A return to classical ideas

A while ago, Tim Schafer broke the news that Brutal Legend 2 had been officially canceled in favor of Double Fine Productions working on four then-unspecified indie titles.  Schafer recently revealed that the first of these indie games, Costume Quest, is an Earthbound-inspired adventure quest with a Halloween theme involving collecting candy, fighting off imaginary monsters, and being home by curfew.

So just to recap: Tim Schafer is working on something he says is inspired by Earthbound, which to date remains one of the most imaginative and creative games of all time.  Considering the mind of Tim Schafer and Double Fine in general, it’s difficult to express just how much creative potential is waiting to be unleashed in Costume Quest.

A few of my friends were very disappointed with the cancellation of Brutal Legend 2, but I didn’t mind it that much.  Brutal Legend was missed potential in my eyes because of how it subscribed to a lot of unnecessary gameplay gimmicks.

The first thing in Brutal Legend I had a problem was is the sandbox.  When designing a sandbox there are one of two approaches you can take.  The first is the Prototype or Just Cause 2 method, where the actual content may be shallow but you are a physics defying deity who can make the sandbox into your plaything very easily.  The second is the Fallout 3 or Red Dead Redemption approach where you lack these godlike powers, but the sandbox is deep, rich, and full of exploration opportunities.

The sandbox of Brutal Legend is neither of these.  It’s a shame because Tim Schafer’s mind conjures up a fascinating looking world, but the richness is only skin deep.  All you’ve ever find are the same three side quests over and over again, so all we’re really doing is needing a commute between every mission.

The open world, of course, lends itself to my biggest problem: The real time strategy elements.  I’m going to leave the misleading demo out altogether since I never played it, but the first hour of the game is perplexing in that it tries to present itself as a hack and slasher with vehicle elements and spells.  Then when you undergo the mission to recruit the headbangers the game does an equally perplexing about-face.  The wit, charm, and variety of the first hour or two quickly gives way to a series of repetitive strategy scenarios that wouldn’t be so bad if they weren’t as lacking as they are.  There’s no reason to ever do anything besides mass produce headbangers and Zerg rush whatever you don’t like.

I mentioned in my review that I definitely saw this as a Tim Schafer world, but the gameplay is unbalanced and inconsistent.  Generally in a sequel I like to see things evolve, and to really bring out its potential Brutal Legend 2 would have to completely redo the gameplay, make the sandbox much more detailed (or just omit it altogether), or go through a lot of time and effort to balance strategy elements that seemed out of place anyway.  So while it would have been nice to see how Schafer improved his formula for a sequel, I’m not losing any sleep over the cancellation.

Something that sounds as interesting as Earthbound with Tim Schafer is worth sacrificing just about any game for, even if it’s an indie title.  Because of the litany of problems that could arise when developing Brutal Legend 2, it’s a worthy sacrifice if it means we can fight imaginary monsters and get candy in the process.

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    Kyle MacGregor

    To be honest, Brutal Legend did nothing to capture my interest, which I found surprising from Double Fine after Psychonauts. It didn’t help matters that it was an entirely different game than it was advertised as. I’m hoping this Costume Quest is a return to form, it certainly looks brilliant so far.

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