ophelia, who at this point of the game has become a bad guy. It's a bittersweet moment for Eddie, longing for the good times before everything went to hell, all while Scorpion's 'Holiday' is playing in the background. The dream is cut short by the sound of Ophelia's army, the Drowning Doom, who begin their approach. The music violently transitions to Mirrorthrone's 'Sofrail', punctuating Eddie's feelings of anger and sadness that he's now going to have to fight and possibly even slay his former lover turned bitter enemy. It's these careful, thoughtful moments that truly sold Brütal Legend for me.
Brütal Legend 2: Improving what came before
When all is said and done, I love Brütal Legend despite its flaws, and I would love to see a sequel to this game. I don't know if it is even possible for Double Fine Productions to make a sequel. EA and Activision settled out of court over who owns the rights to publish Brütal Legend, but the exact current ownership remains a little unclear. Not to mention, Double Fine is busy working on Psychonauts 2 at the time of this writing. If it was possible, I have a few ideas about how a sequel could be made and how it could improve upon its predecessor.
For starters, since all the problems plaguing the Brütal Land get resolved by the end of the first game, I would have Eddie Riggs go back to the present day for the sequel. The impetus for this would be that Eddie receives a vision from Ormagöden and it shows that the time period he came from has become a corporate nightmare in his absence. Nearly all forms of music have been banned, except for sanitized corporate music that pushes narratives that benefit the corporations. Anybody that didn't comply and wanted to make their own music would be imprisoned for life or even executed.
Horrified and angered by what the future holds for his world, Eddie Riggs decides to return to his own time to set things right. He would be accompanied by friends he made in the first game, and together they would embark on a second Tour of Destruction to save humanity's future and preserve the glory of metal.
For gameplay, I would shelve the RTS segments perhaps, and focus on expanding the open-world exploration and combat system. The overworld gameplay could revolve around destroying the bad guy's propaganda and replacing them with the awesome heavy metal monuments and landmarks of the first game. As you spread the word of heavy metal, the world would gradually change from being your typical corporate dystopia, liberated from the clinical lounge music of the oppressors.
You wouldn't just be controlling Eddie this time, you would also directly control different characters that join your band. Each character would have their own musical abilities and weapons that could be used to solve puzzles and bring the house down on enemies. Plus, you would be able to swap control between teammates in the middle of melee combos to extend them to an absurd degree. Something akin to the tag team mechanics of the Warriors Orochi or Marvel Vs. Capcom games.
I would definitely try to keep the involvement of heavy metal artists for the sake of authenticity, it wouldn't be Brütal Legend without it. Perhaps we could see a range of newer heavy metal stars from more recent generations, who are fighting against the corporations in an underground rebellion. Could we have Mick Thomson from Slipknot fighting alongside Ozzy Osborne? Alice Cooper teaming up with Dave Grohl? I would love to play as Eddie the Head from Iron Maiden, or a badass ax-wielding James Hetfield, in the style that only Double Fine can do.
A Brütal Legend
There's just so much potential that could be accomplished with Brütal Legend's world if given another chance, and hopefully, I have shown why it deserves one. A polished sequel to Brütal Legend with more style and character would be a great addition to Microsoft's portfolio, perhaps even becoming one of the best games on Xbox. But until that day comes, I'll keep spreading the gospel of Brütal Legend so that it will never be forgotten.
Let out your battle cry and fight for the glory of metal!
Step in the boots of Eddie Riggs, a roadie that's been summoned to a fantasy world straight out of a heavy metal album cover. Set out on a tour across the world to slay demons and save mankind with the power of heavy metal.