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Legend Of Grimrock isn’t a love letter to Dungeon Master, the 1987 blend of subterranean exploration, survival, switches and traps. It’s a near-facsimile. But that’s not a fact Almost Human is trying to hide; it’s the selling point. Legend Of Grimrock replicates a classic faithfully enough to massage the nostalgia glands of anyone who played the original, and it’s a test of the timelessness of an almost universally loved game.
This is the story of four captive criminals: two fighters, a rogue and a mage, who are cast into Grimrock as punishment. The good news is that once you’re in Grimrock, your crimes are absolved. The downsides are the furious snails and the rapid starvation. Movement is in leaps of a single tile in one of four directions, and you can rotate 90 degrees either way. It’s no good complaining that your characters could line up and walk diagonally between two pits, because that’s not how Grimrock works. You can hold the right button down to look around, but it’s a purely cosmetic feature.
Your party’s inventories are accessible with a tap of 1 to 4, but your equipped items are always visible. Combat involves right-clicking on them. Beyond that (and the mage’s runes system), it’s largely automated – special attacks are triggered randomly, providing your character has enough energy. Being an effective fighter is a simple, but easily fluffed, matter of outmanouevring your foe and ruthlessly time-managing your characters’ varying cooldowns. And, crucially, not getting cornered.
Discovering the exploits becomes the main pleasure of an otherwise rudimentary system. The first time you meet an ogre, you might be caught off guard by his ability to turn and strike at the same time. But there’s a simple process you can (ab)use to defeat it. Another cheeky path to victory, that worked in Dungeon Master, too, involves opening a portcullis, landing a cowardly couple of blows, then closing it again. Grimrock’s puzzles are fairer than those of its predecessors, and the pace between them and monster encounters is well-judged. Switches, pressure plates, and miscellaneous trickery conspire to fox you, but in the first half of the game the puzzles and their solutions are kept close. As you go deeper, the clues get more oblique and distant and the potential for satisfaction and frustration rises. Grimrock rarely helps you out: drop a key in the wrong place, and you’re going to have to find it on your own.
On its own terms, Legend Of Grimrock is a success. It recreates its idol and drinks deep from a reservoir of nostalgic goodwill. It can’t have the same gobsmacking impact as its inspiration, but this is a simple, engaging and occasionally baffling journey in its own right, with plenty of hooks to snare the newcomer.