Tim Schafer loves heavy metal music. He loves the history, the power, the imagery, the scale and the ridiculousness of it all. He has channeled this love into the video game Brütal Legend, released this week: Rocktober 13th. I have been anxiously awaiting this game since I learned of its development a couple years ago. My excitement has two sources: First, I think Tim Schafer’s last game, Psychonauts, was one of the best games for the last generation of game consoles. Second, the particular focus of this game is something I’ve never seen in a game before. Not even the success of the Harmonix Guitar Hero and Rock Band games can approach either the breadth or depth of Brütal Legend with respect to heavy metal.
I must pause here to acknowledge an observation Vern, one of my high school friends, made many years ago. Whenever I talk music with people, his words come back to me. Vern suggested that all boys go through a metal phase. For some, this phase lasts a few weeks (or even just a few hours). For many boys the phase lasts a few crucial years between the ages of eleven and seventeen. For some, the phase never ends. Vern does not pass judgment on any of this. He does not use it to be particularly divisive or exclusive. At the time he said it, Vern was fifteen and intoxicated by Elvis. Two years earlier we had been screaming along with the rest of the fans at the Scorpions concert at the State Fair Grounds celebrating part of our own metal phases.
The game portrays an incredible amount of affection for heavy metal, a fact that has attracted a startling number of entertainers to be part of it. Lemmy Kilmister, Rob Halford, Ozzy Osbourne and Lita Ford all provide voice talent. Over 100 different artists from a huge variety of metal genres have contributed music to the soundtrack. The game is fantastically clever. The game is funny. The game is stylized and dramatic and epic. It is all of these things and at the same time Schafer is aware of the absurdity of metal as well. It has a sense of itself as a game. He does not allow the genre to take itself too seriously.
It’s a lesson we could all stand to remember from time to time.