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Pre-completion review of Brütal Legend: It's very good, despite a couple of serious missteps. (Full disclosure: I have several friends at Double Fine, some of them very dear to me, and I am very clearly biased.)

The first misstep is the demo version of the game; it doesn't really show the game off for what it is. It touches only on two aspects of the core experience: epic, gorgeous, heavy-metal inspired environments, and third-person mêlée combat. There's a driving sequence that might as well be on rails, and a boss fight in an arena.

In actuality game is an open-world/driving action game (a la Grand Theft Auto), featuring story progression missions which usually focus on real-time strategy gameplay (think Warcraft). There are side-missions which consist of skirmish-level RTS with fixed unit resources (no resource management, but RTS controls apply), races, hunting, and a very occasional mission which focuses on using Team-Up powers in a new context. The depth of the gameplay is primarily invested in the RTS sequences, but the bulk of the time in singleplayer is in driving/exploring the world, and non-Stage-Battle missions.

This is really the second misstep: The game stops teaching the player about the complexity of the RTS portion of the game right about the point where it's needed the most. The game is fastidious about teaching the player how to attack, defend, drive a car, all stuff that could have been pretty well handled through trial-and-error. It doesn't teach the player about managing overall unit "Load" or improving their Stage (increasing their tech level). It gives very brief instruction on sending only a portion of massed forces out with individual orders. There's a really smart, complex game, an RTS reconsidered particularly for the controller-driven console market, but it isn't successfully conveyed to the player.

In fact, I'd been cruising through the singleplayer with nary a hiccup until "Dry Ice, Wet Graves" at which point I became seriously frustrated. The learning curve took an immediate turn for the vertical, leaving me running directly into a wall. I played it several times before looking up some strategy guides online, at which point it became fun. More fun that it had previously been, in fact -- a sudden insight into its depth of gameplay is all it took.

Part of me wonders if the expectation or hope was for BL to become a primarily multiplayer hit. Similarly to the way Halo smoothly brought multiplayer FPS genre to consoles, perhaps the desire was to bring RTS to the same audience. So far the attempts to do that have been overly complex; despite some clever button-chording, Universe at War and C&C Red Alert still focus on a tremendous complexity and depth, slavishly following the model of PC-based RTS games, allowing for homogeneous or heterogeneous unit grouping and orders. BL takes all of that and says "b'bye" and allows the AI to determine most unit behavior. This relegates the player to telling bulk groups where to go, thus freeing the player from unit-level micromanagement and replacing that activity with directly assaulting the enemy with their highly mobile, reasonably powerful avatar.

Imagine you're playing Warcraft or Starcraft, and your unit selection pointer, that gloved fist can travel over to the opponent's side of the map, dispelling fog-of-war as it moves, and then can begin flicking, snapping at the enemy units directly. Your "pointer" can diminish or destroy your opponent's forces. All I can say is "YAY!" Harrassing enemy troops is great, though if you linger too long your character can be destroyed, basically just resetting it to your own stage and awarding 50 Fans to your opponent.

Also, there should be a KLOS 95.5 sticker for The Druid Plow. Or whatever Schafer was listening to when he was in high school. But it was KLOS for Los Angeles, though I embraced my metalhood much later in life.

Along with having a fresh take on the RTS, the game tells an epic story through gorgeous cutscenes, fantastic voice acting and animation, and some spot dialog from interacting with the entourage at various points on the tour... er, "quest." On that animation thing, the facial animation is just spot on, start to finish. I recall some great stuff in Psychonauts as well, but much of this feels like a Pixar movie made for metalheads. Nothing's melodramatic and overblown, just believable, moving scenes with surprisingly endearing characters.

But artistically the thing that really gets me going is the world itself. I don't want to distract from what DF has accomplished with the RTS and story, but as an ex-world designer ("once and future world designer"?) I am very impressed with the world itself. Interviews prior to launch have mentioned they want the world to feel like it could be a heavy metal album cover, no matter where you look. I didn't know how they'd pull that off, but it's there. In spades.

