I think it’s pretty obvious to anyone who reads this blog that I have a soft spot for old video games. Whether it be 8-bit classics, old school D&D, or arcade machines, I am drawn towards a certain vintage of game like a moth towards a blazing campfire. It’s no wonder that I found myself almost instantly taken in by The Legend of Grimrock; a modern reinterpretation of the classic dungeon crawler.
When I was younger I played quite a few first-person fantasy games, and had notably mixed experiences. SNES classics like Dungeon Master proved to be too unwieldy for me to truly sink my teeth into, while more polished iterations such as Lands of Lore were released in direct competition with console games that diverted my attention (Zelda, Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger). By the time I came back to these dungeon crawlers they had become dated, and I found the controls and interface too clunky and obtuse to give the games a fair shake.
Almost Human Studios realized that many gamers had the same issues with the genre that I did, and decided to take a shot at modernizing it. The production team did their best to distill the the essence of what made the classic games intriguing, combine it with an updated and streamlined interface, and mix in a little bit of their own personal touch. The result is a highly polished and very enjoyable dungeon crawler that evokes memories of a hundred different classic fantasy games.
Grimrock’s main triumph is its accessibility. Character creation takes minutes rather than painstaking hours (I’m looking at you Skyrim), and the player is immediately tossed into an engaging and appropriately dire dungeon. Combat and basic environmental interaction is explained through a very brief tutorial, and the remainder of the controls are taught “on the job” as you smash giant snails and search for secret doors. A dynamic map system allows the player to explore freely without fear of getting lost, and crisp audio cues will quickly point you in the proper direction whenever you need to locate an enemy or pin-point a secret door.
The graphics are surprisingly crisp and fluid for an indie title, creating a seamless sense of immersion for the player. Although you are still restricted to panel-by-panel movement (very much necessary for the genre), the game is rendered in full 3D. Perhaps the most striking feature is the dynamic lighting, which creates a tense atmosphere while at the same time acting as an important element for some of the game’s puzzles. The encroaching darkness is a constant reminder to stockpile torches and to keep moving forward (so the grus don’t eat you).
Alas, for all its achievements, Grimrock is not a perfect game. The equipment variety leaves quite a bit to be desired, and level design malaise begins to sink in by the lower floors. I began to grow sick of the same pressure plate and hidden button puzzles, and grew frustrated every time I need to backtrack to find another rock or torch to open a door.
Still, I would heartily recommend The Legend of Grimrock to anyone who wants to play a great take on a classic, nearly extinct genre. They don’t make games like this anymore!