By Egge 42 Comments
There's been quite a lot of excitement surrounding Legend of Grimrock in the months leading up to its release today on April 11th 2012, so it's perhaps best to start by putting this game in some kind of perspective. First off, Grimrock is obviously not the first traditional Western RPG in a long while, since the last couple of years have seen the release of more than a few excellent and deliberately old school indie roleplaying games (such as Swords & Sorcery: Underworld, Darklight Dungeon Eternity and Frayed Knights to name just a few). However, if we're talking very specifically about Western first-person/"step-based" dungeon crawlers with really high production values, polished user interfaces and proper budgets behind them, then the latest relevant releases before Legend of Grimrock were arguably DreamForge's Anvil of Dawn and Interplay's Stonekeep way back in the late autumn of 1995 (!). That is well over 16 years ago by now, and since the late 1990s just about the only companies producing this kind of RPG (either realtime or turn-based) have been obscure indie teams on shoestring budgets and Japanese developers of console and handheld games such as Etrian Odyssey, Class of Heroes and Strange Journey.
So, yes, against this particular historical background it's safe to say that Almost Human Games have achieved something historical by breathing new life into genre long since thought dead. This small Finnish developer might theoretically qualify as yet another indie studio, but in reality there's no question that the AAA-level pedigree and modern professionalism this group of seasoned veterans of the game industry bring to the table puts their product in another category entirely than most independently produced RPGs. If nothing else, the simple fact that Grimrock looks and sounds so darn good has resulted in a fair amount of attention and recognition from mainstream sites such as IGN and Destructoid which to the best of my knowledge have not previously been known to cover the indie RPGs scene much at all.
Historical or not, though, the more important question is whether this nostalgia-inducing new release is actually any good? Well, I haven't had much time to check it out yet but as I had anticipated everything about the game feels exactly like a Dungeon Master-style game from 20 years ago, except with a thoroughly modern presentation and an (even more) accessible and streamlined interface. In 1920*1080 the game simply looks stunning and modern features such as dynamic lighting and shadow effects add significantly to the atmosphere, as does the excellent sound design. The overall experience might not quite have the unique flavor of my beloved Dungeon Master 2 - and definitely lacks the goofy charm and character-rich storytelling of a game like Lands of Lore: Throne of Chaos - but as long as we're talking core gameplay mechanics here I think Almost Human have really nailed it with this one. Best of all; despite being an accomplished product on its own this is just the developer's first, relatively hastily thrown together release. If Legend of Grimrock sells well enough, well, who knows what amazing stuff the future may hold...