Story Review: “Brütal Legend”

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WARNING: This review is only concerned with the story of a game. Even though the story is an important part of a game, by no means is it the defining component. A game with a horrible story may very well be one of the best games ever produced. It’s just that my reviews are not about that.

SPOILER WARNING: The following text may contain spoilers for the people who have not finished the game in question yet. Reviewing the story sometimes makes such things inevitable.  

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Idea:

As it is with many other Tim Schafer games the idea here is pure gold. What if each and every single heavy metal album cover was actually a historical photograph? What if all the lyrics in those albums were actually talking about reality? What if all those things did happen and exist?

Schafer, here, creates a unique fantasy realm out of a musical genre which, in time, developed its own common language and myth, embedded into the psyche of the generation experiencing it. We all know about the gods of metal, how the painkiller saves humanity, how humanity broke the chains forged by demons etc. These were rather poor metaphors used by heavy metal artists so many times even they have eventually forgotten what they mean. Schafer takes these metaphors and constructs a solid world on them; a unique and modern fantasy world which is neither Tolkien nor Howard.

Rating: 2 out of 2

Setting:

Obviously the star of the show here is the setting, which is great in theory. The heavy metal age has a rich history with its own heroes, myths and gods. Icons of heavy metal have tangible power, with guitars calling down lightning bolts, tabs invoking magical spells when played, pistons and blades coming out of the very scenery. Each and every region of the world corresponds to a sub genre of the music.

What’s more, the society of the land is expertly matched with the fans of different sub genres of heavy metal. The history is a mixture of known album lyrics and actual, historical developments in the music scene. As such the setting provides opportunities for both great fantastic stories and great satire.

It’s all great, in theory.

The practice has its problems, and the possible culprit is probably the technology. Simply put, there is a distinct lack of population. On one side, the fauna, the unique creatures hunting each other and all the ruins and remnants of cities give the impression of a rich world. On the other side there is the simple fact that this wonderful world is unpopulated save for you and a handful of people. Early on when Lars tells Eddie that young people are enslaved and forced to work in mines, you expect that is where the population is being held. Not so… Even the post apocalyptic world of Fallout used cities as hubs. The myths you’ll encounter speak of great civilizations but there are simply no cities, no villages  and no functional settlements here. It is as if everyone in this world is living next to a camp fire eternally.

The same holds true for the battles you will fight in. We expect massive armies clashing, but what we end up with is just small skirmishes. Even before the invasion of Lord Doviculus it all feels like a bit too post apocalyptic.

Eddie wants to save humanity. But where is this humanity we’re talking about? How are they exactly suffering? Or is it all, just for the sake of a few people?

Rating: 1 out of 2

Characters:


Tim Schafer consistently creates memorable characters for his video games. Brütal Legend, is not an exception. However, here you’ll see that the characters are suffering from the lack of a coherent plot structure.

Eddie Riggs is the protagonist serving as an outsider traveling to a strange world. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book of fantasy fiction storytelling and it works here too. Through the eyes of the outsider we learn about this strange world. Eddie becomes our proxy and therefore there is a stronger sense of identification with him. Jack Black’s unusually subtle voice acting helps a lot. We like Eddie because probably we are like him. We miss the old times when music was much better and people really knew how to have fun. Together with him we travel to this land where the very nature of things are exactly like we used to love.

In theory Eddie is supposed to stay out of the spotlight helping Lars the artist, to fight against Doviculus the man. Eddie is a selfless knight all roadies are.  There is also a love triangle between Eddie, Lita and Ophelia even though as a setup it’s a lot less clever than the one in Uncharted 2. 

The ingredients are all here but the problem is the actual meal. Simply put, the characters are empty. They behave irrationally and often jump insane conclusions. Relationships fluctuate wildly and without proper reason. It’s almost as if things are playing out as a flowchart instead of a proper story. Lita, for instance has an unreasonable amount of mistrust towards Ophelia, but then again from her actions we can easily deduce that Ophelia is insane, so who are we to argue?

