By Jason "loonyboi" Bergman
bout a year and a half ago, I wrote an article for PlanetQuake in which I criticized the storytelling in videogames. It was called "Waiting for Casablanca" and was my most popular article to date. I got a lot of responses from people in the industry, including a complete rebuttal from Valve designer Harry Teasley, but one letter I recieved stuck with me after all this time.
It was from an anonymous person at LucasArts, who assured me that I would be quite happy with the title he was working on. It was being helmed up by the genius behind Full Throttle, and dealt with all the subjects I had mentioned in my article (those being love, death, betrayal...all the things that make life worth living, really). I took this with a grain of salt. Afterall, I was bitter...I had been handed game after lousy game that claimed to tell a story and then degraded into mindless goop. How was I supposed to believe this guy when he told me his game was going to be any different?
Oh, was I ever wrong.
Grim Fandango is the latest adventure game to come out of LucasArts, the makers of such genre classics as Sam & Max Hit the Road, Full Throttle, Day of the Tentacle, and others. These guys know how to make an adventure game. Heck, for the last few years, they've been the only people that know how to make an adventure game!
Grim Fandango's most visible accomplishment (from first glance) is that it's the first (PC) adventure game to come along that has successfully managed to move the adventure genre into 3D. Now granted, they use Pre-rendered backgrounds, but your character walks around in a pseudo 3D world anyway. What really impressed me is that they successfully have ditched the "point and click" interface we're all used to. Grim Fandango uses nothing but the keyboard for movement and interaction, and it does so remarkably well.
As you walk around in Grim Fandango, Manny (your character) will occaisionally tilt his head down...this means that he's looking at something you can interact with. It's a tiny little detail, but it makes a world of a difference (and it's so much nicer than that old mouseover dealie that was all the rage a few years back). Movement is done using the numbers on the keypad, and while it can be a bit confusing after a long game of Sin, you'll find yourself getting used to it fairly quickly.
Grim Fandango uses 3D acceleration, although my personal advice to you is if you own a 3DFX card...don't bother. I was shocked at just how...ugly my Voodoo 2 cards made this game. Fortunately for me, I have a Riva TNT card in here, so I switched and it was just gorgeous. The 3D acceleration only adds some minor shading, so don't be afraid to play it in software mode. Just so you can see what I mean, I've done a side-by-side comparison for you...check it out (click for fullsize images):
Regardless of what video mode you view the game in, you're in for a real treat. Grim Fandango's storyline, which may very well be the best i've ever seen in a PC adventure game, mixes film noir with Mexican mythology, and a definitely warped sense of humor.
After playing Grim Fandango for a bit, I found myself getting back into that LucasArts game mindset...you know, the one where having to lock the waiter in the closet so you can use the can opener on the wine jug so the sleeping demon can carry you down into the wine cellar actually makes sense. The puzzles (in case you couldn't tell) are all typical of these type of games, but where Grim Fandango really stands out is in its style.
And this game is stylin'. We're talking pure and total film noir here...dark shadows, sultry music, dames that just don't get it, and hot damn does Manny know how to dress. The guy looks absolutely swankin' in that white suit he dons about half-way through the game (of course, this is an intentional reference to Casablanca...there are many of them...I must have audibly yelped at every one).
What really impressed me about Grim Fandango is how...solid a game it is. The storytelling's in a class all its own, the graphics are superb, the CGI could have been shown next to Oddworld's in a move theatre, and the soundtrack is one of the few i'll actually listen to when i'm not playing the game. This is a nearly flawless game (its one and only flaw would be how frustrating some of the puzzles can be). And I daresay, the adventure game of the year.
- Jason "loonyboi" Bergman is the editor-in-chief here at loonygames. He likes beer.
|Credits: Bargain Bin logo illustrated and is © 1998 Dan Zalkus. Geek Toys is © 1998 Jason Bergman. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is a majorly hostile gesture.|