Kotaku AU Games Of 2009: #5

The countdown of my personal picks for the best games of 2009 is now entering the home straight. Last week I revealed the first half, now this week it's time for the top five. And at #5 we hear a demon screaming, angels singing and creation's hammer hitting the anvil of time...

5. Brütal Legend (360, PS3)

If The House of the Dead: Overkill left us with perhaps the best ending of the year, then Brütal Legend greets us with perhaps the best opening. Jack Black's ushering of the player into an old record store, making us privy to a long-lost musical treasure, gave clear indication of the deeply personal journey we were about to undertake. This is the game Tim Schafer has always wanted to make. Like a monstrous bassline shaking you to the very core, Brütal Legend floods your soul with love for its subject, its characters and its world.

Schafer mines every metal element for a pun or metaphor and then refines them all into recognisable but often unexpected gameplay. Leading groups of headbangers into battle; drawing energy from your legion of fans; playing face melting guitar solos; paying tribute to the Rock Gods; everything just makes perfect sense, forging a heavy metal fantasy that's as seamless as it is seismic. Even the curveball - the pseudo real-time strategy of the centre-piece Stage Battles - plays out like an epic face-off between two bands scheduled simultaneously on opposite stages at a festival.

In less skilled hands, it could have descended into parody. But Schafer and the Double Fine team respect their source of inspiration too much. We're always laughing along with Eddie and friends - never at them.

Brütal Legend has heart like you've never seen in a video game. Its superbly written story is by turns triumphant and touching, best encapsulated in the early scene when Lars asks Eddie, "What do you do with a bunch of kids who just wanna bang their heads all the time?" and Eddie, his eyes misting up, his voice quivering, replies, "You start a revolution, Lars..."

It's fucking awesome.

Kotaku AU's Games of 2009 are my personal picks for the best games of the year. I make no claim to have played everything released this year, nor do I pretend to be any way objective in my rankings. I look forward to debating my choices with you in the comments.


Comments

    Yes indeedy. Brutal legend is truly one of the best games I've played in recent memory.

    Though the gameplay concepts may take a bit of time to get your head around ( I pity those who didn't give it the time it deserved and just shrugged it off as a poorly designed RTS wannabe ), the reward in the end is a game that is beautiful and brutal in every respect.

    I have to agree David, This game IS fucking awesome!

    There are alot of haters of this game mainly due to Jack Black... But he did an incredible job in this game. Although i don't like the multiplayer that much, the single player really stuck with me and i found myself trying to finish all of the side missions after i finished the game. Definitely worthy of a top 10 finish for 09.

      I absolutely agree. The voice work was fantastic (Jack Black, Ozzie, Lemmy Kilminster? Awesome!). I kind of wish the game had been a little longer, but Schafer and Double Fine really delivered on what they set out to do. I loved the Quasi-RTS elements, and the humour was there in droves. I'd love some new campaign DLC for it, but really I can't complain - it was a fantastic game overall, especially with the awesome soundtrack.

    You can really see Tim Schafer’s passion for metal music in this game. My only real problem with it was the fact that you too have to be a fan on the music to appreciate the game fully, sure any fan of any genre could pick this game up and play it and think it was good, But if you don’t have an understanding of the metal genre then you just can’t pick up on the little things that make the world the way it is and the little easter eggs that you only pick up on your second playthrough. Basically if you’re a fan of Brittany or NSYNC or some shit, the game just isn’t that memorable, but yeah, Schafer said from the start that this is a game based on metal, so non-metal fans know what they are in for when they buy it.

      I guess my criticism was a bit harsh, to be fair, the game was never marketed or made for the teenybopper crowd. I’m guessing if you ask today’s teen who Ozzy, Lars Ulrich or Rob Halford are they would give you a big blank stare.

        They're the characters from Brutal Legend of course! =)

    Now i haven't played this game long enough to give any personal opinion to it.

    But this surprised me being #5. I know you liked it - but not as much as you say in this article. Mainly cause, all i heard of the game from your opinion was the review you gave and thats all.

