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E3 09: Burch 'n Davis play Brutal Legend

5:15 PM on 06.03.2009 // Ashley Davis

Brutal Legend. You've seen it, heard it, and most likely have waited for it in great anticipation. I know that Anthony and I both have. And today, we finally got to have some hands-on time with a pretty extensive demo. We were taken through a good bit of the beginnings of the game's story, some combat, and a little bit of exploration and driving as well. The demo, unlike some of the others we've played so far, was really quite varied, and showed off a lot of what the full game will have to offer.

Will the game live up to its lofty expectations? Is it as good a game as its world is stylistic and interesting? Does it retain the old Tim Schafer brand of humor that we all know and love? Will Anthony keep being mean to me? Keep reading to hear our back-and-forth regarding our playthrough of Brutal Legend to see what we thought of it. But here's a hint at the answers to all these questions -- yes.

Ashley:  So, Brutal Legend: it's even more awesome than I was expecting it to be.
Anthony:  What were you expecting?
Ashley:  To be honest, I was expecting something more like Psychonauts; as much as I love that game, I love it more for its characters and dialogue. The gameplay was nothing really special.
Anthony:  In Psychonauts.
Ashley:  Right.
Anthony:  Hello, fellow member of the road crew.
Ashley: I am a widow. I am grieving.
But Brutal Legend has great writing, great character design, and great gameplay, from what we played. Wouldn't you agree?
Anthony:  So, just to get the negative crap out of the way first, I'm still mildly -- mildly, mildly, mildly -- bummed out that all the guitar stuff is just done using the controller rather than being mapped to an actual guitar peripheral.
But at the same time, I totally understand why, because you use it in the middle of attack combos and stuff. But there are those little songs you play to, like, rise ruins from the ground that I would have loved to shred on a guitar peripheral. But maybe I'm more willing to put up with the clunkiness of switching between a controller and a guitar than most people.
But yes, everything you said was great.
I was really surprised at (A) how emotive Eddie Riggs' face is, and (B) how well-suited Jack Black's voice is to the gameplay.
Ashley:  I totally agree. I was on the floor laughing every time the players around us got to certain scenes, and again when we reached them ourselves. The humor is very good, which is pretty much what you can count on from Schafer.
Anthony:  There's that part where a huge boss's neck gets crushed by a gate, rancor-style, and Eddie slides on his knees playing air guitar screaming "DECAPITATIOOOOAAAAOOAAAN".
Ashley: Ahahahah. It even makes me laugh when I'm just remebering it.
We got to experience some bits of combat and a few driving sections in between the cutscenes. Right away, both of us seemed to liken the combat system to Fable II. I actually kept trying to press the same button to use magic and flubbing it up. But Brutal Legend's combat system is very fluid and satisfying.
Anthony:  It's simple, but satisfying in the exact way I found Fable II's combat to be. The A button initiates an axe attack, and the X button is guitar-summoned magic. If you hold either of the buttons you get more powerful versions of those same basic attacks (again, exactly like Fable II) and if you press them at the same time, you do a sort of earthquake move that stuns everyone in the immediate vicinity.
So you can do some visually cool combos like hitting the shit out of a dude, then zapping him with your guitar, then finishing him off with a big decapitation and continuing to play the guitar to shock his body with lightning as he falls.
Ashley:  The earthquake move also destroys the environment around you, so that stuff can fall on your enemies and crush them.
Anthony:  I was literally rocking the fuck out over my enemies' bodies, like an extra sort of "fuck you" as they died.
Yeah. For some reason -- presumably because it's a fucking heavy metal game and car engines are fucking heavy metal -- there are these huge car engines suspended from chains that you can detach by earthquaking.
  Well, the flowers are shaped like hands giving the horns.
Anthony:  I still didn't notice that, even after you said it. I may be blind.
What did you think about the driving controls?
Ashley:  Hang on! I was using the flowers as a joke AND a segway!
Anthony:  Sorry.
