Even for a rockstar, showing up four years late is pushing it a bit. In the case of Brütal Legend's journey from console to PC, however, such tardiness isn't all bad.
First: better late than never. Second: it hasn't aged too badly. Brütal's cartoon cheer and hyperstylised world made out of heavy metal covers both put the 'yeah' into “fuck yeah!” More importantly, the game arrives on our platform to a much wider acceptance of what it actually is: not quite the basic thirdperson hack and slash game it initially seems.
There is a lot of man-with-axe action in this game, but its secret is that it's more an action-RTS than Devil May Cry throwing devil horns. You're Eddie Riggs, voiced by an atypically restrained but gleeful Jack Black. He's the king of the roadies in our world, before an accident involving blood and a spooky belt sucks him into another one where metal is life. Leading an army – or as Eddie sees it, supporting one from the front – you've got to take out the local dictator and help make headbanging more than just a way to mine rocks. That means not only running around the open world, where the action is dumb and fun, but fighting in the regular tactical Stage Battles.
Suddenly running into these is like sitting down to play chess with an opponent who's there to kickbox. Anticipated as part of the experience, they're more enjoyable: geysers of ghostly fans replace vespene gas as resource, Headbangers and Razor Girls are your troops, and you take direct part in the assault with an axe and lightning guitar.
Yet, horrible as it is to admit, the attempt to make Brütal Legend about more than just smacking things really gets in the way of the smacking. Much like Double Fine's... everything, really... Brütal Legend is a better experience than game, even if you don't like heavy metal. Personally, I'd much rather have seen a jazzy Civilisëd Legend – a cyborg Ella Fitzgerald, and “Tall and dark and mean and bloody, the girl from Ipanema goes culling...” and so on. But I digress.
Under the surface, most of the individual elements are extremely rough. The combat is weak, the freedom of the explorable open world largely wasted, the action often floaty... and every slow moment that passes is another unwanted chance to realise it. When you hit an RTS bit, the forward momentum abruptly stops, making these real irritations as well as unimpressive strategy interludes.
Despite its weaknesses, and in typical Double Fine tradition, Brütal Legend pulls it off. It's the ultimate tribute act, with metal in its soul and a heart as warm as a stage light. It may not have much in the way of polish, especially years after release, but it does have personality – not enough to hide its flaws, but plenty to temporarily bury them under a landslide of rock.
As rough as the back of an old rocker’s throat, but gleeful whether you dream heavy metal nightmares or not.