Legend of Grimrock

 

Introduction

Up for review this time around is Legend of Grimrock, by Finnish team Almost Human. This one hasn’t been on my radar for very long, perhaps a month or two.


Other than the menu overlay, this is what most of the game actually looks like.
Other than the menu overlay, this is what most of the game actually looks like.

 

When I first saw some video of the game, I thought it looked neat, but I didn’t think it would be something I particularly cared for. After all, I had never played the games that inspired it. Dungeon Keeper came out long before I had anything other than a Nintendo, and while I always thought Eye of the Beholder looked awesome in magazines, I didn’t have a computer that could play it (at least not until it wasn’t readily available for purchase).

The only game that I could compare it to (and the one that jumped to mind as soon as I saw Grimrock) was Stonekeep. And boy did I hate that game. But at around $9 on www.gog.com I couldn’t pass it up.

Thank the elder gods I didn’t…

Story

Before we begin, let me introduce my party of four:

Yathgar knew there was something amiss in the dank room as soon as he entered. Carefully examining the cobwebs festooning the darkened corners, he whispered to his companions in a low murmur as they silently filed in after him, “Careful where you tread…I don’t like the looks of this place”.

Macho shook his horned head and gave out an explosive snort of amusement. Wincing at the sudden noise, Yathgar glared at the minotaur.

“You little ones are too jumpy. There’s nothing in this room but rat turds and bones”, Macho said as he brushed passed the thief. As his hooved foot came down on the loose brick of the floor, a distinct click could be heard hanging in the still air.

“That didn’t sound good…”, the group’s mage, Malakai, exclaimed.

The other three members of the group stared at the minotaur in reproach as a hidden door yawned open and armored skeletons shambled out. Not chagrined in the least, Macho slapped Yathgar on the back before wading into the fray.

“Looks like I found a secret!”

The above excerpt is how I pictured my own group of four misfits in the dungeons of Grimrock. Since the game leaves your characters as blank slates, I found it helped to infuse a bit of personality.

Just like your characters, the story is pretty spartan. You control four prisoners dropped into a pit at the top of Mount Grimrock. They are pardoned for their crimes, but must survive ts depths to reach freedom. That is pretty much your entire motivation. And it works perfectly. What the game lacks in story, it makes up for in addicting gameplay.


They could have at least let them take the stairs...
They could have at least let them take the stairs…

Gameplay

Legend of Grimrock excels in its simplicity. Essentially the game is all about sneaking through a maze-like dungeon, floor by floor, all the while looking for the stairs down. In almost every room you are confonted by horrifying monstrocities whom you must vanquish to proceed.


Mmmmmmmh, escargo
Mmmmmmmh, escargo
Grimrock has some superficial RPG elements to it. At the beginning of the game, you can either select some stock characters or roll your own. Rolling your own involves assigning some points to a few standard attributes and skills, and selecting a couple of traits. Traits are slight buffs, but nothing overpowering. Skills determine some special abilities your character can use (that you aren’t actually in control of). They have a random chance of firing off as you attack. There are also skills that allow you to use different weapon and armor types more proficiently.

As some people have criticized, combat is a bit of a game of whack-a-mole, due to the cooldowns imposed between each character’s action. Each character has an icon showing their health and energy, as well as their hands. Dropping a weapon on a hand equips it. Attacking an enemy is as simple as facing it and clicking the equipped weapon icon.

For a mage, your skill levels determine what spells you can cast, and there are several schools of magic (fire, air, earth, etc.).

The magic system is also a point of contention. Casting spells is accomplished by selecting a combination of runes from a 3 by 3 grid. Different combinations of the runes produce different spells. Since the selected runes are wiped out each time you cast a spell, it can seem a bit cumbersome, but I think it adds a bit of needed difficulty to the game.

Word to the wise: when you first create your mage, don’t spread your skill points too thin across all the schools of magic. Most of the spells require you to have several points in their particular school of magic before you can cast them. My mage was useless until I got him to level two and was able to remedy my mistake.

Essentially, combat is fast, with constant maneuvering to avoid attacks while trying to keep from being cornered, all the while furiously clickingcharacter’s attack icons as they come off cooldown.


I hate these guys sooo bad
I hate these guys sooo bad
The game uses a first person perspective, so you’re left up to your imagination regarding your own party. You are told that they are grouped up in a two by two array. Those in back take less damage, but give less damage as well (unless equipped with proper weaponry). Movement is entirely grid-based, meaning every step moves you the same distance, while every turn rotates you exactly 90 degrees. There is some rudimentary mouselook, but it’s just there so you can admire the scenery.

You’ll pick up items dropped by monsters, including weapons and armor that you can then equip. Items are also found in secret areas. Secret areas are littered throughout the dungeon levels, and I found myself obsessively checking walls for the little hidden trigger stones.

An interesting mechanic that adds a bit of management to the game is hunger. Each character has a hunger bar that slowly goes down. To fill it up, you must eat parts of monsters left behind after you slay them. I never did let my hunger bars get too low, but I’m making the assumption that the characters probably die when they reach zero…

Another mechanic is your party’s need for light. Some rooms in the dungeon are lit by torches, but many rooms are near pitch black. Without at least one of your characters actively holding a lit torch, you won’t be able to see much of anything. Be sure to take every torch you can find, as they go out after several minutes while you hold them.


In Soviet Russia, mushroom takes YOU to hallucinate!
In Soviet Russia, mushroom takes YOU to hallucinate!

The last gameplay element I want to talk about is the puzzles. Puzzles in Legend of Grimrock range from simply searching the level looking for a key to a locked door, to figuring out how to deactivate a teleporter so you can continue through a hallway. There are pressure plate puzzles (and traps), item placement puzzles, teleporter puzzles, and timed puzzles, among others. As you progress, they’ll get harder and harder, but add an awesome element to the game. Don’t worry though, it’s not like this is The Seventh Guest. They aren’t particulary hard.


What a puzzle might look like.
What a puzzle might look like

This game resonates somehow. Hours can go by in one play through, with you saying to yourself, “Just one more room then I’m done for the night”. Two floors later you might finally take a break. The game does a masterful job of creating a tense environment, blending gloomy lighting with the distant sounds of monsters moving around unseen. I remember one point after hearing an odd stomping sound, thinking to myself “I sure hope those are skeletons”…it was…a bunch of them.

Graphics

Legend of Grimrock is a nice looking game, which is surprising considering its indie origins. Alot of indie games have to compromise on the graphics because of a lack of funding, but it looks like Almost Human didn’t skimp out on the details.

The dungeon levels are great looking, with vine covered brick walls and floors littered with bones. The lighting in the game is very good, with torchligh casting a dim, wavering glow on everything. Monsters in the distance can be difficult to see in the darkness, greatly increasing suspense.

My only complaint is that the look of the levels can get a bit repetitive. It’s a small complaint though, as the gameplay makes up for it.


The one skeleton in the game not trying to kill you
The one skeleton in the game not trying to kill you.

Aside from being able to choose a multitude of resolutions, you can also run the game in windowed mode, or run it with lower detailed textures. I found the game ran very smoothly on my computer (AMD Phenom II with 8 gigs RAM and an AMD Radeon HD 6900 video card) at max resolution with details all turned up.

Conclusion

Buying this game is a no brainer. If you like strategic action with some RPG elements thrown in, you’ll love it. And at the extremely low price, you have no reason for passing it up. Not to mention that Almost Human has promised to release modding tools at a later date, allowing people to create custom dungeons.


Death is only the beginning...but be sure to save often
Death is only the beginning…but be sure to save often.

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