Yet the whole thing scales very well: even when you're commanding the troops and orchestrating a tank-rush, you can still drop back down to earth and get into close-up lamping, or summon the Deuce to run over your enemy's advancing guard. Even ignoring such options, over the course of the game I went from ambivalence regarding the RTS interludes to actually looking forward to them, which is handy for me as they also represent the game's online mode, with Stage Battles allowing you to pick from a limited range of factions and take on rival rock generals around the world.
If they do continue to leave you cold, the more strategic side of the game is rarely actually frustrating. Nothing in Brutal Legend is, really, partly because each task is generally over and done with before you have a chance to become irritated, and then you're off to try your hand at something else. Eddie Riggs is not the star of a particularly lengthy adventure - if you really must, you can plough straight through the main campaign quite comfortably in about eight hours, but I wouldn't recommend it: this is a game to linger over, and its side-quests, although formulaic, are generally not to be missed.
Besides, the world itself is a constant unfolding delight, a homage to heavy metal's air-brushed icons that manages to be both mocking and reverent. Over the course of his travels, Riggs will discover deserts where anvil-shaped rocks jut from the ground, an emperor's palace pixelated with the kitsch mosaics of a Vegas bathroom, and grim marshes filled with Aztec temples and candelabra trees, while the wilds are alive with fire-spouting bears clad in spiked manacles, iron porcupines, and terrifying super-powered deer.
And then there's the cast. The misplaced roadie and his band of louche misfits - nasty bouffants hiding steely resolves - are the pleasingly domestic heart that beats at the centre of the game, but the enemies aren't bad either: whether it's the scarlet-robed ranks of the fetish clergy, or the creepy stick-figure goths who wheel their splindly perambulators into battle, flanked by thunder and lighting as they step from Wacky Races stretch autos, which appear to have been mated with church organs.
Everyone has something witty or touching to say, everything has a little design flourish that makes it worth a second look, and the script has a consistency that tugs the game through some of its patchier spots. There may not be a laugh in every line, but there's generally a warm grin, and next to Uncharted 2, the natural charm of Black in particular suggests that this Christmas is, if nothing else, a great time for genuine videogame characters: rounded, personable leads who are distinctly superior to the usual throngs of cybermen and super-vixens.
It's probably Brutal Legend's characters that win out. Since the days when he provided dialogue options for Guybrush Threepwood, Schafer's secret skill has been to people his games with lovable oddballs who quickly start to feel like friends, creating bonds strong enough to ensure you forgive some of the ropier moments. In this case, Schafer, Double Fine, and Black haven't just created a story about roadies: they've become them, scuttling about energetically, heads down and minds focused, as they pull a handful of simple props together in order to put on an amazing show.
8 / 10