Steampowered Sunday #8
This week I decided to mix things up a bit. Instead of me picking the title I let my readers pick. I learned a few things about this, firstly google docs apparently is not a great option since one of my more “inquisitive” friends decided to see if he could skew the results by voting multiple times. Sure enough you could, but it was pretty easy to see his results and weed them out. Additionally it seems like giving you guys ten titles to pick from was a bit too many. For most of the week there was a four way tie, with two results each for Brutal Legend, FTL, Assassins Creed II, and Alan Wake. On Saturday there was a deciding vote cast for Brutal Legend so that is precisely what I played this morning. I am thinking this week we will have a runoff between the other three titles.
First off a little background about this title. I grew up at exactly the right time, during the height of the hair metal era. While I did not actually have cable television until college, I jealously watched Headbangers Ball anytime I was over at a friends house. I had my faded jean jacket with a Metallica back patch, walkman in the inside pocket and headphones permanently cranked full volume. That’s right… I was a Metal kid… and while Metal turned into Alternative turned into Industrial… I still have a penchant for it. So much like Blood Dragon was going to be a nostalgic ride, I knew this game would as well. Thing is… I didn’t buy this title on purpose. I ended up getting it as part of a humble indie bundle.
From the moment I saw this game I was intrigued, but one thing scared me away from it. Everything is voiced by Jack Black. Over the years I have come to have a love/hate relationship with him in anything. Essentially he seems to be capable of playing two characters… the loveable dumbass, and the egotistical schmuck. I have had more than my fair share of the later, and seeing him involved with a project is cringe worthy these days. So I didn’t know which version of him we would get. I love the music of Tenacious D, but over the years the stage act has shifted from the loveable dumbass character to more and more of the egotistical ass. So my fear going into this game is that we would get that character.
Loveable Dumbass Rules
While the character is not necessarily a loveable dumbass, we get the Jack Black treatment of such… which makes the game enjoyable. You play as Eddie Riggs, which is essentially a Jedi Master Roadie. He is set up as the best roadie in the business, can fix anything or build anything… but is a man out of time. The game starts with him working for a emo numetal type band, that clearly does not appreciate his aesthetic. Through a chain of events, he steps in to prevent the death of one of the band members and ends up falling to his own demise. Where his blood summons the elder fire god Ormagöden through a sigil in the form of his belt buckle.
Chaos ensues, and the fire beast destroys the crappy band to the cheers of the crowd, as your character is transported to another realm. Everything about this game is completely over the top. You find yourself awake on a sacrificial altar with a group of skeletal monk things praying before you. Your character mistakenly thinks that it is you they are worshiping, but instead they mean to sacrifice you to Ormagöden. Sitting there on the ground just happens to be some fabled weapon, and the games tutorial directs you to pick it up and use it. The game controls itself feel a lot like Darkstalkers. I had intended to play the game with an XBox 360 controller, but for whatever reason it got confused. Where it had only some of the keys active through the controller and the majority not.
Thankfully however the game does control very well with WASD and uses the standard E to interact with things. I am always glad to see when some thought is put into the PC controls rather than having a half assed port like Force Unleashed… that you can’t even really use your mouse to interact with things. The game is a bit of a smorgasboard of things. Firstly the game is very much a 3D beatemup with your left mouse button being your axe attacks, and your right mouse button being your guitar chord based attacks. This gameplay style feels really fluid and like I said earlier just like a Darkstalkers game. The only thing that is frustratingly missing is jump. I am not sure why but this is a big deal to me. I am one of those people that jumps around aimlessly while playing games. So instead of the standard space to jump, we get a space too defend mechanic and no jump ability that I have seen so far… or at least none that you are introduced to during the tutorial.
Burn Rubber Baby
In order to make your big escape from the temple of Ormagöden Eddie uses his Jedi Masster Roadie abilities to create a really slick deuce coupe out of spare parts laying around the temple. So this introduces a yet another playstyle into the game. Controlling a vehicle feels like most GTA style games where you W accelerates S brakes and we have a decent mechanic for turning on a dime by hitting space to apply the handbrake. You get to test all of these out in a really odd vehicular battle sequence against a very spikey worm creature thing. Did I mention this game is completely over the top? Everything and everyone is pretty much coated in skulls and spikey bits… as god intended them to be. In the same way Blood Dragon was a love song for 80s action movies… this game is a love letter to the Heavy Metal era.
After the big car battle you have to make your escape over a crumbling bridge by avoiding holes in the road and boosting over gaps by hitting Shift to apply the nitro. Overall this is a pretty simple minigame, and nothing really cringe inducing. Overall the game I pretty damned forgiving when it comes to the minigames I have encountered. While normally I hate when a game breaks out of its normal control scheme and forces you into something different for an “event”, but so far this game feels pretty natural about it. Primarily I have problems with the games that do so, but make it so QTE or twitchy that if you screw up once you are dead. The obstacles you have to avoid on the bridge you can pretty much see for the entirety of the screen giving you plenty of time to react and avoid them. It messages the fact that when you see a big guy fixing to stomp the bridge… you need to avoid that area because it is about to fall.