    But the way you speak of it here, i may have to actually go buy or rent the game.

      WOW totally just realized the review wasn't from you Dave.
      My bad

    Personally, it was my #1 game for '09, I loved every single minute of it. An absolutely beautiful looking game in every sense, an extremely involving story that you can't help caught up in, and I really did enjoy the RTS elements once I got my head around how they really work.

    Plus, really; is there any song more awesome to have during a final boss fight than Painkiller?

    I bought the game, then i heard it was mostly an RTS. I've started to play it but I've compl;etely lost interest now, purely because I've got RTS in the back of my mind and i just don't like RTS'. Its a shame as I've always been a fan of Schafers work and i love metal.

      It's not an RTS at all. It takes RTS elements - the stage is your base, fans are your resources with which you build units - but it plays out like an action game.

      Eddie is the most powerful unit in your army. He needs to be on the ground, using his solos and double team attacks on the frontline. Keep your army together and move as a group from one resource point to the next. If the enemy breaks through your line, fly Eddie to where they are and he should be able to take them down on his own.

        Are you kidding? It is mostly an RTS game. Eddie can't kill the armies on his own - you need to manage your units so you've got strong support... like a strategy game. The game forces you to play like that.

        It's not the hack and slash it was marketed as - if you're not a fan of RTS games (like I am) then you will probably not get into this. I've already traded it and picked up Assassin's Creed II.

          I'm not kidding. You've fundamentally misunderstood the game.

          Sure, the Stage Battles have strategic objectives, and yes, you have to decide which units should be "built", but that doesn't make it a strategy game.

          You spend the majority of your time running around fighting a ground war, leading your troops into battle, performing special attacks, and just hacking and slashing. Like any action game with a range of moves at your disposal, there are plenty of tactical decisions to be made - what's the best solo to play? who should you double team with? - but very few strategic choices.

            Totally - I didn't pick it up straight away and was a little worried about the RTS rumours travelling around. The first time I battled I treated the game like an RTS, using Eddy purely to manage the playing field and lost. Sure, the player has to manage a few resources but, without a hefty amount of hacking and slashing from Eddy, you can't win. (Though, truth be told, I'm only 3/4 of the way through at current.)

            Have to agree with the Game on! Podcast guy here david.

            In the words of penny-arcade: 'If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it's probably an RTS'

            I've played a lot of RTS's in my time, and while Brutal Legend is no-where near as complicated as them, it is most definitely an RTS.

            Saying that Brutal Legend is an action game with RTS elements is like saying that Warcraft III is an RPG with RTS elements (due to the hero system), or that Baulder's Gate 2 is an action game with RPG elements.

              And I have to strongly disagree. That you have direct control of Eddie - your most powerful unit - is a crucial distinction, and a significant factor in what distinguishes it as an action game. Tellingly, the game has identical controls regardless of whether Eddie is running around the world or involved in a Stage Battle.

              I think you're confusing "strategy" (ie. the method of war) with "tactics" (ie. how to fight a specific battle). Plenty of action games engage in tactics - as do RPGs and RTSs. There are very few strategic choices in Brutal Legend, but many tactical ones. But, unlike an RTS or RPG, the execution of your tactical choices is highly dependent on your manual dexterity, which is a hallmark of the action genre.

              Sorry to get all semantic, but I do think it's misleading to label Brutal Legend an RTS when the shallow RTS elements it does posses occupy no more than 5% of the gameplay.

                So, Dawn of War 2 is not an RTS? What about the upcoming CnC4, that uses a similar concept (central unit that spawns others).

                Going back to my point of WC3, many of the campaign missions have you controlling a central hero, not unlike Eddie.

                Having a 'hero unit' is not a new concept to RTS, it's just handled slightly differently in Brutal Legend in an effort to not confuse the player when the different game play segments arise. This is why Eddie also has his 'commander mode', where he flies above the battlefield to build and command units just like a, you got it, RTS!

