Certain story missions are big battles, carried out in arenas hastily put together by the crew, complete with a stage. Here you are fighting against an enemy army using a system very similar to what you'd find in a RTS. Fan geysers are strewn across the battlefield, with Eddie able to 'harvest' them by playing a riff on his guitar and then building a merchandise tent on top. It's simple resource gathering, with the fans then used as credits to buy units for use in battle, be it a group of headbangers, an attack vehicle or one of the more advanced units. With the enemy equally keen to take over these fan geysers, a fairly complex controller-based RTS control scheme to think about, and the overall goal of defeating the enemy on your mind, these missions can descend into tedium. For a game that's tongue-in cheek and over the top, the RTS gameplay comes across as too serious and at times tough. Most people will just want to get stuck in with Eddie's melee moves, but doing so here will almost always result in failure.
It's this RTS gameplay style that forms the multiplayer component of Brutal Legend, and your enjoyment of this will entirely rest on how you find the controls. For me the combination of third-person action and RTS just doesn't fit well together, with the viewpoint (even though Eddie can get a bird's eye view of the map) and simple unit controls just not working as well as a proper RTS - such as Command & Conquer. Up to eight players can take part in teams of four, but it's hard to see it gaining much of a following beyond the initial burst of players close to release.
Typical of the open world genre, a world map represents the large open area that you're free to explore, with symbols showing the available side missions (racing, target shooting, fighting and more) and next story mission. You're free to play these as in any order you wish, with some taking place in the game world and others in MMO-style instances. Getting around is simple thanks to Eddie's car, the Deuce. This road hog can be summoned by playing a riff on your guitar, and then driven around the world at high speed. At times there's an awful lot of heading back and forth between areas, and it would have been nice to be able to teleport to key locations, but the driving is good fun and there are various ramps placed around the world to drive off - checking another item off the list on the stats page.
As with any good action game, your tools and abilities can be upgraded as you progress. In Brutal Legend this is handled by fire tributes - points handed out by completing missions and pleasing the metal gods. Head to the Motor Forge, where Ozzy Osbourne awaits, to upgrade the Deuce with new weapons or to buy new perks for Eddie's axe and guitar. Early on you gain the ability to listen to the game's many licensed metal tracks while cruising around, using what is referred to as the Metal Mouth, and there's even a way to change tracks in-game. There are tons of collectables, too, things to see, non-essential side missions to play through, and characters to meet. On seeing the story to its conclusion (which is unlikely to take as long as you'll want it to) it's doubtful you'll be anywhere near to the 100% completion mark, and you're thrown back into the world to continue should you want to.
From a technical point of view Brutal Legend falls short of what's required in today's market, with an awful lot of pop-in, some terrible frame rate stuttering and fairly low-detail environments, but somehow that doesn't matter. The world has been created with such a clear passion for all things metal that you can't help but stop and smile at what you're looking at. Whether it be the towering structures built to resemble iconic metal objects, the awesome bosses that resemble the kind of monstrosities you'd find in Zelda adventure games - albeit with a metal twist - or the superb special moves (such as the face melting guitar riff), it's hard not to enjoy just spending time in the game world.
Brutal Legend is a game that an awful lot of people are going to enjoy, despite its combat failings. It's undoubtedly a fun game, packed full with humour (although this does tail off towards the end), metal references, amazing encounters and memorable characters. It's the RTS sections that really let the game down for me, feeling like a good idea that hasn't quite been implemented well enough to gel with the rest of the game. It's testament to the quality of Brutal Legend as a whole that this core gameplay component can be overlooked, as in a lesser game, created by a less imaginative team, such problems would be a deal-breaking flaw. For Brutal Legend, it just prevents a great game from being one of the greatest.