Reviews: Legend of Grimrock
An old-school dungeon crawling game inspired by Dungeon Master, Eye of the Beholder and Ultima Underworld.
“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”
In the computer gaming world, imitation can take many forms. For example, you can take a popular game and just change the look. When the puzzler Sokoban came out on the Commodore 64 many people came out with copy-cats in many different environments and all of them using the exact same puzzles. ( The only original puzzle I remember seeing was the wonderful Dung Beetle puzzle in Jewels of Darkness.)
Frequently developers would create 'knock-offs” in the hopes of cashing in on the hit game's popularity. Myst and Angry Birds are good examples.
Sometimes a game could launch a whole new genre. Warcraft 3 created the new industry of Tower Defense games.
But sometimes a game is so popular that a developer will lovingly create a new game in the spirit of the classic. This is what Almost Human did with the Legend of Grimrock. They wrote it as a tribute to the classic Eye of the Beholder.
RPG games predate the personal computer (I was playing Dungeons & Dragons in 1976). The first hit RPG on the computer was Tales of the Unknown: Chapter One: The Bard's Tale for the Commodore 64. The graphics were simple, showing the stat tables and a small window for images ( Technically, it would have been 1st person perspective since whenever you ran into a kobold a helpful little picture of what a kobold might look like would pop up. ) But it was a real RPG and a lot easier to play than finding a group of friends and arguing over who was going to create the dungeon. Many knockoffs followed.
The next big RPG hit was Dungeon Master for the Amiga. It was true 1st person perspective as you walked through the dungeon and monsters would jump out at you. Not only that, but when you threw something like a rock or spear you would actually see it flying away from you and hitting the monster, wall or whatever. This was a Big Hairy Deal at the time. Many knockoffs followed and one person even ported the game of Sokoban into its environment ( but they still used all the original puzzles. )
Then came Eye of the Beholder for the Amiga. In many ways it was like Dungeon Master, but the graphics were a bit more polished and it followed the D&D rule book. The box proudly proclaimed it to be an “Official Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Product.” This was the game the D&D fan base had been waiting for and it was a big hit.
EoB brought a bit more action to the table. In The Bard's Tale everything was laid out on a static grid. Monsters were placed in certain locations and you couldn't see them until you were on the same square with them. You then had the choice between fighting or running, but the monsters would stay on that square. EoB was also laid out on a grid, but you could actually see the monsters down the hall. They might also patrol an area and if they saw you, they might even come after you. This also let you dance while fighting – let the monster come to you, make a quick stab and move to the side. By the time the monster moves back to you, you can strike and move again. In this way you could wear down a monster without it ever laying a claw on you. It was the only way to defeat a boss.
Action, advanced technology and a mature gaming environment – put it all together and you had possibly the first RPG where immersion was possible.
Times have changed and modern RPGs now offer scrolling 3D environments, nonstop action and graphics, graphics, graphics. But Almost Human recognized that not all of us are controller twitching adrenaline addicts. Some of us actually like to think and plan between moves and, if we are old enough, look back fondly on the reams of quadrille paper we used to map out the dungeons.
So, how did Almost Human do? Quite well.
You can see from the screen shots that the graphics are contemporary. Torches flicker and light dims as you walk away from them ( so be sure to carry one of your own ) . The textures are a bit repetitive, but you can forgive that considering how little the game costs. My only criticism is that there is only one style of “secret” button – once you see the first the rest are obvious.
There is actually a story line behind the game. Rather than the classic Save The Village/Kingdom/World/Universe From The Evil Rastafarian, the King is curious about these allegedly abandoned catacombs in his kingdom and so he dumps you and three others in to explore and report back. Just what is going on and what will you find?
The sound is very good. Not only can you hear the monsters, you can hear them faintly through the walls and behind doors. All in all the atmosphere is very well done.
And there are puzzles everywhere ( beyond the obvious How Do I Kill THAT Thing ) . You must sometimes use the existing dungeon elements such as pits, pressure plates, torches, secret buttons, etc. in clever ways in order to advance or find the hidden room full of goodies.
Game play uses the QWEASD keys to move, turn and strafe. During exploration the mouse is used to click on things like equipment and buttons. During combat the mouse is used to control how characters attack or cast spells. I picked it up fairly quickly and it became very easy to use.
Character advancement is achieved via classic experience points. When you advance a level you get a hand full of Skill Points which you can spend on any of your character's skills. Advancing a skill level not only improves stats, but also grants specific abilities such as the ability to cast more powerful spells or wear armor without it slowing you down.
Inventory is limited by volume and weight. If one character is carrying too much they will slow the whole group down.
While not officially D&D compliant, the stats all appear to be well thought-out and balanced.
The magic system requires you to remember patterns. Your magic user has a three-by-three grid and to cast a spell you must click on one to three of the nine possible squares. Casting spells drains energy which gradually regenerates on its own.
You can sleep.
You must eat.
The game also has an auto-mapping feature which you can turn off if you want to use all that quadrille paper you may have lying around.
But is it fun? I sure think so. It is a true child of the genre I remember from decades ago and I am having a blast. Will you enjoy it? Well, are you old enough to have owned your own Amiga? Or do you just enjoy a dungeon crawl which doesn't involve nonstop action? If so, I recommend you give it a try. For less than $15 US you certainly aren't risking much.
Final score? Legend of Grimrock is not innovative, but it does what it set out to do. The engine is clean and the whole product is professional. If you like vintage RPG games, then this deserves a place on your shelf. That is the definition of a solid B.
OS: Windows XP Service Pack 3
CPU: Dual Core 2GHz Intel or 2.8GHz AMD
Graphics: ATI Radeon X1600 or NVIDIA GeForce 7600 or better (512MB graphics memory or more. Shader Model 3.0 needs to be supported).
Minimum supported resolutions 1280×720 and 1024×768.
Disk Space: 1GB
OS: Windows Vista or Windows 7
CPU: Quad Core 2.66GHz Intel or 3.2GHz AMD
Graphics: ATI Radeon HD 2900 or NVIDIA GeForce 8800 or better (512MB graphics memory or more. Shader Model 3.0 needs to be supported)
Disk Space: 1GB