Suffering less from this problem is Lord Doviculus, by pure luck of not appearing a lot. Visually his looks may be ridiculous but when he acts it almost makes the audience root for the evil. On the other hand when the villain acts more logical than the rest of the cast, you have problems.

Consequently none of the characters prove to be as memorable as Schafer’s best. Even Eddie fails to reach the heights Ben did in Full Throttle.  The supreme dialog writing saves the characters a bit and ironically moves side characters such as Magnus to the spotlight of our hearts but still fails to illuminate the whole cast.

Rating: 1 out of 2

Plot Structure:

Here is where things fall apart. The plot structure has so many huge problems that it corrupts other elements of the story. This is quite unexpected for things start fairly well.

A heavy metal concert is suddenly cancelled due to the unscheduled appearance of an ancient metal god, who immolates the posers and sends Eddie the true metalhead back to the age of metal, where he’s instantly attacked  by evil druids. We’re then introduced to the lead lady in the story who proceeds to explain why Eddie is the chosen warrior who will save them all. (them all being a few people…) This is all great. But after the first major event about saving people from the mines, things very quickly stop making sense.

Which is a shame, for the events are all set up to reflect heavy metal history. If you were a kid who listened to heavy metal during the 80’s it is quite hard not to shed a tear when Lars explains how the young people are forced to live underground smashing rocks with their heads and how they cannot work outside because the society rejects them. When Lars asks what you can do with a bunch of kids who know nothing but bang their heads all day, you know the answer. “You start a revolution, Lars” says Eddie. There are great moments like this in Brütal Legend, however most of them are buried under the mess that’s the plot.

The main problem is pacing. What’s supposed to be an epic tale of revolution and personal discovery turns into bad Sunday morning cartoon with a horrible story. After the first few events, things simply happen too fast for too few reasons. Consequently events lose their emotional weight. When Lars dies it’s supposed to be a very sad moment. Yet we do not feel it much because we didn’t even come to like or respect him. We simply don’t spend much time with him. We don’t know how he thinks or why he’s important or why people chose him as their leader. We don’t even know who these people are… Similarly Ophelia’s reasons for leaving Eddie are really very very thin. What are supposed to be dramatic moments makes us feel as if the characters are morons.

Many potentially great characters get so little screen time you often forget that they exist. It feels like the main story was supposed to be padded by interesting side quests but except for one, those have very little to do with any story at all.  There is simply no sense of volume to the story.

The structural problems are too many to count. In the end, Brütal Legend, invokes a feeling of incompleteness. The length of the story, the pacing, the events and the character relationships are balanced so poorly that you feel like the story had to be at least 1/3 longer. And when you feel a story has to be longer, Edgar Allen Poe stirs in his grave.

Rating: 0 out of 2

Craftsmanship:

Supreme writing is the major thing that saves the horrible plot structure in Brütal Legend. As usual Tim Schafer delivers great dialog which makes both the story and the characters stronger. There are far too many quote worthy lines to list here. Schafer’s aptitude as a game designer may be a topic of discussion but as a wordsmith he’s almost peerless in this industry.

Also worth noting is the great original soundtrack composed by Peter McConnell. His moody, oddly subdued tracks along with licensed music are contributing a great deal to the atmosphere making the audience wish they were in the metal age.

Despite the obvious constraints of technology, the visual artists also succeed in both capturing the visual style of heavy metal and integrating semi comical characters with that background.

Overall a great achievement.

Rating: 2 out of 2

OVERALL: 6 out of 10
(0-3= BAD, 4-6= AVERAGE, 7-10= GOOD)

About the author

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By Fasih

Disclaimer

Daniel works at Riot Games.

Fasih works at Crytek.

They have opinions. Their opinions are theirs only and are not necessarily shared by their companies.

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