Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Grim Fandango Remastered Brings the Classic Back To Life, But Not to The Modern Age - The Take Your Time Review

Quick Note: Grim Fandango is a piece of gaming history every gamer should experience. The characters are interesting and the story is funny, but the old school puzzles can be pretty brutal. With no hint system in place, this is not the point and click adventure game for everyone to play without a guide, but it is one that should be played.. 

Grim Fandango originally graced the public in 1998 when it was released on PC. Since it's launch, the game has been considered a masterpiece that every person who considers themselves a gamer must play. For years it was nearly impossible to obtain the game through legal ways due to issues with Lucas Arts, but now that Double Fine has re-released the game it is time for many, myself included, to experience the game for the first time. Though very much a piece of gaming history, Grim Fandango has not aged as gracefully as many had hoped and will leave many feeling frustrated, despite the great aesthetics.

Players take control of Manuel "Manny" Calavera in the Land of the Dead, specifically the Eighth Underworld. Manny is a travel agent, whose job is to find and guide newly dead souls to the Ninth Underworld. Those who have been good during life get nice travel packages and are able to travel in style across the Eighth Underworld. Those who were bad usually are stuck to walk the world, or even worse: work to obtain the necessary money to get in.

Though not a full remake, the retouched textures and new lighting engine are pretty great, even with the blocky models.

In an attempt to get some better clients, Manny decides to steal a client from his fellow coworker Domino, who seems to be getting all of the best clients at the firm. In walks Mercedes "Meche" Colomar, a recently deceased woman who was a saint in her life, but can only get the walking package. After sending her on her way, big boss Don Copal informs Manny that he gave Meche the wrong package and that he is fired. To make amends, Manny decides to track down Meche and give her the package she deserves.

The story and characters are by far the best thing about Grim Fandango. Told in the style of an old Noir film, the game is constantly making fun of the tropes associated with the genre while also paying homage in the best way possible. Manny is a funny and lovable protagonist who never gives up  but is also utterly clueless about the larger picture. Meche is the lovable damsel in distress who is only in distress because of the protagonist and refuses to except his help. This perfect balance of breaking down the tropes while showing why the Film Noir genre of story telling is so great really struck a chord with me, and in an industry where fantasy and war style games rule, it's quite refreshing to get something so unique.

Outside the main cast, the supporting characters are very charming and different, often pulling from different character tropes. Hipsters at a smoky poetry bar snap their fingers in approval. Worker bees refuse to join a corrupt union, speaking in thick New England accents. Performers who are so full of themselves they ignore a random person walking around with a pot of hot coffee. The game is chocked full of unique video game characters you won't be able to find anywhere else, and each one is part of a smart, funny punch line.

The Film Noir style is amplified by an excellent soundtrack. Each piece of music fits the scene perfectly, and is often punctuated with excellent brass sections. As much as I love Manny and the story of Grim Fandango, the music is by far the main highlight of the game for me. It's one of a few game soundtracks that I can't seem to get out of my head and helps set the mood perfectly for each scene in the game.

Though a lot of the puzzles only require a few steps, the logic to get there isn't always sound.

The game looks surprisingly good for a game that is 17 years old. To remaster the game, Double Fine introduced a brand new lighting engine and gave each model new textures. However, none of the models are recreated, so you'll often walk into a beautiful room with amazing shadows and blocky characters standing in front of you. Overall, it looks good enough to play and enjoy, and comes with the option to switch back and forth between the new and old graphical stylings, but Grim Fandango won't be blowing anyone away with it's graphical prowess. Players can also switch back and forth between the new control scheme and tank controls, for the hard core enthusiasts.

Unfortunately, Grim Fandango's gameplay has not aged well. The game is an old school point and click adventure game, which means lots of puzzles. LOTS of puzzles. This isn't a bad thing in and of itself. However, the execution of the puzzles tends to be lacking. Often times solutions are hazy, requiring players to simply walk around and interact with everything possible until a solution is stumbled upon. Logic tends to be missing from the more complicated problems, which makes solving problems very drawn out and filled with constant retreading of the level.

On top of this, the game has no form of hint system to help point players in the right direction. Even talking with characters in the level typically doesn't lead to any clues or help with solutions. For most games this would be nit-picky, but in a game where puzzles are not typically tied to logic, it becomes a big problem.

Grottis, in his blocky glory!

Outside of the brain breaking puzzles, the game suffers from some technical issues as well. Graphical clipping is peppered in here and there as well as repeated audio during a few of the cinematic movies. At one point in time, Manny stopped animating all together, which made moving him around environments incredibly difficult. There didn't seem to be any game breaking bugs, but the sporadic technical issues pulled me out of the game more often than I would have liked.

Overall, Grim Fandango Remastered is a game that needs to be played, if not for the historical context in gaming history, then for the story and style, which are fantastic, and the marvelous soundtrack. Despite some technical issues and nonsensical puzzles, it's something to experience, at least once.  

7.5 out of 10

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