                Shallow RTS elements is indeed right, Brutal Legend has somehow managed to combine a bad RTS with a bad Action-adventure game with a bad driving sim. If it wasn't for the cut scenes, I would have stopped playing after the 2nd RTS battle.

                Lastly, for people that say the 'best unit to use is Eddie himself', I played the game on hard, and the only time I actually landed Eddie during the RTS battles was to do a couple of solos (face melter and the buff one), or build a merch booth. If you have a balance of units they are perfectly capable of managing on their own.

            I've got to agree with David - Brutal Legend is not an RTS in any traditional sense. In order to make the most out of the game, you have to spend time on the ground, double-teaming with units and using your own solos. Sure, it's got RTS elements, but the prevalent actions (the ones the game teaches you to use the whole time) are double-teaming, and using Eddie on the ground. The RTS elements are very basic in all honesty, and I think you'd be remiss to simply label it as an RTS - there's far more going on in the game than that.

              +1 for the non-RTS game. It's an Action/Adventure Hack'n'Slash with RTS Elements.

              My understanding of a traditional RTS is that you always have INDIRECT control of all available units of play. Like it's been mentioned, you have direct control over the main unit in this game.

              A similar argument popped up with Borderlands, people calling it an RPG. Sure it has levels, experience, hit points, etc... At it's core though, it's far more FPS than RPG...

          To me the best weapon to use is Eddie himself and not your army, the army is more like an extension of Eddies abilities. The truth is that this isn’t really an RTS game when you compare it to Starcraft or Halo Wars, but it does have a lot of RTS elements. I think the reason a lot of people hate the RTS elements of the game was because they seemingly sprung out of nowhere. I honestly had no idea this game had any RTS elements until the game was out. I don’t know what to classify this game as, it’s primarily a Action game with Tower defense elements and a little RTS thrown in, whatever you call it the game is good.

          With that being said I did actually enjoy the first half of the game better than the second half, and the biggest reason for that was the fact that Eddie is on his own most of the time.

            I agree - I wouldn't call Brutal Legend a traditional RTS but it has RTS elements - and I'm not a fan of the RTS genre full stop.

            I'll agree with everything else David said - the writing is fantastic (as it is in most Schafer games), the animations were beautfiul and the atmosphere and use of the metal theme was executed excellently.

            The stage battles to me felt like I was playing a RTS and it just comes down to either you're a fan of RTS/RTS style games or not. If you are then you'll probably really get into it - if not then there were plenty of other games out there to play.

            As Ad said - try it out first. It's definitely worth a look.

    I thought it was well acted, but I really didn't think it was that great.

    I'm a fan of both Schafer and Jack Black but have so far only seen the demo, which I had a great time playing.

    A mate of mine has it so I'll either borrow it from him or try and pick it up cheap from eBay.

    Brutal Legend broke my heart.

    I was really looking forward to playing it, and then the reviews came in, talking about how you have to drive a vehicle, and use RTS mechanisms: two of my most hated gameplay elements.
    Thankfully I still got to experience the game watching my husband play, but I'll never forgive Double Fine for making my perfect game concept into a game inaccessible to me.

      Same here. It would have been so much better if they just focused on making it an action-adventure

    I loved the story and content of this game, but the gameplay ruined it for me. It would have been a lot better as just an adventure/hack and slash.

    I've heard a lot of praise about this and little criticism for this, and I went to JB before to purchase a new TV (woot) and this was still ninety bucks. I'd taken games along to trade in for Red Faction: Guerilla but they were sold out. If this was cheaper I'd have probably picked it up as I didn't mind the demo but I heard that they showcased only the best elements of the game in the demo, is that true?

      In my opinion the demo grossly misrepresented the game. I was excited to play the game based on the demo, but in actual fact, what you do in the demo is not really what you spend most of the game doing.
      But the humour and the Metal are still pure win.

    Gee David, it seems you have a thing for horribly short, half-assed games.

