LEGEND OF GRIMROCK
Platform: Windows PC
Publisher: Almost Human
Dungeons & Dragons is a horror game.
I mean, that's not all it is. It's also humor. A lot of the stuff that went into the game at the very beginning, and has persisted through inertia to this day, was whatever Gary Gygax and crew thought would be fun or funny at the time. The foundations of D&D had no grand plan and no aspirations of coherence.
But the experience of playing a tabletop roleplaying game is often about immersing yourself into what your character is experiencing, and a lot of what Dungeons & Dragons characters experience involves exploring ill-lit caverns miles below the surface of the earth, miles away from safe supply lines, with finite rations and light sources (and beware keeping those lit; you don't know what they'll attract), worrying about cave-ins blocking off paths of escape, never sure what awful example of subterranean ecology you'll run into next. With no source of reliable supplies and no hope of rescue should anything go wrong, you're stalked by vicious animals and monsters and mindless killer automatons, some of which are raised from the rotting corpses of those who've come before you, all the while evading lethal defensive traps laid by the more intelligent underground dwellers whose home you're raiding. You may be wearing armor scorched by acid, or robes torn and burned by the unpredictable backlashes of your own offensive magic.
I'll stop, but you get the point.
Recent editions of tabletop Dungeons & Dragons tend to downplay that in favor of action and player-friendlienss. Worrying about food supplies and realistic healing models can be a drag, and sometimes what people want is to move from big action setpiece to big action setpiece, possibly while exploring character-based drama or epic plots.
Computer role-playing games are descended from Dungeons & Dragons, and nowadays they tend to downplay all that as well. You see the occasional exception, like Demon's Souls and Dark Souls, but for the most part games go for excitement and story over grim logistics. That's not a bad thing some of the time.
Legend of Grimrock is an old-school dungeon bash game. I played it all weekend. I'll describe it in a moment, but for now here's what's worrying me most about my current playthrough: My party of adventurers has run out of food. I spent too long fucking around with a couple of optional puzzles and now my two frontline fighters are starving to death. My rear guard, a mage and a rogue, are not far from the same state. I've had to abandon the door puzzle on level 4 and press forward in the hopes of finding more rations, and while I'm doing this, neither of my fighters can regain health. Looking at the situation rationally I'm pretty sure I can pull out of my death spiral—there are a couple of areas at the bottom of pit traps on previous levels that I haven't explored and that I can probably make it back to, which might contain some food (getting down there is going to hurt, though), or, at the very least, monsters that might drop food after I kill them (mm, giant snail meat). I'm hauling around enough ingredients to make about three healing potions to carry us through fights in the meantime (but if I do that, I won't be able to make antidotes or disease cures). Failing that I can use one of the game's few precious remaining one-use resurrection crystals (one per dungeon level so far; one already used, three remaining) to revive my characters to full health and vitality to make pressing forward easier.
…actually, looking at it rationally it doesn't really look any better, does it?
Not a lot of games provide this experience.
So. Legend of Grimrock is, as I said, an old-school dungeon bash, based on a sort of game that used to be big but isn't really made anymore—the first-person-perspective tile-based dungeon exploration game, where you control not one character but a party of four. Wikipedia tells me the game was inspired by Dungeon Master, Eye of the Beholder, and Ultima Underworld. I'll be honest, I never played any of those. When they were current, near the end of the 90s, our household didn't have a computer. But I also understand they were huge at the time and games generally don't become popular without some meritorious design elements, and I'm always curious what gets thrown aside when the standard of gaming advances. It's neat to see a well-made modern interpretation of an older game formula, and man, Legend of Grimrock really is so well-made.
The graphics do everything they need to do—light sources flicker on bump-mapped stone walls and monsters animate smoothly. You never see the characters you make, aside from their portraits arranged in their marching order (melee combatants at the front, ranged combatants behind; you can have your rearguard attack at melee range with polearms if you find one), so the game doesn't have to bother with a lot of the more complex graphic operations it would need to manage otherwise; consequently it runs very well. Gameplay is a sort of real-time grid-based thing where you can attack enemies only to your direct north, south, east, or west; I spend a lot of combats abusing the hell out of this, moving adjacent to enemies, hitting them, and then moving to squares diagonal to them before they can return attacks. This tactic only works against a few enemies at a time, so, like in Dark Souls, I spend a lot of time pulling enemies into familiar territory and trying to face them one at a time. I dread the sound of a gate opening behind me, because it means familiar territory has just become unknown.
Also? It's fifteen bucks.
If you have a PC and any affinity for fantasy games you need to try Legend of Grimrock.
Previously - Mass Effect 3