I just finished playing Brutal Legend, and I wanted to hold forth on it. (The 'u' in Brutal is supposed to have an umlaut, but I'm too lazy to figure out how to type that. Sue me.) I was pretty much destined to play the game once I found out that Tim Schafer designed it. He did Psychonauts, which is one of the best video games ever. So he's earned some trust.
I really, really enjoyed the game. It's one of the very few games I've ever played where, at the end, I wished it had gone on longer. (Though, admittedly, this might mean it's too short). The main storyline is a mix of mindless battle, driving, and strategy game, and they all totally worked for me. It was also balanced to be, on Normal difficulty, pretty easy, which I appreciated. The storyline is pleasant, the writing is truly funny, and the voice acting is top notch.
And yet, the game has been lambasted by some sources I really thought would appreciate it, like Penny Arcade and Zero Punctuation. For exactly the reasons I liked it. Which bothers me in several ways.
(Well, Yahtzee, the guy who does Zero Punctuation, should be expected to hate it. That's just what he does. I have actually seen people consider Zero Punctuation to provide a serious and worthwhile critical judgment. Do Not Do This. Yahtzee makes his living saying bad things about games. That's his right. That also means he has a strong financial motive to not like games. Yahtzee is either a person who pretends to hate games to provide material for his videos or a guy who really does hate all games but still feels compelled to play them. Let us all hope, for his sake, that it is the former.)
The main source of contention is the strategy missions of the game. In these, you are still a warrior on the ground, doing battle and kicking ass. But the game then sucks in elements of real-time strategy games so that you can summon units to fight alongside you. What's more, you can combine with the units you make to use special badass attacks. For example, you can make tanks to fight beside you, but you can also jump in those tanks, drive them around, and shoot stuff. Or summon your armored car and screech around the battlefield and run people over. Or dive into the middle of attacking hordes and lay waste. Or just fly high up in the sky and pretend you're playing Starcraft. It's very open-ended.
I love this, because it means that the boss fights aren't all just tedious hackfests where you have to find out the enemy's oh-so-clever weak point. They are epic battles, and they should be. And it feels unique to me and (well, here comes the word) innovative.
But that's the problem.
People say they want innovation. But actually give them something different that they have to adjust to and they get all angry and full of nerdrage.
And, since he made something that plays in a new and different way and this threw some people off, Tim Schafer wrote a public letter giving some strategy advice. He received some mockery for this, but he is in the right. If unfamiliar gameplay makes some people freak out, some gentle tips for how to get back on the right track are all to the good. And he isn't at fault here, because the game has excellent tutorials and tips for how to play. And the thing really is balanced to be easy. And there is a huge amount of freedom in how you play the boss battles. You can try a lot of different things and win. You just have to, you know, try.
Now, the game isn't perfect. I think that the main quest is still a bit underfed to justify a full $60 price tag. I rented it. Though I've heard the online multiplayer is pretty good, which would goose the value a bit. But, in terms of fun, Brutal Legend is aces with me.
Now back to Dragon Age and Torchlight. My world is full of stat-building, horrifying brutality, and trying to unlock the lesbian sex scene.