Ashley:  Anywhere these flowers are, you can press RT to bring up a song menu. These songs are a lot like the songs in the Legend of Zelda games. Once you select your song (the demo only had two -- one to summon your car and the other to make ruins rise from the ground), a bar comes up with the buttons you need to press to play the notes.
Anthony:  Type moar plox
Ashley:  Okay!
Anthony:  No, don't really.
Ashley:  Fine.
Anthony:  Again, I now feel like a dick. Continue.
I agree, the song-summoning mechanic is literally just a repurposed Ocarina of Time.
Ashley:  But it's very cool, even if it's not totally original. It totally fits the game.
  I hope the songs get more complex as the game goes on, though. As it stood there were only like four notes you needed to hit, and I wanna really have to wail on the guitar to summon some of the cooler stuff.
Hit the squeedlies and/or the meedlies.
Ashley:  I'm sure they do. That's how Zelda's songs work too, right?
Anthony:  Kinda. There wasn't too much rocking out on the Ocarina, but I guess they got more complex.
Anyway, driving.
Ashley:  Hahaha.
I usually hate driving sequences. We were watching the guy ahead of us play through them and I was like, "Oh boy." But when I actually got to control the vehicle myself, it really suprised me by how tight the controls were.
Anthony: Yeah. It wasn't like a Jak and Daxter racing sequence or something awful like that. It was really simplified (RT gas, LT brake, analog stick steering) but really unobtrusive and enjoyable.
Ashley:  There was a really cool boss-type of scene where you had to drive in circles around a large demon worm (the boss mentioned earlier), and the camera angle was a little weird for that portion, and that was the only thing that made it any harder than it needed to be.
Anthony:  It wasn't so bad if you don't suck at videogames.
Ashley:  Right, but it's me that's talking about it.
Er, I mean, fuck you!
Anthony:  Good girl.
Ashley:  The booth girl told me I did a good job.
Anthony:  You're the only person she ever told that to.
There was also a moment in that boss fight where the worm sort of rises up and slams down to kill you, and when he slams down his three tongues stick to the ground and you've gotta individually destroy those three tongues by slashing them or driving into them.
And when you destroy the second tongue, Eddie yells, "I can't believe you fell for that twice!"
Which, you know. I laughed.
I think I just ruined the joke by typing it out.
Ashley:  You laughed all three times that we heard it.
Anthony:  I did. Jack Black's delivery is just really damn good, and I say that as someone who generally finds him to be really hit or miss.
Ashley:  Ditto. He's such a good fit for Eddie.
Like Anthony mentioned earlier, the characters, especially Eddie, are extremely emotive. If you played Psychonauts, you have a pretty good idea of how Schafer goes the extra mile to make his non-realistic creations look more realistic through their facial expressions. Brutal Legend is even better about it.
Anthony:  He's got these really subtle eyebrow raises and eye widenings.
We also saw a car combat mission, which was pretty simplified, and -- oh!
We bought car upgrades from Ozzy Osbourne.
Ashley: Not simplified in a bad way, mind you!
Anthony:  The Guardian of Metal.
Right, not simplified in a bad way.
Ashley:  I really liked it a lot.
Anthony:  You just hit A and it shoots gatling guns at enemy motorcycles via lockon.
Ashley:  And I felt really good when the guy beside me died at that part and I didn't.
Anthony:  It's easy, but whatever. It certainly wasn't frustrating or anything.
Ashley:  I also bought another weapon from Ozzy that essentially covered the left and right sides of the car with flames.
So it seems there will be some pretty cool customizations you can make to the car and your weapons.
Anthony:  Ozzy's first words when you meet him are, "it's about fucking time," and everything after that point was rendered totally impossible to understand by virtue of the fact that he's fucking Ozzy Osbourne.
Compounded with the volume of the show floor.
But yeah, there's some RPG-esque shit there. You earn fire points by doing really cool stunts like hitting a boost ramp and landing a big jump, at which point a bunch of hands come from the bottom of the screen holding lit, encore lighters.
And then you get 20 points or whatever.
Does that make sense? "Encore" lighters?
Ashley:  Sure! I don't know what else you'd call them.
Maybe "rock ballad lighters".
  I like that better.

Ashley Davis,
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