YESTERDAY A FRIEND asked me to describe Brütal Legend in a single word. After spending a moment in stubble-rubbing contemplation, a light bulb burst to life. Slamming a fist down on the table in front of me, I shouted "Schizophrenic!" before clutching my hand to my chest and screaming in pain.
Brütal Legend never seems to know what it wants to be. The meticulously curated heavy metal soundtrack and clever cameos from Lemmy, Ozzy, and Rob Halford all scream "heartfelt ode to a bygone era," while the entire advertising budget seems aimed at stoner kids whose only exposure to metal is the lazy "other people's interests are weird" irony of Dethklok. Even the gameplay—which changes from moment to moment between standard action/adventure, third-person real-time strategy, and truncated rhythm minigames—seemingly follows the shotgun method of game design: fire enough shit at the player and they'll have to like something.
The one unmitigated triumph in the game is in its writing. As with creator Tim Schafer's earlier games (Psychonauts, Full Throttle, Grim Fandango), Brütal Legend is often genuinely funny. The jokes won't ever approach the sort of thing one could call "cerebral," but they're a far sight more clever than any episode of Two and a Half Men. Sadly, Brütal Legend's star, Jack Black, is no Charlie Sheen, so there's bound to be a large contingent of people who will find the game's protagonist annoying simply for being a virtual re-creation of such an unlikeable, confusingly famous celebrity.
I realize this all seems like backhanded praise, but after completing the game in 10 hours, that's the best I can generate. Schafer has once again created a game that will be praised as "genius" by his fans, but will undoubtedly be ignored by everyone else. At best, sales will be average, and Schafer's fans can claim intellectual superiority over the mainstream. If this were intentional, it could serve as an ingenious meta-commentary on rabid metalheads—but as is, Brütal Legend is just an above-average action game.