More hours have been spent just tooling around and looking at the world than playing the game. I've looked for the "completion" items like Dragons and Legends and metal ViewMaster things, but I actually sit there in awe when the vista view is happening, and panning around the landmark for a larger view. These landmarks are all composed to make the world look like those old album covers which were so evocative of the feelings that the music brings. These need to be given away as wallpaper on the official site. They're gorgeous. They're so pretty in fact that I don't want to play the story missions, because I just want to drive around and absorb the feeling of being in the world. I was driving in my hot rod around the cliffs when the weather changed to a stormy night. Blue lightning flashed and lit the whole world in a stark, cerulean blue hue. Rain poured down as I tried to drive as close to the cliffs as possible, all the while the storm raged. It was just insanely beautiful.

Date: 2009-11-17 06:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] andrewv.livejournal.com
yeah ... I don't like metal and I don't want to play an RTS. and despite claims non-metalheads will enjoy it and "it's not an RTS," it sure seems like an RTS for metalheads.

so despite my super love for Psychonauts and Double Fine, I think this is going in the "permanent pass" file

Date: 2009-11-17 06:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ferricide.livejournal.com
yeah, i have to say, this

i hate metal, i hate metal humor (thanks, metalocalypse, for showing me that there was something to hate there, where i was previously ignorant) and i have no interest in playing an RTS with a "vertical" learning curve, let alone one at all.

i got a free copy so i'm going to spin it a bit but if i get disinterested it is getting put in the "fuck you" pile.

Date: 2009-11-18 10:01 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chronovore.livejournal.com
I hope you post your impressions when you try it.

Date: 2009-11-18 06:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ferricide.livejournal.com
can't. if i don't like it i can't say anything; it'll hurt someone's feelings. just what i said in this post is enough. but i don't think you know her.

Date: 2009-11-19 01:41 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chronovore.livejournal.com
Fair enough. You're probably right; I don't know too many women at DF. Caroline's a dear pal, but other than her I have only met their material contractor who is a FOAF and an animator, and Tim's wife. None of them follow this LJ, and I'm not propagating even the public posts here to Facebook.

Date: 2009-11-18 12:53 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chronovore.livejournal.com
I dunno. Consider that it was your love of music games which both frightened and intrigued me to the point of picking up Rock Band, and subsequently RB2, Guitar Hero III (boo!), then II (yay! HMX!), Lego Rock Band... clearly starting an appreciation for the rhythm genre that I'd abandoned after Parappa the Rapper and Bust-A-Move completely destroyed my will to play it.

I'm not much into RTS, but after figuring out how to play this, I am enjoying it. I even drew fan art! I suggest you at least give it a spin.

Schafer's claim that it's not an RTS is baffling; it's "not an RTS" in the same way that Halo isn't Quake.

Date: 2009-11-18 12:12 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] aalfonso.livejournal.com
I am actually at Dry Ice, Wet Greaves also... I tried it only once and I was like yeah, this game just got pretty god damn dumb.

The main problem I have with the RTS scenarios is that you have to manage not only your unit load and resources to worry about, but you also have to use Eddie to power up your troops and do most of the damage on the minor enemies. Like, the minor units that you control simply cannot put up a fight against Ophelia in this one mission so you have to that yourself, but that also takes you away from managing your units so that you don't get your merch booths obliterated.

Date: 2009-11-18 10:01 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chronovore.livejournal.com
I'm relieved to hear that a hardcore gamer like you is having trouble with that level. Yeah, it's a pain, but once I started accepting the rules of the game, it became really exhilarating.

Yeah, you can save your troops from Ophelia, but she also has to save her troops from you. If you've got the upgraded Axe and Guitar Strings, you can lay down some serious smack. You can also drive her off more easily with those upgrades, though in the singleplayer scenario she retreats and doesn't die; if you play skirmish in practice against the AI, she's pretty easy to lay out.

It's not that hard to manage Load, though the game should seriously display a simple Load min/max gauge; just knowing when your Load is falling is helpful, but seeing it drop substantially would be an easy cue to (a) investigate the trouble and (b) begin building replacement units. During that mission, I was surprised to see my load at "12/40" a few times ("Whaaaa~?") and during one nasty attempt, while traveling between two troubled outposts, it read "0/40" ("FFFFFUUUUU...") -- that gauge would have been onscreen and blaring.

