Game Name: Legend of Grimrock (2012)
Developer: Almost Human
Platform: Windows, OSX, Linux, iOS
Categories: First Person Party Dungeon Crawler, Old School Design, Real Time Combat, Grid Based Movement, Storyphobic, Secrets, Missables, Role Playing, Stat Driven, Simple & StraightForward, Relatively Short for its Genre
May Appeal To: dungeon rats seeking an old school point of entry, pack mules and inventory jugglers, visionaries melding graphics with classic design, mobile gaming prisoners craving quality, and unconventional advocates wanting a blend of both fresh and familiar.
May Repulse: children birthed this millennia, purists, gaming evolutionists, unchallenged tacticians, repetition haters, and those absolutely unswayed by a handful of well done, overused wall textures illuminated by three types of light sources.
Comparable To: a restricted version of Might & Magic Lite – with no quests, NPCs, or open world areas to bog down the pace. It plays very much like Wizardry: Tale of the Forgotten Land in setting and general navigation of the labyrinth, though precludes the need for backtracking or “safe” havens like the village. It’s also less complex than earlier Wizardry titles, and I hear it’s very much inspired by Eye of the Beholder. Etrian Odyssey entries tend to be more in-depth, deliberate, have more obvious puzzle answers, have harder, drawn-out combat, and take considerably more grinding than Legend of Grimrock.
Learning Curve: 30 minutes – 40 should you expect a turn-based crawl, a snail licks your party to death, and a Google search must supplement the 5 page tutorial powerpoint on how runes and simply swinging a dagger works. (Right-click the weapon icon.)
Game Length: 20 hours
Difficulty: Variable. Since combat is a snap with continuous tiles to retreat to or four adjacent corners, the real challenge comes from brain-bending puzzles involving teleportation, projectile physics, switches, enemy positioning, or superb timing.
Mastery: There is a flood of ways to approach this game regarding party composition and tons of nooks and crannies to delve into. Mastery of the labyrinth and its twisting arcane hallways of secrets would be deceptively intricate, not to mention exploring all possible character classes.
Story: You are four superfluously named prisoners that share a pair of eyeballs at identical height and 110 degrees of viewing angle. Despite existing as siamese quadruplets of differing animalistic heritage (human, lizard, minotaur – how apropos), your conjoined, lockstepped abomination triumphs over labyrinthine adversity in filing the first [of many] discrimination grievances against a diminuitive Borg Taxicab hellbent on spoiling your dreams of free-floating cogs with superimposed text. All manner of spawnable fauna is crushed beneath mighty polygonal wrath – hindered by a shared, disturbingly adherent resistance to diagonal trajectories. The four convicts of indeterminate wrongdoing seemingly murder themselves without chance at escape – summarily contradicted by splashscreens of Hope, none of which explain who anything is, what was, does, or why will be. “Tell Grimlock story!”
Note: you don’t really need plot/dialogue to understand slash-slash-spell combat and orthogonal brain teasers.
Presentation: All six wall types look great, for certain….
Joking aside, one could argue that: A) this style lends itself to the infernal maze motif B) LoGrimrock pays accurate homage to the outdated games that came before it and C) small team, small graphical assets, reduced workload. Regardless, after the first five minutes drain away, there remains little to ogle here and everything is bare bones, repetitive, and indiscernible from some other elbow joint in the next dungeon below. To my pleasant surprise, the developers were smart enough to use this shortcoming to great effect: subtle hallway teleportation without informing the player, trigger pebbles stand out better, and it’s more clear when NO secret is present so you can focus your attention elsewhere. By design, the feature of featureless walls is a perfect reason to use the automap vs the methodical descent into madness that is graph paper and pencil. (Unrelated to this game, I’m tackling Wizardry 6. I’m admittedly ready to chuck the multi-page corridors I’ve erased and re-scribbled out the window.)
Beyond the bland environmental hurdle, dungeon denizens screech, moan, grunt, and claw their way from the darkness towards your party’s face in a generic, though satisfying, way. The music and sound effects didn’t grab my attention though in reviewing Let’s Play videos, I’m remembering that nothing broke the immersion of being in this bigass tower that threatens to crumble beneath your feet should the nearest ice lizard remain unstabbed and bypassed. This bleak outlook of your fate -whether it be yielding to malaise or a cryptic physical puzzle (you cheater)- is exacerbated by the criminally dull and oppressive atmosphere. It works for this game though.
Unique Features: It’s the only *real time* grid based first person dungeon crawler that I’ve experienced. The devs were shooting for nostalgia so an engineered lack of individuality casts this game analogous to a long, intense cave of Skyrim played on a checkers board actually. Unmatched challenge in forward thinking puzzles steal the show. A rune-based magic system adds a facet of management seldom seen elsewhere.
Gameplay: The exploration is pretty straightforward. Your biomass aggregate of multi-textured limbs sharing one worldview traverses the switchback hallways to outline a veritable maze of passages, some sealed by gates offering that tantalizing glimpse at teh lootz just out of reach. This amorphous clump of mute adventurers must avoid pitfalls, monster dens, spikes, fireballs, and lightning bolts only when it’s not fully necessary to take the plunge or Leroy Jenkins it into a wicked gnashing of beast and blades. Conquering one’s trepidation to proceed with that next lumbering step or having faith in your own logical inference is just as essential as mastering the other mechanics.
