Even though hundreds of video games are released each year, most of them feature the same dozen or so types of protagonists adventuring in the same dozen or so settings. Whether it’s a space Marine battling aliens or a mystery man of unknown origins exploring a medieval fantasy world, chances are that no matter how good a new game is, you’ve been there and done that.
That’s why the games of Sonoma native Tim Schafer are such a delight.
Schafer’s latest game, “Brütal Legend” (rated M, $60 on Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3), just hit stores. It tells the story of heavy metal’s greatest roadie. Eddie Riggs, voiced by and modeled after Jack Black, can build any stage and fix any instrument. But he finds himself pining for the ’70s and slaving away for Kabbage Boy, an obnoxious rap/pop/metal act that smashes up his instruments and whose singer wants him to dismantle the stage he’s built for them and “build us something that would speak more to our tween demographic.”
When Eddie’s knocked out in an on-stage accident, and a bit of his blood drips onto his sinister-looking belt buckle, a massive metal beast that’s part dragon and part hot rod emerges from beneath the stage, slays the members of Kabbage Boy and whisks Eddie off to a mythical world inspired by classic heavy-metal album covers. Once there, it’s Eddie’s job to free the inhabitants of the strange world from their demonic overlords, using the power of heavy metal and his full slate of roadie skills.
Last week, Schafer told Jimmy Fallon on “The Late Show” that part of the appeal of having such a setting was that it hadn’t been done before, and that he drew inspiration for the game from his childhood, when he’d stare at album art from the likes of Ozzy Osbourne while listening to heavy-metal records on his turntable.
“The album covers, they’re so … unrestrained. No one ever painted a heavy metal album cover and was like, ‘I wonder if we went too far this time,”’ Schafer told Fallon. “Can we have a chrome volcano in the background? Yes. A panther that shoots laser beams with his eyes? Yes.”
The game world looks exactly like you’d expect it to, with massive temples made out of rock, mystical runes, robe-clad druids, skyscraping piles of bones and rivers of molten … something.
But the influence of heavy-metal music on “Brütal Legend” goes beyond the game’s flame-spewing hot-rod (aka “The Druid Plow”), pentagrams and medieval weaponry. The game boasts more than 100 licensed song tracks from the likes of Children of Bodom, Motley Crüe and Motörhead.
More important, though, is the star-studded cast. Black and well-known voice actress Jennifer Hale play Eddie and love interest Ophelia, and Tim Curry voices the game’s main villain. But much of the rest of the announced talent reads like a who’s who of heavy metal. Ozzy Osbourne, Rob Halford (Judas Priest), Lemmy Kilmister (Motörhead) and Lita Ford (The Runaways) all play supporting characters.
“I’ve now met, I would say, almost every single one of my rock idols,” Schafer told a writer for IGN Australia. “I feel like I should just drive off a cliff now.”
“Brütal Legend” is the second game from Double Fine Productions, the San Francisco studio that Schafer started after several years at LucasArts Entertainment in San Francisco, making adventure games such as “The Secret of Monkey Island,” and “Grim Fandango.” Double Fine’s last game, “Psychonauts,” was a platform-jumping game set at a summer camp for psychically gifted children. The camp served as a hub world with players journeying into the minds of the people they met. The game was polished, well-written and a hit with critics, but publishers’ shenanigans and a marketing budget just north of zero contributed to poor sales.
This time out, Schafer’s game appears to have more momentum, with the celebrity cast and marketing muscle of a large publisher like EA.
No one’s going to mistake “Brütal Legend” for a little kid’s game. For one thing, it’s rated “M.” For another, actors like Osbourne and Black drop F-bombs all over the place. For those who play games with children in the next room or who simply don’t want to hear some roadie cursing like a, well, roadie, the game helpfully includes a profanity filter, which bleeps out offending words and covers up the occasional middle finger with one of those “Parental Advisory” stickers.
The first time Eddie is about to swear in the game, he’s interrupted by a pop-up window that warns, “From time to time, Brütal Legend may need to utilize strong language in order to accurately portray the authentic roadie experience for the player.” You’re given two choices: “I want to hear every nasty syllable,” and “It’s funnier if you bleep it out.” (A similar option appears at the first opportunity for gore, shortly thereafter.)
Schafer told IGN Australia that some players may find the game funnier with the profanity filter turned on, in the same way that Osbourne prefers to watch the bleeped-out, American version of his TV show, “The Osbournes,” as opposed to the uncensored British version.
If the demo, free on Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network, is any indication, you’re bound to find the game plenty funny no matter which filter options you choose. Like “Psychonauts” did, “Brütal Legend” nails both the dialogue and the little touches, like the lead singer of Kabbage Boy’s decidedly un-metal run to the microphone, or the way Eddie struggles with praying to the dark lords while seeking to avoid selling his soul. (“I am but a visitor in your strange world, which some would call hellish.”)
PS3 owners can be forgiven for overlooking “Brütal Legend” for a week or two, as it releases alongside “Uncharted 2: Among Thieves,” Sony’s biggest fall blockbuster. But anyone hungering for new adventures beyond killing aliens, Nazis and turtles with wings owes it to himself to at least give the demo a whirl.