Brutal Legend (X360)  

Feeble old man: “Back in my day, children spent hours admiring record album artwork. The thrills of that era are gone.”

Sympathetic young’un: “Aww… why?”

Feeble old man: “With the digital revolution, there’s no physical media. Record albums had front and back covers, and you could often flip the sleeve open to see artwork of a massive sprawling landscape, with demons and lava and volcanoes. Maybe even demonic metal faces with lava pouring from their mouths. Sitting on top of volcanoes. Nowadays, you just get a bunch of music that you can carry in your pocket and listen to anywhere, whenever you want.”

Sympathetic young’un: “Well, that sucks.”

Brutal Legend, billed as “a Tim Schafer game”, pays tribute to such memories of desolate demonic wastelands. I don’t give a Ratt’s ass about Tim Schafer, but I certainly appreciate the sentiment. For a couple hours, I was prepared to herald this game as a work of genius.

Upon awakening in a magical land, hero Eddie spilled much druid blood with his BATTLE-AXE. After dispatching an enormous fork-tongued beast, Eddie and the distressed damsel drove off like bats out of hell to take down Emperor Dovinculus (who steals mens’ souls and makes them his slaves).

Brutal Legend quickly introduced its real-time strategy (RTS) elements. During a mission called Exploited in the Bowels of Hell, Eddie led disgruntled workers to overthrow their hooded foreman. It wasn’t a quiet riot; he inspired them with the power of ROCK. After enduring several electrical guitar shocks, the taskmaster was knocked into lava by the spinning wheel of pain (think Conan). More guards showed up, but the workers who toiled on the wheel of pain (think Conan) leapt down and began banging the crap out of the guards with their iron heads. And so, this army became known as . . . IRONHEADE!

The energized feeling wouldn’t last. Between missions, Eddie is forced to wander through an excessively expansive overworld that is sparsely populated by beasts that would look tame on an Iron Maiden album. Brutal Legend is a game stuck in the wrong part of the past, back when simply being 3D was new and exciting and provided enough reason to scour the world for collectibles. Today, it’s a boring hike across drab environments with sporadic spikes of excitement whenever an RTS mission starts up.

New RTS techniques are introduced with each mission. Unfortunately, even when Eddie learns to fly and survey the entire battlefield, guiding the camera and ordering troops to perform specific tasks is cumbersome and unpredictable. Furthermore, by the time I did start to cotton on to a winning methodology . . . the game ended! The single-player campaign is basically a multi-player tutorial. I’m all for epic online battles, but give me a single-player campaign to enjoy after the online community fades away (or in case the game never actually builds a community).

Despite a few high points, Brutal Legend doesn’t exploit its potential, ends abruptly, and ultimately feels like the developers didn’t know where to take their own game. For those first two hours, Brutal Legend reminded me of an inspirational era in music. Now that I’ve been reminded, I wouldn’t mind if someone else channels that inspiration into a competent videogame. Perhaps that metal-loving bastard Hagiwara should give the concept a shot; I’d welcome an adventure in Metallicana.