Legend of Grimrock

Dungeons and Pressure Plates is a first-person action dungeon crawler by Almost Human (not the prosthetic shop). Quite the appropriate name, you soulless Finnish mind rapists. Your cruel puzzles are brain-melting. Sure, it all starts with a poorly concealed tutorial at the first level with uninspired “riddles” such as “to close the pit, something must fly,” but then I’m supposed to know before traveling miles into dangerous corridors ahead that a lever should be pulled so that a scroll is removed from a secluded shelf in order to activate a mechanism that lifts the walls of an entire room for me to access eons later, all while I’m being hunted by an infinite and ferocious horde of subzero raptor-steak dispensers.

Don’t get me wrong, the puzzles aren’t my complaint, quite the opposite. I would just like not to be easily cornered and killed by infinitely spawning monsters while I’m supposed to be carefully searching for something. The last thing you want to do in the middle of dinosaur-infested corridors is appreciate the craftsmanship of the masonry.

I say, will you cease your nagging, old chap? I’m savouring the workmanship.

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As usual, I’m getting ahead of myself.

In Rock of Legendgrim, you start as a party of four prisoners ironically pardoned by being This is Sparta’d into a monster-filled, trap-ridden dungeon out of which no one ever came out alive. You can customize the party before you start, with four different races at your disposal and, in a quasi-D&D fashion, plenty of points to be attributed to skills and abilities, along with some traits to choose from. I would start praising this game simply because of not having gone down the Tolkien-centric lane of elves, dwarves, hobbits, etc, but all is not well.

I still can’t believe it.

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In a vain effort to seem organized, I will first state the three issues that prevented me from giving Legend of Temptation Island nothing but a round of applause: Satan, saves, and square dancing.

Nah, the first point isn’t Satan, I just wanted three “S”s in a row. It’s actually the aforementioned combination of running and puzzling. Choose one, for fuck’s sake! Either I kill all the monsters in a room and THEN solve the puzzle, or I solve a puzzle that releases monsters at its completion. Both of those do exist, but the third variant, akin to robbing a bank while doing your taxes, risks being a harsh game-stopper. Unless you wanted this game to be beaten only by hardcore gaming purists that whither and melt at the sight of a walkthrough, in which case I must add that I did consult one, for the benefit of my OCD braincells, AND I’M NOT ASHAMED OF IT.

Maybe a little.

Not really.

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I praise games that manage to bring my OCD to a halt, due to the sheer stress that they might provoke in me, and near the end, Grincock did in fact almost achieve that. Almost. Why? That’s the second issue.

Saving whatever, wherever and whenever you like, in this kind of games, is bringing about the creation of dozens of alternate realities, born from the sheer terror of overwriting a save file that MIGHT link to something we MIGHT have overlooked at some point in the game, and that we MIGHT regret. That’s not gaming, my dear Finnish mutants, that’s mindclutter. There’s a kind of frustration that is part of a good tough gaming experience, and if you would have increased just a bit the number of save crystals, or whatever the hell they’re called, while disabling the free save function, you might have successfully provoked such a feeling. Instead, I find myself saving before every single door, after every single encounter, in every single moment of choice, be it left or right, up or down, chocolate or corn flakes, etc, simply because I CAN.

Yes we can.

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Do not expect a gamer to be fair with the circumstances he’s presented with, unless he has some sort of weird honor code involving samurai and chicken sacrifices at midnight. We are sneaky devious bastards who exploit every last single microscopic speck of a glitch, bug, feature, or game mechanic for our personal gain. Fairness must be imposed, albeit without being deliberately and pointlessly oppressive or boring, and this brings us to the last issue.

