Saturday, July 10, 2010

Review: Brütal Legend (PS3)

In Brütal Legend you take control of Eddie Riggs, who is a roadie that gets thrown into a heavy metal inspired universe where he has to fight demons and other bad guys. The game combines aspects of open world, with hack&slash and real time strategy aspects.

In terms of character design and dialog the game delivers as usual for a Tim Schafer game. The graphics also look rather good from a technical point of view and provide some great facial animation, nice floating hair and shiny looking metal.

The gameplay aspects of the game however are more then a little uneven. While the game does give the impression of an open world game in the beginning, this is for most part an illusion. You can drive around just fine, but there simply is absolutely nothing to discover and nowhere interesting to go. The side quests that are there basically boil down to the same three missions over and over again, they don't even featuring unique dialog or story bits, they are quite literally copy&paste. So you end up spending most of your time driving directly from one main mission to the next, as there simply is no point in exploring the world. Another annoying aspect of the open world is that its layout is rather chaotic, clearly visible roads are missing for most part, so you end up bouncing a lot around on grass planes or other uneven ground.

The fighting in this game starts hack&slash like with a simple axe swing and a lighting strike, but soon you get other helper characters that will fight with you in battles and that you can command. Control of those other units follows simple attack/follow/defense commands, where your commands automatically apply to the units next to you. Later in the game you will also get the ability to fly, which also you to get much quicker around to command your units. While there is regular monster slashing throughout the game, the main part of the fighting takes place in RTS-like stage battles. In those you have to take control of fan-geysers which will provide you currency which you can then use to buy more units or upgrade your stage. The setup of those levels is very simple, as most of the time you and the enemy have a stage and whoever destroys the other persons stage wins. There is no base building or deeper strategy, so its mostly about getting control over the geysers and building enough units to rush the enemy and while it is possible to give commands to subgroups of units, its very awkward and not very practical.

Another big issue with the game is the health display, as there simply is none. Health follows the current day standard of auto-recharging when you stay out of combat for a while, but it is incredible hard to tell how near you are to death or how to avoid it. This issue becomes worth due to the way your special attacks are implemented, to perform them you have to player a little bit of a song Zelda:OOT-style, but in that time the game does neither pause, nor does it interrupt your play when you are under attack. So it happens quite frequently that you perform an action and then die directly afterwards.

In the end the by far biggest problem with the game is its length or lack there of. Doing the main quest takes less then six hours and in that time the game doesn't even really manage to get out of tutorial mode. You basically have a constant flux of new units, actions and things, but for most of them you simply don't have much use. You get introduced to something in one mission and then never use it again. After finishing the game I couldn't even tell you what half the units do, as there is just way to little time to actually experiment with them. The game also has a shop system which allows you to upgrade your car and weapons, but over the course of the whole game I only used it twice, exactly then when the game told me to use it. And this getting told what to do carries throughout the whole game. There is never really a moment in which you have space to experiment or explore.

The adventure-like elements and puzzles that where still present in Psychonauts are completly missing here. There is quite literally not a single puzzle in the whole game and neither are there branching dialog trees or anything else that would allows free exploration. Given that before a battle all characters will stand around in the environment and even allow you to "talk" to them, it is just disappoint that the conversation is limited to a single repeating sentence, instead of a meaningful conversation. Considering that a game like Dragon Age manages to fill 40 hours with decent dialog, it is rather sad that Brütal Legend stumbles in that area with just six hours. Aside from the main story cutscenes, there just isn't much conversation to be found in the game.

Overall Brütal Legend is an odd game, it is odd because it is not broken due to the lack of polish, but due to its overall game design that seems broken beyond hope. The open world aspect feels tacked on and doesn't really add anything and the whole RTS gameplay feels completly overdone for a hack&slash game, yet underdelivers for the RTS genre. The story also feels rushed. There is just way to much stuff happening in way to short a time and a method of slowly discovering it is missing. Brütal Legend feels like the story and setting would have been a much better fit for a Zelda like action adventure game then this odd linear RTS open world mix. As is, Brütal Legend just isn't very good, even when you can look past all the faults in the gameplay, the shortness of the game just leaves a bad aftertaste, it is like a great 20 hour game where somebody has cut out 3/4 of the game, it simply feels incomplete.

The game also features a multiplayer component, which if rumor is true, is actually the core part of the game, which would explain the lack luster implementation of the single player, but it just seems odd to through such good character design into a game targeted for multiplayer. Anyway, I haven't tried the multiplayer yet.

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