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Tim Schafer’s Brütal Legend is ready to rock

 Tim Schafer hasn’t had a lot of luck when it comes to selling video games; one of the industry’s few critical darlings, Schafer has headed up a number of commercial flops over the years.  What he has had, however, are some of the best and most creative ideas in the history of video games—titles like Psychonauts, a 3D platformer that follows a summer camp for psychic children where the individual levels are within the character’s psyches, and Grim Fandango, an adventure game that combines Aztec “Day of the Dead” themes with a film noir-style detective story.  Schafer certainly has never been afraid to push ideas that would never be considered “safe,” and it always seems like he’s had to pay for it when the royalty checks roll in.
 But Schafer and his development house, Double Fine Productions, might finally have a hit on their hands with this week’s release of Brütal Legend (note the almost-clichéd umlaut) thanks to a little star power and the marketing might of Electronic Arts.�
  Brütal Legend’s central character, Eddie Riggs, is voiced by Jack Black, who is exactly the sort of character you’d expect Black to sign on as.  Eddie is a semi-reluctant roadie for a Fall Out Boy-style “rock” band who’s lost in nostalgia for the golden age of heavy metal.  When he’s killed by a falling stage prop, Eddie gets magically transported to a heavy metal fantasy world—think middle earth meets an Iron Maiden album cover.�
 From there, the story becomes a typical “outsider in a strange world” tale, including the hero’s eventual rallying of the oppressed locals against an evil empire.  Cameos from heavy metal legends like Ozzy Osbourne (who plays the typical video game shopkeeper) and the extremely imaginative landscapes make the clichéd story feel fresh; Eddie climbs over giant mountains of demon skulls and fights giant spider constructed from diesel engines.
 In terms of art, it’s truly unique and remains faithful to the tradition of grotesque metal album covers and airbrushed vans.
 Equally interesting are the hodgepodge of gameplay genres that Double Fine has meshed together.  Initially, the game plays like a traditional third-person hack n’ slash game, similar to a tame God of War.  As the adventure opens up, players find themselves in a kind of open-world driving game, bussing Eddie across wide areas of open fantasy terrain and stopping to explore for secrets between events.   Later, the game brings in some strange real-time-strategy elements as you send different classes of minions in calculated assaults against the enemies.  For players just interested in the action gameplay and metal humor, the strategy sections of the game might actually be a major turnoff.
 But for anyone who enjoys a good laugh or two from their games, Brütal Legend delivers exactly what you’d expect from a Tim Schafer title and it’s the funniest game since 2007’s Portal.

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