A certain game starring John, Paul, George, and Ringo was supposed to be this year’s greatest triumph of music in gaming, but Brütal Legend does more for heavy metal than The Beatles: Rock Band does for the boys from Liverpool. While TB:RB was a coronation, Brütal Legend is a rebirth, an origin story for a new era of metal. Director Tim Schafer rejuvenates his beloved hard-rock traditions, using hero Eddie Riggs (voiced by Jack Black) as an accessible, even loveable ambassador for a genre that’s lost some of its cultural currency.
Metal’s low ebb is the backdrop for the Brütal Legend epic, which begins with Riggs, the ultimate roadie, wishing he had been born in an earlier time. “Like the ’70s?” a buddy asks. “Earlier,” Riggs answers. “Like, early ’70s.” Soon after, when he rescues one of his texting, preening, Generation-Y “rockers” from an onstage mishap, Riggs is crushed by his own set and transported to a realm where glam rock has enslaved humanity.
The ensuing quest—you liberate the masses with the power of metal—doesn’t stray far from the familiar adventure-game mold. You roam the continent, knock off a few side quests, upgrade your ax, etc. Schafer isn’t known for inventing new game concepts. Instead, he infuses familiar formats with wit and moxie until players are practically compelled to enjoy themselves.
Brütal Legend is even more captivating than previous Schafer games, which include Psychonauts and Grim Fandango, because there’s more passion on display. An abiding love of heavy metal comes through in details like the grandiose language—when you complete a mission with a Brütal Victory, the Gods Of Metal raise their lighters to you in Tributes Of Fire. The moment is unironically cool. The character designs are also inspired, especially a hilarious rendering of Ozzy Osbourne as overseer of the underworld. Celebrity cameos like this could have allowed the game to slip into fan service. Yet Schafer seems to be aware of this trap, so he never preaches to the converted; anyone can attend this party.
Brütal Legend is more than an entertaining game. It inspires such excitement for its muse, heavy metal, that it also serves as a point of entry to an entire subculture. Just as important, it stands as proof that music in gaming is no longer the exclusive domain of “music games.”