As it is, managing Load itself is small potatoes compared to devoting time to a split up army on that map WHILE rushing to block the opponent's resources and/or unit creation (n.b. "0/40" scenario above). To actually win that battle, I created a basic group (headbangers, healer, razorgirls), sent them to the right-side Fan Geyser, and then stayed there to fend off the approaching Brides and Gravediggers while creating another group to get the left-side geyser. Capping that 2nd geyser takes you from an even 3-vs-3 resources fight to a 4-vs-2 fight, allowing you to upgrade your stage faster or produce more units. It got to the point where I was mainly trying to keep my build-queue filled while I rushed the stage, as opposed to my first few tries on the level, where I was just desperately trying to keep even one Fan Geyser.

By the way, driving The Deuce near their stage and activating the Subwoofer secondary weapon is enough to obliterate a group of gravediggers. Using the car to harass and preempt rushes is loads of fun. Unfortunately there's no access to the build queue or Load monitor from within The Deuce.

Date: 2009-11-19 05:03 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] aalfonso.livejournal.com
Yeah, there is absolutely no indication on screen when your unit load is dropping, which is a serious oversight in my opinion with a game like this. It's one of the reasons why I had trouble with this the first time around. I thought I was doing OK but then I checked my load and it was at 10/40 when a few seconds earlier it was around 15/40.

I may go back and try it again but I have a lot of other games to play so I don't know when I'll do that. It seems that I have developed a habit of saying fuck it to some games near the end if I feel that it's gone to shit. :P

Date: 2009-11-19 05:10 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chronovore.livejournal.com
Nooooo~! Give it another shot, use the techniques I mentioned, it's totally fun. Also, if you want an advantage, before you start the mission use Call of the Wild solo to summon a beast, and then use it again immediately when the mission begins. Two beasts, neither of which counts against Load, can be a make-or-break proposition early in that mission.

And I'll help you finish the SR2 mission whenever you like, just stop playing BlazBlue or SF4 long enough to let me join you for a co-op.

Date: 2009-11-24 04:24 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] aalfonso.livejournal.com
I'll probably give it another go when I get around to it, but the game isn't very compelling to me. :X The story and characters to me aren't that good, I don't have a lot of incentive to go through that level again, but I'll see about doing that after some other games that I finish.

Date: 2009-11-24 05:18 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chronovore.livejournal.com
I finished Brütal Legend on "brutal" difficulty over the weekend, and am really enjoying the story. Unfortunately, it's not revealed entirely through the cutscenes, but through the Legend markers throughout the world, so it can get a little asynchronous.

That mission was hard, but the last-last Stage Battle was more frustrating, in that it doesn't follow the rules of the RTS and is instead (by necessity) a scripted "once this checkpoint is passed, Bad Guy releases n amount of Big Badass Units"... which means if you haven't prepped your own forces to compete with that level of unit, you will die. That's annoying because in actual RTS-rule-using missions, if you "Zerg rush" the opponent it can be very effective -- they'll never get to the big units.

I mean, singleplayer sequences in RTS games frequently use scripted missions; the mission is less representative of the core rules, and more of a puzzle. If it's not your thing, you can pop the game difficulty down, clear the story, and move on. ---Or are you still the guy that doesn't care about finishing a game?

Date: 2009-11-24 05:32 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] aalfonso.livejournal.com
Yeah I probably will drop down the difficulty just to finish it, although that last stage battle (I know I have this one, plus Ophelia, plus the last one to clear) does sound like a bitch.

Date: 2009-11-24 07:37 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chronovore.livejournal.com
Well, the next Ophelia battle was actually pretty fun, and you get to (read: have to) roll out the biggest, baddest gun in your arsenal to finish it. Even so, I though I had it won a couple times, but then was beat back despite thinking I had her at death's door (knocking loudly, no less). It was an enjoyable ride.

Let me know if you want a dirt-simple strategy on the last battle; I figured it out myself and it works pretty well on Brutal diff.

Also, did you know your Mega-Stage has spot defenses? You can fly up to the spotlights and use them as a cannon, and you can use the mic station to heal, blow back small enemies, and generate fog (???). I didn't even find them until the 2nd-to-last battle, and haven't noticed the enemy avatar doing them during the game, but I suspect they can change the multiplayer substantially.

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