The battle system can be daunting until you hit a rhythm. Aside from the fact that it’s quite possible to conjoin a cripplingly useless team of knuckleheads from a combat standpoint, let’s assume the player knows to bring a tank, an agile warrior, and at least one mage with a ranged weapon. (No healers or dedicated alchemists, folks – gotta depend on natural regen, bottomless HP, interspersed holy crystals, and potions.) Everything is real time so you can imagine a convoluted dance of playing Foursquare with a kited enemy while selecting the appropriate runes to blast the confused foe with a spell, furiously mashing right-click to keep the bladed weapons in a constant state of cooldown mode. Efficiency comes later, though this is what you’ll be doing ad nauseum. A few baddies have unconventional attacks like charging through the gloom, moving in formation, or being tethered to a stormdrain while most retain a one-tile range and amble at varying speeds in predictable ways. Keep that quicksave handy in case of sporadic monster closets; you’re always a rogue teleport, floor hole, or slow rising wall away from being overwhelmed.
The puzzles are downright insidious. Imagine, if you will, a grid of torches in which being illuminated sends you back to the beginning. Separately, a twenty tile double hallway must be traversed in the right pattern according to a poem discovered earlier in the level. A portal’s split second appearance must have a projectile launched through it to activate a weighted trigger elsewhere. The gravelly groans of some far off doorway indicate a pressure plate and wall button must be activated simultaneously. Shadows cast by opposing columns intersect, at which you must launch a rock North and another East. And one of the most pervasive designs: countless pitfalls always hurt though also reveal secrets, missables, nests, keys, and other things worth exploring. Quite often, intentionally falling prey to an obvious trap is the only way forward!
Additional Comments: LoGrimrock has a delightfully nasty way of sneaking content past the unwary. Much of many levels can be fully bypassed if you take the wrong [or right] turn, leaving entire sections of stony goodness unspelunked. Often, you’ll discover the stairway downward even though only half of your map is filled – it’s a common theme to return to previous gaps and fall through the floor to reveal new areas. (The tower’s in-game architects are sadistically stupid and/or stupidly sadistic.) Conceivably, the simple controls and minimal design would also make for great play on both the phone and tablet, something you’ll almost never hear me suggest.
What I Liked: The overall length and challenge is “just right”. I rarely felt frustrated or compelled to look up anything – testament that the devs did ample playtesting in finding a good balance of mechanics. “Come for the simplicity. Stay for the immersion”, I say. There are some fresh ideas here as well, along with watered down nostalgia that makes players think this wholly represents the unfair, complex experiences pioneered by the ancestors of this genre. LoGrimrock is approachable, short, and fun despite what came before it. Of course, the puzzles are where the adventure gains its own identity and they’re the most memorable treat for me. This is a WYSIWYG RPG. Ample secrets. Replayability. It caters to party experimentation as well as a player’s level of devotion.
What I Disliked: Infinitely-spawning enemy areas are obnoxious but unobvious. You might be attempting to clear a field of 20X20 passages for 30 minutes before you realize that it’s moot (end boss fight included). The positional combat is too exploitable in that 90% of everything can be ambushed during transition animations. And in cases where battles AREN’T too easy, the severe challenge of dropping into a chamber of ten monsters whom box you in is an unwelcome change from the norm. The story was also lacking, though without NPCs it’d be difficult to improve upon. All enemies die in the same disintegration effect, leaving no corpses to mark the trail.
Glitches Experienced: My friend described a scenario where placing a rock on a button glitched him into a cage and the aforementioned rock was propelled out of reach. I experienced no such glitches at all. Good work, Grimrock.
Hours I Played: 25 hours, and did find roughly 75% of the total secrets on my own
My Personal Reaction: There is always something intangibly simple and pure about one of these homage games and they can hardly be faulted for their minimalist approach. Still, the presentation of quality cinematic stills, overused walls, great lighting, the lackluster menu screen, fantastic dungeon layout, simplistic enemy variety, and serviceable audio quality all kind of even out to an unimpressive facade for me. This leaves the gameplay, uniqueness, and cerebral challenge of lasting to the end all as sturdy posts to prop up a memorable experience – which I believe this does with room to spare. Hats off to a small development team that made this niche title!
Noob Tips: Restart the game a few times until you feel comfortable with how a party synergizes on the first level. You’ll be assaulted from all sides but the burly protectors are needed up front, obviously. Left-click picks stuff up, right click throws or activates an equipped item. Monster dens have tells, hidden switches litter your trek, turn up your audio, annotate the digital map as needed, level up smartly, and tread carefully.
Depth and Replayability: Medium High, since exploring the ability progression and discovering all powerful artifacts for the character classes is hard to do on a first go.
Suggested Value: $20 and lower seems good to me. I’ve heard hearty endorsements of the sequel so the money might be better spent on that, assuming that necessary refinements were made. I’ve yet to play my copy.
Where to Buy: Steam, GOG, Grimrock.net, Gamers Gate, apps.ubuntu.com