    The writing, I will agree, is FANTASTIC. It is some of the funniest dialogue I have seen in a video game since Sam and Max, and the cutscenes are an absolute treat to watch.

    The metal soundtrack is also fantastic. There are times where it really gets you going, such as 'through the fire and the flames' playing as you escape lionwhite's palace as it collapses around you.

    It's a shame that after this is where it starts to go downhill.

    Both of the action-adventure and RTS sections are so half-assed that they both end up sucking. Add on to it the horribly easy and trite 'escort' missions, as well as the SAME FOUR SIDE MISSIONS over and over again, and you have an exercise in boredom.

    It doesn't stop here, however. The game takes no more than about 5 hours to complete, and the side missions are so repetitive that you won't want to go through more than 4. The lack of a detailed map, showing you where all of the motor forges/tablatures/extra little things like the bound serpents are is incredibly frustrating, especially if you are a perfectionist like me. Having to manually crawl across every single inch of the map space to find that ONE tab that you missed is NOT fun.

    The multi-player is kind of fun until you realise that you can just go and play Red Alert 3 instead.

    This, as well as the ODST position at number 5 further solidifies my opinion that cost vs content doesn't matter for you, David. If a game cost $600 and had 3 hours of content, as long as those 3 hours were SPECTACULAR, it would get the David Wildgoose stamp of approval

      Whoa, dude take a chill pill please. Don't act so elitist by saying what he should or shouldn't like. David specifically said that he is being subjective in this list because it's what HE likes and when you are being _subjective_ you generally don't give a shit about quality and the like. Don't attack the man for liking something you don't.

        David is allowed to like whatever games he wants to, I'm allowed to disagree with him, am i not? In my opinion, Brutal Legend is horrible short and half-assed, and I stated bellow why I think that. I'm also aware that he is being subjective, so am I. I guess i could have made this clearer in my post? Maybe started with an 'In My Opinion'?

          Well of course he is allowed to. It's just that your post seems to attack his personal taste. I didn't find Brutal Legend to be extremely good but I'm not about to attack David for it.

          "If a game cost $600 and had 3 hours of content, as long as those 3 hours were SPECTACULAR, it would get the David Wildgoose stamp of approval"

          ^ That's his taste and you are attacking it rather personally in fact. Argue the merit/fall of the game, not the author.

      What was wrong with the action-adventure part of the game, though? There was not a single 'generic' area in the game because everything was a reference to metal in some way, and it just made wandering around the world a joy to do. And when you were actually doing missions or fighting things on foot, it didn't just boil down to pressing 'attack' over and over like other games sometime do, which is also a plus.

      And though the RTS elements weren't particularly deep, there wasn't anything particularly wrong with them. There's enough options involved that there isn't only one 'right' way to do it, there's a number of tactics you can use to win, which is nice. The main thing I see wrong with it is that the game didn't do a good job of explaining what you should be doing during those battle, and as a result many people end up just playing it the wrong way.

      As for the side missions, well, they can be a bit repetitive, but the difficulty increases with each one so it's not like you're doing the EXACT same thing over and over. Plus there's always awesome music playing to make things better. And that's still forgetting that there's a number of once-off side missions that are quite brilliant (clearing that cave for the bat family was hilarious).

        "Who are we ambushing this time?"
        "BAD GUYS"
        "Ok lets piss on this fire and get ourselves hid!"

        A couple of extra, varying dialogue bites would have gone a long way into making the side missions more tolerable.

        It might just have been because the game was itself, pretty easy, but I never really noticed that big of a difficulty increase as the side missions went on.

        For a good action-adventure game, have a look at something like God of War. It basically does everything that you said Brutal Legend does well (no 'generic' areas, you don't press 'attack' over and over), but better and with more detail.

        As for the RTS elements, when Tim Schafer has to release a video entitled 'The Proper Way to Play my Game!', warning bells tend to go off.

