Almost Human is a new game studio from Finland who just released their first game, Legend Of Grimrock. I’d be a fan even if they weren’t from around here. They’ve done well on Steam and further adventures are all but guaranteed. I do urge you to buy direct from them, though!
Legend Of Grimrock is so faithful to dungeon crawlers circa 1987-1993, it could be called a remake of Dungeon Master. I was a more Eye Of The Beholder kinda guy, being a huge AD&D geek, but it’s the same drill: you have a party of four adventurers in a dungeon. They move by ten-foot steps in four directions and turn by ninety-degree angles. It’s real-time, but movement is grid-based. Very archaic by today’s standards, although Grimrock is rendered in real-time 3D graphics. When I first heard about the game, I wasn’t sure if it could do well, but looks like there’s enough old school guys around who are after that kind of experience even in these post-Skyrim days.
This kind of game hasn’t been around in decades, and there isn’t really anything else like it available. I guess the closest relative is roguelikes and that’s as niche as genres get. It would be interesting to be able to experience Grimrock as someone who never saw the original games. As someone who knew what to expect, it’s so good it makes me wonder if my memory is working correctly – generally the stuff from two decades ago isn’t quite as sweet by today’s standards as we recall. The combination of very clear-cut game rules, exploration and discovery, and really rather tricky puzzles and honestly bloody hard battles is simply fresh.
Someone might scoff at the seemingly arbitrary limitations on movement and weird portrayal of real-time, but Grimrock manages to be so intense, I can’t play it too late into the night if I want to be able to sleep. Survival is always at question and you better be saving after every single room if you don’t like retracing your steps.
Much like Dark Souls, this is a game best enjoyed with company. There’s no way you’re going to find out and notice everything that’s going on in its seemingly simple trappings. It makes me hope that maybe these hard to approach, curiosity required games will be around again.
One thing that Grimrock does better than any other recent game I can think of is storytelling. There isn’t much of it, but it’s expertly handled. The opening cutscene delivers everything you need, and after that the game shuts up, letting the interaction and setting deliver. When I realized how short the cinematic was and how strong a mood it set, I was stunned. Music is very good, but only present in the menus, allowing the dungeon’s oppressive and informative soundscape to overtake your audio space. I’m actually very interested to see what lies in the bottom of the dungeon and if the prisoners ever do get out. It takes guts to be that economical in delivery.
The one game of this lineage I never got to play but was the most intrigued about was Captive. Its scifi trappings and meta-game themes really intrigue me. Maybe someone remakes that, too?