Brutal Legend Multiplayer Impressions: Whoa!

By Nick Breckon, Aug 13, 2009 3:14pm PDT It's not every day that a multiplayer mode surprises you--especially a multiplayer mode in a game that's largely garnering interest for its story-driven singleplayer campaign.

Maybe I shouldn't have been all that surprised. The game in question, Brutal Legend, was actually conceived as a mutliplayer title. For the longest time, the rumor going around was all about that: "Tim Schafer and Double Fine are doing some crazy RTS multiplayer game!"

Well, a few years and several Jack Black trailers later, they are releasing that crazy RTS multiplayer game as planned: Brutal Legend's multiplayer is essentially an action/RTS hybrid, brutal combat with strategic depth to match. It may, in fact, be too deep for some folks. But for anyone hoping for anything other than more CTF and deathmatch, it's something to get excited about.

The setup is relatively simple. Up to four players are placed on a large map, each with a large base in the form of a demonic stage. Resource geysers are spread throughout the map, and players much capture them to slowly accrue more "fans," Brutal Legend's equivalent of Tiberium or Vespene. The object is to capture those points while pushing toward the destruction of your enemy's base.

Each of the four playable characters is essentially its own race, in the RTS sense. They have distinctive units to utilize, spells to cast, and special properties, such as one character's ability to build units on the battlefield.

Much of Brutal Legend's multiplayer is in deciding when to fight and when to play commander. On the ground, your avatar can act as a powerful demigod, blasting lesser units to pieces with attacks and guitar-casted spells. But in with an indent of the analog stick, your player takes flight, transforming from avatar into RTS cursor. Not literally, mind you.

In the air, your character can zip from one end of the map to the other in seconds, surveying the battlefield whilst commanding legions of troops. A radial menu allows for the building of troops and the upgrading of your home base. Simple button clicks issue commands to your troops--attack, move here, run for your undead lives, etc.

That's the gist of it. On paper, Brutal Legend multiplayer isn't the most complicated RTS hybrid ever conceived. It's a combination of factors and features that make it a challenging game to play at speed, and thus a satisfying one.

For instance, if the player is on the battlefield, fighting alongside his units, he can hit a button to carry out a combo attack with one of his minions. In the case of a lowly unit that carries a shovel, the soldier dug a hole in the ground, which my character quickly lept into, then exploded up from in an area attack. In the case of cars, or massive monsters, your character will simply mount the ride in question, allowing you to blast or smash the enemy from atop a turret or giant creature.

Beyond powerful basic attacks, the avatars also have their guitars, which can be used to cast spells by way of another radial menu. After selecting the spells--which range from damage attacks to utility spells like "rally" flags--a short Guitar Hero-styled quicktime event plays out. These button-hitting tests are a little unnecessary, but easy to perform, at least.

There are a lot of things going on in these rounds. Base turrets and upgrading, unit combinations and special attacks, intense face-to-face avatar battles--it was all a bit overwhelming at first. Once I sat down and actually got my hands on it, though, it was instantly approachable. There was a nice flow to the gameplay, and though the basic resource-grab game is old hat to strategy fans, there were enough goofy units and hurried decisions to make for some exciting gameplay.

I'm not sure everyone will prefer this game over a more standard, action-based multiplayer mode--particularly those with little experience outside the action genre--but no matter what, you have to admire Double Fine for sticking to their guns and not taking the cheap, easy path. That kind of surprise is always welcome.

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