So… ok… I pull this lever here and it opens that passageway… but how do I cross the pit? Ah! With this switch here! Oh wait… that released some flesh eating snails… reloading!
This, my friends, is the standard train of thought while playing Legend of Grimrock, the first game from Finnish indie studio “Almost Human” (yeah, yeah, Jose reviewing an indie game… get over it!), a classic dungeon-crawler in the vein of the venerable Dungeon Master.
For those of you unaware, or too young to remember, Dungeon Master was a game from 1987 that, while not the first of its kind, was pretty much the trope codifier of first-person dungeon crawlers. In this genre of games, you control a party of adventurers (4 in the case of Grimrock) that for one reason or another have to plow through a dungeon or equivalent.
Whilst controlling the game (and the party) in first person, or rather person(s) since you control all 4 characters via the the same point of view, as if they move in a perfect formation and share the same pair of eyes (don’t think too much about it, it’s really not important). Movement is based on squares, and each step moves you a square in a determinate direction, this makes the dungeon oddly geometric, but it simplifies exploring (which doesn’t mean that it makes it easy, but that’s really not important).
The gist of the game (and what little plot there is) is the following; You’re four prisoners that have been judged guilty of horrible crimes (whether this is true or not, the game never divulges, but it’s really not important, sensing a pattern here?) thus you’re brought atop mount Grimrock for your “absolution”, by absolution they mean dropping the 4 of “you” into the massive dungeon that is Grimrock, and if you survive, you’re free… except no one ever has… yet…
The game itself plays in a simple manner, WASD keys move your party through the grid-like dungeon, and you use the mouse to pick up objects, place them in different places in the world and equip them. Weirdly enough, but intentional, is the lack of an “attack” button, you must right-click on the characters’ equipped weapon or hand to attack, this is specially annoying with mages, as you need to enter manually the runes that trigger a spell in a 3×3 grid every time you’re going to cast it, this is to stop you from abusing mages, as their spells are quite powerful, but it’s still kind of annoying. Besides health and mana, you also need to keep track of food supply for your characters, otherwise they will starve before they can leave Grimrock. This, while a somewhat annoying mechanic, adds another layer of depth to the game, since food supply is limited, you don’t have infinite time to exit this horrible place.
Apart from that… there really is not much else to add… aesthetically the game is beautiful, and while tiles for walls and floors are repeated ad nausea, you cannot really complain about it, as the dungeon is quite alive with the design… The monsters are rendered marvelously, and while their movements are weird because of the square-grid oddness of the world, their animations are quite fluid and cool to watch.
Sound wise, the game only has a tune in the opening menu and character creation, which is quite catchy, but for the rest of the game music is absent. This is, however, to reinforce the loneliness of your situation in the dungeon, and a multitude of sounds, from the rustling of close by monsters to the cracks and fizzles of torches give the dungeon of Grimrock a lot of personality and dreariness.
Overall, the final questions is, is the game fun? Undoubtedly. While it’s ruthless in its difficulty, the sense of achivement you get everytime you get through a level is wonderful, and the game is also quite replayable thanks to the multiple combinations of classes you can use, the search for missed secrets and the promise of a level editor down the line.
Graphics: 4/5 – While repetitive, one cannot argue that they get the job done and the atmosphere is impeccable.
Sound: 5/5 – While there is only a track of music, the combination of eerie sounds and monster grunts really brings Grimrock to life.
Gameplay: 4/5 – A blast from the past, and a good one! While younger gamers will scratch their heads because of the dated controls, it’s all part of the experience, don’t let yourself be fooled by appearances and delve into Grimrock, you’ll be rewarded!
Longevity: 5/5 – A huge dungeon to explore, secrets to hunt and combos of classes to test. Even if you only explore Grimrock once, you’ll definitely get a lot of bang for your buck.
Overall: 4.5 out of 5
If you’re an old school gamer that longs for a challenge the old fashioned way, look no further. If you’re a younger gamer intrigued by old video game genres that no longer exist, look no further. Grimrock will be a superb introduction to the genre. Either way, you’re in for a treat.
- Jose Luis Perez Zapata