Game Review: Legend of Grimrock
Exploring through a mountain turned dungeon staring at the same tile-set on the walls for hours on end may sound like something that would make for a dull and tedious game. Especially when the game limits you movement capabilities to a square-based grid and tosses environmental puzzles your way that could be easily solved if you could stand at a diagonal position. Then there’s the odd dial-a-spell magic system and unclear narrative that come off as clumsy. But somehow, Legend of Grimrock, developed by Finnish studio (seriously, is there anything the Finns can’t do?) Almost Human, have taken all of these bad design troupes and used them in a way that makes the game a highly memorable, and more importantly, deeply engaging game experience that should not be missed.
If you are familiar with old-school first person PC RPGs like Eye of the Beholder, than you should know exactly what you’re getting into here, so you can stop reading and just go play the game and get full satisfaction. For others, in Legend of Grimrock, everything is based on square tiles, the map, movement, puzzles, etc. Even your adventuring party is square; a group of 4 that your design yourself whom are all chained together, have been charged with a crime and cast into a mountain cum dungeon, Mt. Grimrock. Your task is to escape the mountain, and if you do so, your crimes will be absolved.
In order to escape this mountain, you must work your way through its corridors solving various and ingenious puzzles, hunt for treasure, food, and gear, as well as battle a bevy of fantasy based creatures like giant snails, crabs, wyrvens, and ogres. As you venture you will quickly notice that all the walls pretty much look the same with the tile-set only changing 4 time throughout the whole game. On the surface, that may just sound like lazy design, but what this choice of graphic style does is add to the sense of being lost and confused to your adventure. And it works to great effect. If I didn’t use the game’s optional map system (if you are a real hardcore player you can go without), I’d still be wandering aimlessly on the 2nd floor trying to remember which way is north. Being lost and confused in corridors that offer no help to where to head while the possibility of a monster ready to bash your skull in looming around the corner adds a sense of anxiety and in turn really helps suck you into your role of a lost prisoner trying to escape with his life in tact.
Since your party is all tied together in a square movement can only go forward, backward, strafe left, and strafe right. You can also turn the party in 45° to change your facing direction. Luckily all creatures in the game must follow this rule-set, so being attacked from an angle that is impossible to reach won’t happen and cheap death will not occur from it. It took me a hot minute to get accustomed to it due to getting too used to the free form, analog movement of modern first person games, but when it stuck movement went from cumbersome to second nature in no time.
The restrictions in movement leads to some interesting, and surprisingly fast paced combat. Depending on what kind of party you create dictates the attacking strategies you will use. For my first playthrough I made a pretty basic party of 2 fighters to be the front line and melee attackers and a rogue specialized in throwing items as well as a mage in the back row to give me ranged support. Do note, that members in the back row can’t execute melee attacks from the back row. So with my squishies in the back and tanks up front, my only real main concern was keeping my party in a position where the tanks were always in front taking damage and not leaving my sides or back open for my squishies to receive damage. Easier said than done, especially where there are multiple creatures trying to corner you into a wall to pic you off from all directions. The key is to be in constant movement always looking for the next best place to switch to and attack at any second you have an open chance to.
Attacking with melee and ranged weapons like throwing knives and arrows is pretty easy, simply right-click on the icon of your equipped weapon and boom, attack. Wait a few moments for the cooldown to finish on what ever character attacked, rinse and repeat. Using magic is where things get interesting, and my next playthrough will certainly consist of an extra mage in lieu of the rogue (not that the rouge isn’t fun). To cast spells you must dial in a combination of runes on a little 6×6 keypad (‘gasp’ the number 6 in a game based on 4s!!) to cast a spell. This leads to you needing to experiment with different combinations and memorizing a combination when you figure one out or find one that you need to return to at a later experience level. You will find scrolls during the game that will tell you spells, but if you figure some out early, getting to the next part will be much easier and much more satisfying. The urgency of dialing spells in during combat is great too as you fumble to attack with your other characters, keep your party in movement, and at the same time recall and cast the best spell for the situation (you will get to know the fireball spell very quick). Then you need to manage your magic power usage, so opting for the most powerful spell all the time isn’t always the best course of action. There are also support spells to cast like elemental shields, imbue arrows with an element, and create light or darkness.
While there is plenty of combat in Grimrock, the bulk of your time will be spent figuring out environmental puzzles and secret room hunting. These puzzles are the real star of the show here boasting some of the best I’ve ever played in any game. Some require you to flip switches in a certain order, others you need to work out how to get from point a to b with pressure plates in your way causing various effects to happen when stepped upon. Sometimes you will need to find a hidden switch in a wall to open up a secret path and other times you will have to work out which portals transport you from a certain location to another or which item to leave in a recess with cryptic clues hinting what to leave behind. And sometimes, all at the same time. There are some puzzles where you must hit a switch and run through a door before it closes or other timing based puzzles, and they may be frustrating at first as you work out the fastest way to pull it off, but I can assure you that they are all possible and very satisfying when you nail the run (if you happen to have trouble with timing puzzles requiring fast movement, lowering the graphics options will help a lot). All in all, the puzzles are tons of fun and will tickle your brain, but never leave you frustrated. I never got stuck on one for more than 30 minutes and the whole time I was stuck I was plugging in different solution after different solution.
The graphics of the game are nice and modern with beautiful textures and colors leaving a nice, dark, and grim aesthetic. The fact that the repetitious walls look well also helps them add to the atmosphere instead of making them boring. The lighting effects of light producing spells and torches also add a nice touch to pulling you into the game world. Creatures, while pretty basic fantasy beings, look nice and are well designed and animated. The sound is minimal with just ambient music creeping in here and there and standard things like the footsteps of your party and other creatures and other going ons in the mountain. The minimal sound plays into the whole solitude feel of the game and when their used, the sounds really help in bringing Grimrock to life in a most believable way.
There is also a narrative to the game, but finding it is also a bit of a puzzle. You notes left behind by other people sentenced to try to escape the mountain as well as a nice twist to the narrative which occurs when you perform a certain action in the game. In its ~25 hour playthrough time figuring out what’s going on will puzzle you as you work out the games puzzles and I will say that the final conclusion is a nice tie up to the game long narrative puzzle.
While I did find the combat a bit clumsy at times and very simple when encountering a single enemy with a little room to move around(hit, strafe to the side, turn, hit, repeat), I enjoyed every second I played of Legend of Grimrock. It brings that oldschool first person PC RPG style to the modern age wonderfully and with a bevy of different party options, multiple playthroughs are warranted. There is also a dungeon editor included with the game and a community creating their own games with it have popped up, so there are a ton of quality user games to add onto the fun (all the user-generated content and mods can be easily installed through the Steam Workshop). Do be sure to check out user made games The Tomb of Zarthos and the Eye of the Beholder remake, totally quality stuff and just makes the value of owning Legend of Grimrock even greater. Even if you’ve never played a game of this style, I still would recommend giving Grimrock a spin. It makes the point of entry easy to get into and then once you get the basics down the curve works to keep the challenge coming. Enjoy!! Peace Love and Metal!!!!
Posted on January 25, 2013, in Videogames and tagged Action Game, Almost Human, CRPG, Dungeon Crawler, First Person, gaming, Indie Games, Legend of Grimrock, Puzzle Game, Reviews, RPG, Video Game Review, Video Games, Videogames. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.