Games like Stonekeep and Eye of the Beholder II seem positively archaic in this age, compared to your Call Of Dutys and your Skyrims. For a start, you can only turn 90 degrees at a time and are forced to walk in a grid-like manner, as you make your way through a series of near-identical dungeons. To a youngster, that probably sounds as much fun as shaving your crotch with a cleaver.
Yet Finnish company Almost Human Ltd are laying their balls on the slab with Legend of Grimrock, a very old-school RPG dungeon crawler that closely mimics these early titles. From the screenshots it looks pretty enough, but its heart is pure old-fashioned hack & slash. Even the plot is traditional, and can be summed up hence:
You’re in a dungeon. It sucks. Get out of there.
Legend of Grimrock: Character building
You start by designing four characters in typical RPG fashion, assigning them each a race, skills and character traits. With that done (or the default party chosen for lazy types), it’s exploring time. You move around in true dungeon crawler fashion, with each level split into grids. Controls are simple: W, S, A and D move you in each direction, while Q and E rotate you left and right. You use the mouse to mess around in your inventory, attack enemies and generally interact with the environment.
It’s a pretty environment too, in a gritty, grimy kind of way. Textures are crisp and dripping with ooze, although the same walls are replicated over and over, so areas look near identical to each other. There’s little change between the different levels either, which is a shame - we expected to see the dungeon grow darker and more disgusting the further we descended. Monsters are well animated though, especially the hulking and terrifying ogres.
Legend of Grimrock: RPG cred
Like all good RPGs, Legend Of Grimrock lets you collect tons of loot. You start off bare-ass naked, but quickly assemble a uniform of rags for your intrepid explorers. As you explore the dungeons you’ll gather better costumes which give you special bonuses, and upgrade your arsenal of rocks and daggers to crossbows and deadly magic. You’ll also need to collect food to keep your team’s strength up, and potions and scrolls if you’ve got any mages in your party.
Levelling up isn’t quite as exciting as loot collecting, sadly. Your characters seem to gain levels a little easy at first, and the skills you have to level up are rather vague. For instance, many abilities you gain, such as spells or power attacks, aren’t revealed until you actually ‘buy’ them. Until then, they’re blanked out - so it’s pure guesswork as to what’s worth levelling up. You have a limited number of skills to boost, with each tree giving you a point boost (e.g. Strength + 1) once you’ve pumped enough points into them. It’s nowhere near as satisfying as the likes of Diablo II’s levelling, where you’re actively keeping an eye on your points and desperately gathering enough to grab new abilities.
Still, exploring Legend of Grimrock’s dungeons is classic fun, with a host of bizarre, spooky and terrifying gribblies standing in your way. From the slimy snails to the monstrous ogres, the game throws lots of nasties your way, with new monsters introduced at regular intervals. The entire menagerie has the uncanny talent of hiding around corners and smacking you around the head when you least expect it. For the full pant-staining experience, definitely play in the dark with headphones - the audio is minimalist, yet highly atmospheric.
Legend of Grimrock: It’s ass-kicking time
Combat is as simple as it comes - just equip your dudes with weapons, stand in front of a beastie and click the icons to slash/shoot/etc. Each weapon takes a little time to ‘recharge’ after attacking, during which time you can leg it away to avoid getting smacked. If you’re quick or stealthy enough, you can get the buggers from behind. Nasty.
Battles can get pretty hairy when you’re stuck in a tiny room with hordes of enemies swarming around you. It takes a lot of fast reactions and a smidgen of luck to survive, as you die pretty quick if you find yourself surrounded. Some fights take place in cramped rooms with pits scattered around, or even worse, trapdoors. Occasionally it gets frustrating, especially in combination with the ropey control sensitivity - you can tap forward twice, and your party will happily advance three squares instead, diving merrily into a hole. The suicidal twatfaces.
It’s not all wandering around and hacking down aggressive beasties, though. Occasionally you’ll have to give your brain a prod and work out some puzzles, which range from ‘find a key to unlock a door’ to some rather taxing efforts involving transporters and pressure pads. We’ll freely admit we got stuck in a couple of spots, and eventually had to rely on a guide to help us out, which was surprising given how simple most of the conundrums are.
Legend of Grimrock: Our verdict and system requirements
Legend of Grimrock will appeal to RPG fans and anyone who fancies a nostalgic dungeon crawler, just like they used to make ‘em. We’d have liked more level variety and the occasional control glitch was annoying, but this is a great way to while away the wee hours.
If your rig is as retro as those old-school RPGs, you’ll love Legend of Grimrock’s low-level system requirements. We recommend a dual-core Pentium or Athlon processor and 3GB of RAM. Our three-year-old laptop ran the game fine on the highest detail settings, so we can’t imagine many people will struggle.