Real Metal vs Glam Metal
You go to Blade Henge and meet Lars the leader of the fledgeling resistance, his sister Lita… and you find out the girl that helped you escape from the temple is Ophelia. The games central conflict revolves around “Real” metal struggling against the “Glam” metal sellouts. So while the protagonists are dark and brooding and full of spikey bits, the evildoers are wearing pink and zebra print… with teased out hair and a very obvious sellout attitude. You can tell exactly where Double Fine stands on the age old Poison vs Metallica metal debate. Considering I tended to shy away from the glam rock, and favor the more hardcore stuff… I definitely feel them here. It is all the more enjoyable for me to beat up the pretty boy rockers in the game because of it.
As roadie extraordinaire your job is to help them build an army, using your mystical roadie powers. The game employs another mini-game to accomplish this. At various times you can play a power chord that will have some effect. The one you end up doing the most often will summon the Deuce to your location. There is another one that will allow you to pick up new abilities at these shrines of sorts scattered throughout the world. I am guessing that over time this has a Legend of Zelda type trope allowing you to access new areas. As I wandered around the country side I noticed that most of the shrines were chained up, and when I tried to access them there was some flair dialog about needing to find a way to free them.
The first mission to help build an army is to gather up a bunch of brutes that have been trapped in the mine and forced to bang their heads against the wall to break rock. The result is they have turned into this muscle bound troglodytes. As you roam around the level you can play a power chord to rally them to your side. Upon hearing the music they swear allegiance to the heavy metal and will do your bidding. This introduces yet another game play style… I told you it was a smorgasbord. Much of the game seems to rely on small group based squad tactics. You can deliver some simple commands like stay and defend, follow and attack your target. The system lacks any real fine control, so essentially you point your mindless mob towards a target and then go do something else.
The Kill Master
At this point I have only made it about an hour and a half into the game, but I am enjoying it so far. I was pleased to see a cameo from Lemmy Kilmister as the “Kill Master”, a mystical healer type character. I have a feeling that the majority of the gameplay is going to revolve around doing missions to free followers and then using those followers to band together in an army against the evil Doviculus voiced by Tim Curry, and the Glam Metal sellout General Lionwhyte voiced by Rob Halford. While at face value this seems like pretty standard fare, what makes the game worth playing is the fantastic dialog that only a Double Fine game can deliver. While the game sounds pretty Frankenstein in its stitching of a bunch of different genres together. However for some reason it works really well.
I’ve heard that there is a grand switcheroo that comes towards the end of the game, but I have yet to make it there. Where essentially they throw in yet another genre, making you do battle with your army RTS style. If it is as well carried out as the other bits and pieces I think I will be okay with this, but I can see how confused it might feel. I know I was pissed as hell when I got to the “force you to split everyone up into small groups” army battle phase of Dragon Age Origins. But that mostly was because I am notorious for playing that type of game with only my chosen group of four characters, and pretty much ignoring everyone else in my party. In this case I hope I will just be given units and I won’t have had to do much to power them up outside of the normal game play flow.
While I don’t generally give these games a rating system, I have to say I greatly enjoyed this one. I can see myself cracking it open again and finishing the game. That is about as high of praise as I can really give. I played an hour and a half and I want to play some more. The movies and cut scenes feel like they are part of the game, and not something tacked on for filler. The story crafting is superb and I am definitely a fan of the subject material. Nothing feels cooler than running around kicking stuffs ass while Def Leppard blares in the background. I have loved the games of Tim Schafer since Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle and Full Throttle… and this definitely feels like a worthy member of that family, if not a slightly oddly designed one. It was not exactly what I was expecting, but the sum of the pieces add up to a really fun game.
Next Steampowered Sunday
There are many times when it feels like the readers of this blog are all somehow already connected to me, either through being friends on twitter or somehow having played in one of the many guilds I have been at the helm of. This week however surprised me in that the winner of the Bioshock give away was someone completely unknown to me. I delivered the copy this morning through steam, and having learned a few things from last weeks I have made some tweaks to the lineup for this coming weeks contest. First up I will be using Survey Monkey, to try and cut down on the skewing of the poll by well meaning friends. Next up we will be having a sudden death round among the three titles that came close to winning this time: FTL, Assassins Creed II, and Alan Wake. Finally I happen to have a spare copy of Brutal Legend, so we will be giving that away during the voting. As always you can vote without entering for the copy of the game. To make the link easier to see… I am introducing a “Big Damned Button” below. I made it the most obnoxious 80s induced color palette I could think of just to make it stand out even more.