If I wanted to square dance, I’d go ask Doc for the DeLorean. The combat system is a fucking disaster. By disaster, I mean DAMN. In Dungeons and Pardners, your entire party of four occupies one square and, in an interesting yet quickly wearying fashion, you move square by square like an undecided mechanical toddler with hiccups. Half into the game, my eyes ached and felt like they belonged to the Flash in a stop/start traffic jam, alternating between stationary and my lips are flapping. At the beginning, combat seemed to be pretty straightforward: Get to an adjacent square to that of the giant snail, punch it to death as quickly as you can before it can bite your head off too much, and pray you don’t miss, because snails are known to be quick and fidgety creatures.

Will you stand still!

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Later on, however, I started meeting enemies that would seriously damage my party if I didn’t move around. That would be fine if the movement weren’t so awkward for all the parties involved. It suddenly became a boring dodgefest: I move away, you move into where I was, I hit you before you can hit me, I move away, you move into where I was, I hit you before you can hit me, I move away, etc. I’m not even mentioning the times where the simple concept of my being diagonally positioned in relation to the monster seems to send it into deep thought about the mysteries of the universe.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

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The activity that was the most fun, the joy of stabbing walking mushrooms to death, of punching giant mosquitoes in the thorax, of exploding members of the Cthulhu Fan Club to smithereens, had thus become a boring square dance of damage accounting.

Mix both the saving and the battling issues, and you have probably the best OCD mechanism of them all. No risks. I’ll just save and load and save and load and save and load until my square dancing and dodging is optimal and I can beat this ogre before he needs an aspirin from running into walls after me. Then I’ll just do the exact same thing for every single aggressive organism in this hellhole.

I am aware of the existence of the easy mode, yet it only solves the first and lightest of the issues. I think the definition of easy shouldn’t be “sensible,” but “for the lazy or the handicapped.” Normal is normal, people. It’s the game’s al dente, au point, just right, and that’s all I think should be reviewed. I’m guessing hard mode implies having to run through the entire dungeon in under 30 seconds with your hands cut off while surrounded by rabid moths.

It’s a pity, really, as Legend of Snorerock has some brilliant and refreshing stuff, like the attention to detail in how you position your party, who gets hurt from what side (although it would make sense for four people to be able to act in four directions simultaneously), tons of hidden junk and, once again, the puzzles. Most of the games in this style are from the days of hand-cranked machinery and it feels good to see what I like to call a nostalgic innovation in the genre. It’s not an easy game at all, mind you, but that just adds to the problem. If you include easy save mechanics in a game where you are expected to take risks and save your skin, you are essentially turning the latter into a boring chore, instead of a feeling of having escaped barely alive from a room full of radioactive ooze.

Flubber wants revenge.

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I also tried the dungeon editor, and it’s a masterful move by the developers, of the same kind of Bioware’s release of the Aurora Toolset along with Neverwinter Nights. It’s easily accessible and a treat for anyone with a soft spot for creative gaming activities (guilty) and mod enthusiasts.

As far as the soundtrack goes, or rather, the two tracks, title screen and credits, all there is to say is that it’s good orchestral fantasy music that fits the mood. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was composed by Stakula, from Alamaailman Vasarat, a Finnish band I listen to. The rest is just effective ambient sound for the dungeon itself.

Now that the important stuff is settled, it’s time for a plot-related rant.

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

It is beyond my reasoning how a mechanical cube can threaten anything at all. It doesn’t even seem able to climb a set of stairs, for fuck’s sake.

Also, how the hell is the UNDYING One killed just like that? Are we to believe that four pissy outlaws can best the power of the ancient Cthulhu Fan Club, who decided to make a weapon that could disable the fucker and keep the former hidden in a tomb, and then thought “Nah, let’s just leave its deactivated carcass in here and use the premises to store prisoners. No one will wake it up anyway, there’s only four parts of it taken out and their slots are blatantly exposed. Let’s just spend our resources building complex golems to guard it and spend our lives in this moldy basement playing hide-and-seek among the pillars and the tetanus-ridden giant spiders.”

“Sounds good to me!”

*SPOILERS END*

5/10

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