Review

Legend of Grimrock Review (PC)

One thing your reviewer here today never thought he’d ever be doing again is playing a flick-screen role-playing game, and even more perplexing is the fact he’d be enjoying it too. Only to an extent, but enjoying it nonetheless. Deader than those hideous puffer jackets with bright orange lining, the flick-screen RPG isn’t exactly the most fashionable genre to bring back to life, but here we have one, doing quite nicely thank you very much and good day, sir.

Legend of Grimrock is resolutely old school, even giving players the option to turn off the auto-mapping feature in favour of having a pad of squared paper and a pencil beside the keyboard. As someone who remembers carefully mapping out the levels in Waxworks way back when, this brings back memories both warm and terrifyingly cold. So you’ll forgive your elderly reviewer leaving the auto-mapping on for the purposes of this essay.

Even skeletons wince at the thought of getting hit in the groin

Anyway, Grimrock is a flick-screener, which means you move around a grid map one block at a time. There’s a limited free look feature, but it’s completely possible to get by without ever using it, even forgetting it completely due to there not being anything to look at outside of your regular field of vision.

You control a party of four condemned criminals, thrown into the maw of Mount Grimrock and told if you can make it all the way down to the bottom, you will be set free of the burden of your crimes. Sounds easy, except you start with nothing at all and with deadly enemies wandering the halls of the first level, you’d better find a way of defending yourself or you’ll be dead quicker than you can say “hey, is that a giant snail?”.

You’ll constantly feel under pressure to stay alive, with healing sources very few and far between, even when you do find an alchemy kit for brewing up vital potions. Enemies do significant damage and your guys are initially dressed in whatever rags they can find scattered about the place. So expect to die a lot, or at least feel like the threat of death is just around the corner.

A sensible stratagem to stay alive is to make liberal use of the quick save key, but also to make sure not to save yourself into a corner, by tapping it and then realising it’s going to be impossible to carry on with two party members dead and a room full of spiders barring progress. Manage your saves wisely, and don’t be afraid to reload an earlier one if you run into bother.

"Don't you open that trapdoor!"

The difficulty level could then be an issue if you’re not interested in having a challenge, so it’s good you can at least put it on ‘easy’ if you so wish, otherwise you’ll almost certainly be perfecting the ‘hit and sidestep’ technique, where you slash quickly at an enemy moving sideways into the square in front of you, before sidestepping into another, forcing your foe to move into another slash and so on. An effective method, but also slightly ludicrous at the same time.

Traditional as it is, Grimrock also allows for substantial customisation of your characters before you head into battle. You can create a completely new set of desperados or go with the default four, which pleasingly includes a brutish minotaur as one of the fighters. It’s probably best to go with the default selection at first while you learn the ins and outs before creating your own crew to attempt the descent a second (or more) time. Once you’re in, your party is arranged in two rows of two, probably the fighters in the front, rogues/mages in the back. Remember that this means an attack from the side can expose your back ranks, so make sure to face your enemies at all times.

Attacks are performed with a swift right click on items held in a character’s hands, as shown in the bottom right corner window. Items such as torches can be placed there to help light the way, as can throwing knives, grenades and regular weapons like swords, clubs and bows. Wizards cast spells by selecting the right combination of runes, although they can also wield normal weapons too if pressed. Some, like spears, can be used by back rank characters to bolster your melee options.

With all these options, plus that retro charm of playing a dead genre after such a long time, there’s a lot to recommend Grimrock for. It’s done a good job of taking an unfashionable concept and making it challenging and compelling in the long term. One quibble is the environments are, perhaps by definition given this is a dungeon crawl, uninspiring after long sessions. Going down a level to be greeted by the same dungeon walls is more depressing than you’d think and really does put a dampener on things.

These mushroom enemies will really shitake you up

Things do change, but never to the degree of being refreshingly different. Of course, as an independent project that’s going for the dungeon crawler crowd, it’s never going to present beautiful vistas or open areas, but nevertheless it can be a drag over extended periods of play.

Which is a shame, because you’ll probably want to delve deeper into this than just the first few levels, unless the thought of battling giant spiders scares you. If you can get over the relative tedium of the dungeons you’ll be trawling through, there’s a deep indie RPG adventure here. Certainly it’s good enough to recommend to old codgers who remember the likes of Eye of the Beholder or Lands of Lore.

Favourite Game Moment: Finding a blue resurrection crystal after coming out of a battle with 6 giant spiders with only one poisoned wizard left in the party.

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Comments

By FoolWolf (SI Elite) on May 10, 2012
FoolWolf
I agree with your review, very good one. The game is really old school and fun. The old well proven game mechanics are easy to get into and takes some time to master. The games has some serious and devilish traps and puzzles to solve - so you will most likely use a lot of bad words and to find "Everything" you will really have to try out that curiosity and ingenuity of yours... :)
The price is really nice as well and for the hours of fun you will have - it is a must buy for everyone that likes these games!