Legend of Grimrock came out today, long-awaited nerd holy grail, a throwback to “old-school” rpg days of making maps with graph paper, the days of Wizardry and Ultima Underworld, etc, running around in first person through mazes getting loot and surviving the horrible monsters that live underground. And like anything with intense games culture focus, I wanted to see if the gameplay actually held up under the hype.
I like that the non-human races (minotaur, insectoid, lizardperson) are suitably inhuman. Monstrosity is good–fuck games with elves and dwarves. Also no anthropomorphic boobs, a nice lack of fanservice.
the UI is elegant and clean, in stark contrast to the frenzied clutter of pointless spreadsheets and submenus the genre has labored under in the past. The visuals dip from a limited palette but look good for all that–moss growing through rocks, vines obscuring ancient runes. Mostly permutations on rocks and things that can happen with rocks.
What I like about Grimrock is that it’s willing to be simple. It’s not afraid to throw you in a dungeon and say, this is the game. No tooltips, no lengthy cinematics, no extensive preamble about some shit i don’t care about. There’s a skippable 12 seconds of nicely illustrated backstory and that’s it, along with occasional brief flickers of words when you’re sleeping. It acknowledges that most people making fantasy games are literary idiots with no grasp of storytelling and doesn’t try to embarrass itself by pretending otherwise. The premise is simple: four prisoners dumped into a mountain, have to get the bottom. I like the little conceit of prisoners being chained together as a way to justify why these games always bunch together the characters in formation. So a scant few details, but they get it right.
The end result is pure gameplay. Claustrophobic tunnels lit only by torchlight, full of spiders and snails (thank you for using snails instead of rats, another minor but appreciated detail), graphing paper in three dimensions, a tower of mazes to be conquered or suffer death in the attempt. A scarce, minimal dungeon-crawler bogged down occasionally with poorly conveyed puzzles.
The word old-school has been thrown around a lot during the production of this game, but if anything, the facet of old-school that I notice the most, more than the bitter difficulty level and the option to draw your own maps, is the depressing, bleak feeling of wandering through a barren, inhospitable environment. The emotions that come with playing dungeondelves are rarely explored, but I got the same sick, lonely feeling from playing this as I did from playing Exile and other old rpgs that involved wandering through the bowels of the earth. These are games that evoke loneliness, despite the traditional focus being on gameplay. So the inadvertent effect becomes the primary one, at least where memory is concerned.