It’s rare that old and new can be combined successfully. Sometimes it works wonderfully, like modern cover versions of classic songs. Mostly though, it’s bad, like porn where elderly men hook up with young women – the action is familiar, but it’s all distorted, sloppy and just downright difficult to get any enjoyment from.
Legend of Grimrock from Almost Human is fortunately more of the former, at least, there’s no old naked dudes in sight. Grimrock takes a genre almost as old as videogaming itself, the ‘dungeon crawler’, and drags it visually into the era of quad core processors and multiple graphics cards – whilst steadfastly gripping on to the old school gameplay mechanics.
The elder gamers amongst you may be familiar with games such as ‘Eye of the Beholder’ (God bless the Amiga 500) if so, you’ll be right at home here as Legend of Grimrock is essentially a spectacular version of this classic. The plot is pretty throw-away stuff. Your band of rogues has been found guilty of wrongdoing and condemed to Grimrock prison, a sort of stoney, moss-covered Guantanamo Bay, built into a mountain. If you can make it through Grimrock and escape alive then you’ve won, not only the game, but at life. Grimrock isn’t simply filled with prison cells however, infact, it’s somewhat of an open prison, but one that trails through miles of labyrinthine corridors filled with horrors, beasts and some rather devilish traps and puzzles. Well, no one said it was going to be easy.
As screenshots show, Legend of Grimrock is superb in the visuals department, especially for an Indie title. Not to say that Indie’s can’t look great, but they rarely have the visual polish Grimrock strives for, often opting for stylistic looks, rather than fidelity and realism. Almost Human has excelled in creating a living, breathing and atmospheric dungeon environment thanks to some excellent textures and lighting. This may have been made easier by the fact that back in the days of building massive dungeons into mountainsides, interior design was clearly directed more towards functional rather than flashy. Practically every inch of Grimrock is built from the same.. grim.. rocks. Did I just actually write that?
Whilst this is restrictive to the feel of the environment, it works perfectly as a mechanic intended to cause confusion and disarray for the player, to get them lost within the confines of what is essentially a linear progression through the dungeon. In fact there is a hardcore mode whereby the game no longer auto-maps your progress, instead suggesting you reach for the graph paper and go real old-school with the mapping. Frankly, I’m not that brave and I have no graph paper because I’m not a 10 year-old.
So Legend of Grimrock looks great but what about that retro gameplay? You’d be forgiven for thinking it perhaps plays like an FPS, or an Action RPG like Skyrim, but no. It is inherently stuck in the past and is the sweeter for it. Grimrock prison is a grid system, built from squares, and your movement through the dungeon is one square at a time. Using WASD, You move one square forward, or backward, whilst left or right movement is through a 90-degree turn to face the squares to yoursides. Luckily, your enemies in Grimrock, of which there are many, move using the same system, all in real-time. Your viewpoint is actually a shared view of a group of four party members, who all move together in the same formations and you control as a single entity. These are illustrated upon the HUD and each party member has different skillsets and can be levelled to use different spells and weapons as you work through the game. It can feel a little cumbersome at first, especially if you are new to the mechanics, but it works well and provides a rather unique experience.
Legend of Grimrock is unashamedly living in the past underneath it’s attractive exterior, but as such it provides a gaming experience you won’t find elsewhere without reverting to badly-aged, pixellated graphics and unrefined controls. It pretty much instantly appeals to anyone over 30 who played games in their childhood and excitingly, provides an entirely fresh style of gameplay to younger people playing games today. It’s dungeon-crawling at the height of it’s game and comes well recommended if you have even a passing interest in the subject matter. On the downside it is rock hard in places, but features a classic save/load system to help you on your way.
Legend of Grimrock has been updated today to include a free, comprehensive level editor which the developers hope will bring about a wealth of community-made content. If there’s one thing to be said for the community, is that they are likely to be very keen to create their own adventures. See the video above for more details.
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