          Those ambush side missions were the worst of the lot, I'll agree with that, but I don't think it's fair to use them as representing the quality of ALL the side missions. Once-off missions aside, those missions involving Kyle Gass were pretty entertaining too, I thought anyway.

          For the God Of War comparison, I assume you mean mainly with how the combat in Brutal Legend isn't that complex compared to GoW? While it might be true, I don't think I would have enjoyed exploring as much if I had to constantly be on my toes because any enemy at all could easily take me out. And that would have been a shame, I think Brutal Legend has one of the best landscapes of any game.

    This game really divides people for some reason - possibly seeing "RTS" scares some.

    Put it this way - you'll play a *version* of an RTS maybe half a dozen times in the game. The rest is action based, with various other bits and pieces (you drive, but it beats walking. GTA IV this is not).

    If you don't like the side quests, they're not compulsory.

    The *only* full time RTS you'll do is if you jump online. For those bitching it out without trying - rent or borrow it. If you still don't like it, you're out a couple of bucks at most. If you do like it - then it's a keeper.

    I only (finally) got around to playing through Brutal Legend in the December holidays.
    Gotta say it was fantastic.

    Except for the second last stage battle, I barely noticed any RTS in this game at all.
    I played on easy so I probably only spent 1.5 to 2 hours doing stage battles while I spent the rest of my time running around being awesome.

    Which is what the game is all about - being awesome.

    I hate car games, but driving the Deuce was awesome.
    Hell even escort missions managed to be fun while driving the druid plow.

    The stage battles were 90% me claiming everything myself, 5% building guys whilst I melted faces, 5% storming the enemy base.
    They certainly felt more God Of War than Starcraft to me.

    The way I played (doing every side mission as they came along, cruising around checking out the world (doing awesome jump and freeing dragons along the way) the stage battles were more an occasional distraction than the main game.

    My only real quarrel with this game was the lack of variation in the side quests (especially their dialog) but even then the writing still surpassed pretty much every other game I had here so I know in my personal list it'd be a top 5 of '09 easily.

    Wow, it seems that this game is attracting more debate than ODST did.

    agreein with this

    I agree that this game was one of the best of the year, my only nit-pick with this write-up is the comparison of stage battles to the conflict between 2 bands trying to woo fans at a festival.

    To me this game evoked the memories of hanging out at punk/hardcore/metal gigs at youth centres and the odd brawls involved when the wankers would come down from the bus interchanges and hassle the "freaks".

    It was these hectic testosterone situations that best described BL. Banding together with your fellow punk-rockers and defending yourselves from wannabe gangsters who felt a burning need to start some *ding* because they were born with tiny tiny *ding*.

    This game was obviously a bit more aggressive than those days, no one I remember chopped anyone's head in half with a big *ding*-off axe or electrocuted them with guitar solos, but still, the memories evoked by the game make it resolutely sit in my top 5 for the year.

    The game was hilarious, and the world was interesting. I'll give it that much. But the gameplay was absolutely terrible. It would have been much better as a cartoon series. We've seen how popular Metalocalypse got, so Brutal Legend as a cartoon would have been great.

    I just finished this game last weekend and for the most part I liked it. The style is great, the writing was hilarious, the voice acting second to none (ozzy, lemmy and Jack Black FTW!) the soundtrack was amazing but the stage battles did get a tad boring. Probably because I'm not a huge RTS fan and despite what people have said you can't just own the whole battlefield with Eddie. The last stage battle especially pissed me off that you had to have a super army ready for the 2nd part of the battle (makes sense if you have played it, don't want to spoil anything) And to get that army you basically had to wait for ages to get enough fans and upgrade everything which seemed to take forever. Also the final boss battle was way too easy.

    All in all definitely worth playing, but I can see myself trading it now that I have finished it, the side missions and multiplayer aren't enough to draw me back, especially since Bayonettea is out this week :)

    Sacrifice must be a bad RTS game then.

    Because Brutal Legend's multiplayer IS Sacrifice-on-a-Console.

    But I guess action and RTS are not allowed to combine under any circumstance.

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