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Brutal Legend Day#7: Children of the Grave

Day 7 of Brutal Legend, and I breathe a sigh of relief as the narrative improves sharply.  The game feels a bit more like an adventure game this session, and I have a couple of puzzles and a lot of much needed back story and explanation.  Another stage battle, and I have to admit that I’m starting to figure it out, but I also have a better sense of what the key issue is. RTS + over-the-shoulder perspective + control of units based on proximity to avatar = not fun. Spoilers within.

I come back to Brutal Legend for the cat hunt, which goes much faster this time. I guess I just needed a night or two to solve it in my mind. It ends with a CS where the cats’ protectors, the Zalia, show up. They look like the female version of KISS. They capture Riggs et al and throw them in a cage. Riggs fails to convince them to join his army, and they start to light the cave on fire.

I get control back here, in a cage with a giant stone obelisk in the center and fire slowly closing in. It’s a puzzle to figure out how to get out of the cage before burning. I die a couple times just running around, but then I get behind the obelisk and see the red flowers that tell me I can raise a relic. I do that solo, and CS the obelisk rises up to reveal a set of illustrated panels. Zalia and Riggs have a conversation in which they see that Riggs’s dad was part of the Black Tear Rebellion and led the Zalia to defend their land in the past. Riggs also reveals that his Dad gave him the buckle years ago before he disappeared. Knowing that Riggs is the son of a general who risks everything to protect them, they agree to join his army. Nice job tying up loose ends here.

I get control back to climb down the ziggurat, which is a beautiful piece of architecture. On the way down, I pass another chained up dragon, and decide to experiment with it. I discover that holding down X to create a burst of flame is the trick. Cool. Another thing to clean up. I also get a new narrative bit about cars.

I get to the bottom of hill where Riggs CS asks Lita if she still trusts him knowing that his dad fought in Black Tears. She tells him his father was a hero for resisting the Lake of Black Tears when so many in that army allowed themselves to be corrupted. It turns out Doviticus opened the lake in the same way back then to destroy the human armies. Riggs’s dad went on one more quest to try to destroy Doviticus for this act, but he never returned.  Lita asks if Riggs is  here to finish dad’s mission, and when you start the next mission, Riggs tells her that it’s his mission now.

The next bit is moving the van deeper towards the Lake through the swamp, which leads Riggs to ride ahead on one of the giant cats to clear a path. It’s not bad. The cat breathes fire, but it controls a bit awkwardly.  But the big thing is that there’s a thunderhog healer riding along with the van. I have never really had any idea what these things do, but when I accidentally run my cat over to the hog, it glows and starts to regenerate.  Oh, that’s what that glowing in combat did. That would have been nice to know WHEN I FIRST GOT THE HEALER UNIT. Sigh.

CS we arrive in the dry ice mines, and Riggs sees how this dry ice would be good in his stage show. Ophelia appears with an car carrying an organ, but she explains that the song it plays is for her. The CS continues with the old Ophelia sadly walking up to the Lake and jumping in. To Ozzy’s Mr. Crowley, she is pulled to the bottom of the lake by dark tentacles and arises as the dark Ophelia. (Oh yeah, Ophelia. Get it? Man, that’s how poor most game narratives are, that I didn’t see this coming.) It’s beautifully rendered. This is actually all in Riggs head, as we realize when Lita asks him what he’s looking at. This leads right into a stage battle for the salt mines.

Alright, this is GOOD narrative. All the stuff with Riggs’s dad, all the development on Ophelia, this is solid storytelling. I’m glad my slog through the rougher parts of this game has been worth it. If the game story stays at this pace and skill, I’m going to be hooked until the end.

The stage battle is hard. I get totally stuck in a stalemate and decide to start over. There’s some nice narrative between Riggs and Ophelia during the fight, but I just seem to get into a draw and I can’t see a way out. I start over and figure out a trick. Take all of the fan geysers as fast as you can. It turns out that the fans let you summon more units. Notice I’ve discovered this about 50% of the way through the game. The real problem with stage battles is clear. Riggs can only control units around him, but with an over-the-shoulder perspective, you can only barely see the map. This means you rarely have any ideas what units are listening to you, or in fact where your units are. Think about Pikmin. Same basic stuff,  but you have a top-down perspective, you can actually see what’s around. RTS games need an RTS perspective, or in the absence of that, a ton of feedback to make up for it.

I win pretty handily the second time, but Ophelia is gone in the CS afterward. Riggs sees a use for the additional stage, but I decide it’s time for some secondary mission clean-up before calling it a night. I get one toad race that I lose several times because I keep accidentally triggering the Turbo at random times.  Next in a cannon aiming game, which I win despite myself, then another race which I should win the first time but a bug causes the game not to recognize when I reach the goal and I have to play it a second time, and then a lift mission which homing missiles make MUCH easier. I drive around for a long time looking for a new Motor Forge and finally find it.

I also get one more narrative bit. It explains the myth of the Lake of Black Tears. It turns out it was formed by the tears of an ancient singer trapped underground. Drinking from the Lake gives you power, but drives you mad with sorrow. The Titans (the old people of the land) closed the lake off with a mountain, but it keeps creeping out in cracks to seduce the lost and forlorn. It’s a great myth, and it explains everything I’ve been seeing in the Black Tear parts. And this narrative elegance is a  nice note to end of this session.

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