In the past I have opined
that there's not really any such thing as 'playing it wrong.' If a lot of people don't like a game and people say they're just not playing it properly, that is almost always because the game did not communicate to the player well enough how it wanted to be played.
It was somewhat disheartening, then, to see Tim Schafer - one of my video gaming heroes, no less - post up what appeared to be a rather defensive guide
on how to get the most out of Brutal Legend
, how it isn't best played as an RTS and how it ought to be played for the best possible experience. It's something that hasn't passed unnoticed
and I must concur that if you give a player a set of tools that looks a lot like an RTS, teach them to use them in the manner of an RTS then you shouldn't be surprised when people continue using them in such a way.
The problem is quite subtle, I think. The game does do a good job of introducing the various gameplay elements, the first couple of hours of the game spent in encounters that gradually uncover more and more of the strategic parts of the gameplay. There's never much doubt as to what tools are in the box, that's for sure - the game is clear at every step about what you can and can't do. Where the difficulty arrives is in the precise manner in which it teaches you to use them.
For example, the first time you set up the stage for a battle, you are on the defensive. There is another highly defensive battle in the mid-game where the aim is just to stay alive. While these missions change things up a little, they also muddy the waters because after a while it becomes apparent that the full-on stage battles reward extremely aggressive tactics which would probably be considered reckless in other strategy games. The game wants you to move in hard, fast, to cut off the enemies' supplies before they get a chance to build up a force in early, daring raids. The experience of doing so can be utterly exhilirating. If instead, however, you choose to do what the game taught you to do at first - defend your stage, keep your resources guarded you will find yourself getting into in a war of attrition which is much, much harder to win and far less fun.
In fact, it's like playing a completely different game. In one battle fairly late in the game I unwisely took the attrition approach and was beaten by an AI that was just better at being on the ball with what units to buy and when, and where to send them. It was a slow, soul destroying defeat. The next time I played I decided to be ultra-agressive, going for quick, early strikes to capture all but one of the enemy's fan geysers (basically the 'gold mines' of the game). I spent most of my time on the ground hacking at stuff and felt like I was leading from the front. As a result, it was over within ten explosive, action packed minutes that were well in keeping with the mood of the rest of the game.
Why the game doesn't do a better job of teaching you 'aggressive strategy' I've no idea. Granted, it's a hard balancing act to teach because there certainly are
moments in the game where it's worth holding back and building up a force. But I can only concede that it is a problem with the game, a flaw that I believe has contributed majorly to some of the (slightly!) more negative reviews that have appeared.
BUT... (that 'but' in the title had to crop up eventually)
I can't stay mad at it. I just can't. I thought it would be a problem for me - I was nervous as I sat down to play the game. But after figuring out how the game really wanted me to play it, and a couple of hours of finger-wagging ('Bad Schafer. Naughty Schafer. You should have told
me that's what you wanted from me!') I was left with classic Schafer. A brilliantly realised world that bleeds
imagination, from a man who knows how to build 'em and surrounds himself with people who bring it to life wonderfully. Truly excellent writing, characters and comic timing. Finally, gameplay that is solid (above bitching aside), thematically sound and just damned good fun enough to support everything else that is good about it.
Here's the real test: Tim Schafer said that he hoped the game would make people who previously weren't into Heavy Metal like it. Well, I admit there are a couple of classic metal tunes I found myself unexpectedly enjoying but I don't think I'll be browsing the Metal section of my music shop any time soon. However, it's a testament to how well the game transports me into its world that from the moment that I press start to the moment that I quit for the evening, I can honestly say that Metal is my favourite genre of all time.
LOOK WHO CAME: