Day 2 of Brutal Legend teaches me how this game is basically going to work. It’s frankly living exactly up to my realistic and not optimistic expectations: very good narrative and dialogue tied to mediocre gameplay and some BAD save point choices. I play several different narrative-based mechanics, and some of those are quite good, but the core battle mechanic is a cloud of confusion, and there are a couple of truly bad moments. Narrative continues to move quickly, but it’s at a reasonable pace now, and they have time to give some flavor now. Spoilers within.
The first taste of Brutal Legend today is bitter. So remember how I saved at the end of that tutorial in the mines. Well, when I restarted, I was back at the beginning of the mine. All my progress was gone. FAIL. You do not get to do that without warning me. They clearly have pop-ups in this game — where was the one telling me I would lose my progress and go back to the beginning of the current stage? Not cool, Brutal Legend, not cool.
I do the scene over, and get back to the point where I’m heading deeper into the mine. I get a cutscene showing the bigger mine, and a large Conan-inspired machine over a lava pit in the center with headbangers pushing the wheel. There a giant foreman on a platform who sees us and sends hairbangers (the evil headbangers in the hair metal getups) whom we easily crush. That pisses the foreman off, and he orders his troops to collapse the wheel and kill all the headbangers on it. They do this by attacking the three struts that hold the wheel over the lava pit, each one or two struts per wave. This is a chance for me to experiment with the three troop commands I learned, and play around with marching with and separating from my guys. It’s an okay fight. My screen turns red once while I’m fighting by myself, which I guess is the way the game shows I’m going to die. It regenerates over time as I avoid damage.
Struts defended, we cut to a boss fight against the big foreman. This one is confusing; you’re on a big platform with these mine carts being ferry above it. The boss uses his giant fists to block any incoming attacks. I try my lightning for a while, because the audio feedback seems to indicate that it’s doing something, but I’m not making any progress. After a few minutes, I try to get the foreman under the mine carts. That also does nothing, but when I randomly slam attack, I notice the foreman is stunned and I can attack him for effect. A tip tells me that the strategy is to slam attack while the boss is under the carts to stun him. That is about as obscure as these things get. If I NEED the tip to figure the battle out, the puzzle is too hard.
Boss is defeated, but while dying summons more guards. I use Battle Cry to awaken the headbangers on the wheel and we fight them off. We win, Riggs CS christens the headbanger army Ironheade (“with an e on the end to show we’re not messing around”) and I get a Brutal Victory closing plate.
It’s interesting, by the way, how much this feels like an adventure game. I know this Pikmin thing is at the center, but the weird boss puzzles and the pretty trivial combat makes me feel much more like I finished a chapter than beat a challenge. Neither good or bad that observation, but there you go.
I head back to Bladehenge after the mission complete, and all of a sudden, the world is filled with random elements. I see my men running around “patrolling” the roads, or I should say, I ram into one of them with my car. I’m worried that I’m going to massacre my units this way; I mean, I only had ten or so in the mine. I also see a bunch of hairbangers and foremen on the roads, especially when I make a wrong turn. I fight them for a little while, but I can’t see any real benefit to doing so. I don’t seem to get any points of any kind for beating them, and they don’t drop anything. It seems like a minor oversight, but it’s very much making me not want to fight anything.
When I get back to Bladehenge, Riggs learns CS that Ophelia is hurt because of a mission she went on by herself. She’s dying, and Lars is going to take her to the Killmaster to save her. Lita asks Riggs to stop Lars to avoid him getting in trouble, but Rigg replies that he’s going to help Lars get her there. This is a drive to the Killmaster site on the map, and then a march up the hill with my army. (Turns out my previous fear of killing my guys was unnecessary — I get as many as I need for the scene.) Enemies appear along the way for us to dispatch. I learn that I can use the team-up ability to make my Ironheades mosh around me as a team. That makes combat faster, but I now have no idea what’s happening as I plow through opponents. There are also these enemy archer dominatrix who shoot arrows at you from a high unreachable place. They have this giant slave with them, but I hate them so much that I electrocute them with my guitar as fast as I can, and the slave never activates.
Eventually, I get to the top of the hill, and CS I meet the killmaster (based on the bassist/singer from Motorhead), who it turns out is a healer. He plays the bass to help her, but his strings aren’t powerful enough. They need special metal strings from the Spider Queens Lair, but that’s too dangerous for them to go to anymore. Lars wants to go, but Lita says he’ll die too. Then Lars says something about Lita wanting Ophelia dead, and the real family fun begins. They fight about whether or not to save Ophelia, and Riggs decides to stay out of it. Interestingly, they imply that Ophelia has a dark past. Maybe there’s more to her story than I realized…
I get control back and drive to the Metal Queens lair. The lair is quite cool with metal spider webs everywhere, and they play on OSSIM Brocas Helm song as I enter. There are these big spider enemies, and these spider swarms that cover you and that you must kill with a slam attack. I die once in the tunnel, and annoyingly have to go all the way back to the start of the tunnel when I respawn. Sigh. I guess some lessons just don’t stick in the world of games.
The tunnel ends with the Spider Queen boss herself, who is a gorgeous metal spider monster. It’s a good boss fight. You have to lightning her at a certain stage of her attacks. It’s not super original, but the graphics of the boss are just stunning. I also have a new spell that lets me attack a bunch of enemies in a wave, but the game is unpredictably fickle about when I get to use that ability. I beat the boss with only one death (it’s an early fair one as I’m figuring her out) and claim my bass strings.
Riggs CS realizes he’s running out of time, and builds a bike out of the metal spider parts to take him back to the Killmaster. I get control for a time race back to the top of the mountain. This is a bit tricky, because the lighting in the tunnels is dark, so it’s easy to miss a turn in the lair, and there’s a really deceptive false turn on the way back to the mountain. I lose this about 7 times, although many of them are force restarts when I realize I’m behind. Not fun, but not unfun either. Eventually, I pull it off.
The Killmaster CS plays the chords that heal Ophelia. As she awakens, she looks at Lars and thanks him as the one she can always count on. Riggs looks away sadly. (See the core theme here?) Killmaster agrees to help us defeat Lionwhite and lend us some healers for the army. Mission complete, it’s time to go back to Bladehenge.
On the way back, I notice there are a number of locations on my map for secondary quests, so I drive around a little bit looking for them. This leads me to a big structure with these strange flowers around it; Riggs tell me that the flowers indicate there’s something under the ground to save. I use my Relic spell, and that causes a garage to unearth. I drive in, and a somewhat long CS shows me drive into a cavernous red place. Ozzy pops up, although he claims he’s just a metal fan. It turns out the fire tributes I’ve been getting this whole time can be used for upgrades. (Ozzy tells me that the metal gods are impressed with me because I’m the only one on this planet of clods who figured out the spells and the tech.) They give me a radio for the Deuce for free, and I buy two Axe upgrades, and then take off.
I return to Bladehenge to find Ophelia who CS explains to Riggs that she’ll show him how she got hurt if he’ll help her out. Riggs agrees, and Ophelia tells him to meet her at the Razorfields. I drive there, and when I arrive, Ophelia CS introduces Riggs to the Razorgirls, who are escaped pleasure-slaves that Ophelia is turning into archers. To get them ranged weapons, she has to have the spine of the motorcycle-like razorpigs in the field. She asks for Riggs’s help, and I choose to start a mission to help her out. The mission involves me piloting the Killmaster’s motorcycle to herd the pigs toward Ophelia, and then hitting them with a stun chord (i.e. pressing A) to stun them. It takes me about a minute to figure out, but it’s quite fun once I get it, and I thoroughly enjoy bringing Ophelia the four spines she needs.
What is not thoroughly enjoyable is what happens when the mission ends. So I’m standing in the field getting ready to head back to Bladehenge, halfway through Deuce summoning spell, and two razorpigs hit me and I’m dead. Err, what just happened? I reload, and again I’m dead in five seconds. WHAT – THE – FUCK?!? Why ON EARTH would you put me in such a dangerous space right after I finished a mission? I die like six times before I find a safe little area where I can cast the Deuce spell and get out. Just plain awful.
Once I’m past that mess, I get back to Bladehenge. I CS see the Razorgirls in action, but then someone sees warning lights go off, and that tells the army that Lionwhite is on the move. Lars makes an impassioned statement that we’ll fight, but Lita and Ophelia point out that our position isn’t defensible. Riggs says he can rig up a quick fortress, and I get control back and must now head to the site where we’ll build it. I decide this is a good place to stop, and so I save and call it a night.