Introducing this one all kind of depends on how old you are. Well, not so much how old you are as how long you've been playing games, and how good your memory is. See, way back in the day there was a game called Dungeon Master. A tile-based graphical RPG in which you navigated a series of dungeons with a party of four heroes, killing stuff and stealing its treasure.
Waaay ahead of its time, Dungeon Master spawned a whole genre back in the late eighties and early nineties. Beardy RPGers will still remember Eye of the Beholder and its sequels but the slew of mediocre tile 'em ups that slogged along behind the original are largely forgotten. Who remembers Captive? Bloodwytch? No? Not so much?
So then technology moved forward, and suddenly it was all about Fallout and Baldur's Gate. Tiles fell out of fashion and, with them, a certain way of doing things that relied on fiendish puzzles and gotcha-style surprise attacks. That is, until Legend of Grimrock came along.
Grimrock was all indoor dungeons (presumably comprising of grim rock), and Grimrock 2 is largely set in exterior locations with the occasional gloomy-looking staircase plunging into jolly, beast-infested dungeons. Of course, there's no major difference in gameplay between a forest and a dungeon, when the trees will stop you as dead as a dungeon wall. Of course, the perspective is a little more open - it's possible to catch tantalizing glimpses of treasure chests, or the shadowy forms of far-off enemies through the foliage which can give clues as to what's ahead. But at the end of the day the upstairs / downstairs format doesn't really change gameplay.
Like its predecessor, Legend of Grimrock 2 is unashamedly straightforward. You're shipwrecked on an island where a mysterious guy puts you through your adventuring paces for the hell of it, forcing you through a gauntlet of monsters, traps and puzzles. But while the plot and mechanics are straightforward, the levels are rarely so linear that you get bored. While dungeons can limit your options a little, it is rare that there's ever a time when you can't just shrug, turn around, and gallivant off in a completely new direction for a bit to clear your head.
Puzzles are very much from the discipline of pressure plate studies. Want to get over a pit? Chuck a warhammer over the other side so it lands on the pressure plate and the pit will probably close. Drop stuff off a ledge onto the pressure plates below in order to create a magical floaty bridge. Basically, just dump things on pressure plates in order to secure progress. If that doesn't work, search for a secret button. And if THAT doesn't work, pull a bunch of levers.
All of which is decidedly oldschool. In fact, I can imagine the (obviously bearded) development team all wearing t-shirts with "OLDSCHOOL" written on them in enormous letters, probably above a picture of Raistlin from Dragonlance riding a Sinclair C5. Legend of Grimrock 2 is old-fashioned on purpose, because we've not chucked warhammers over pits onto pressure plates since about 1993, so it's probably about time we did it again. And while I'm not usually one for nostalgia for its own sake (I was rather mean to Wasteland 2 recently because the plot felt carbon-copied from the nineties), there's just something about Grimrock that feels good.
And it's creepy too. These days, when a monster attacks us in a game, we're used to a little fanfare of some sort. Maybe a musical cue, or just some kind of metanarrative heads-up. But the first time your party clambers out of a moat seconds before drowning only to immediately be assaulted by a giant toad, it'll make you jump out of your chainmail. Sometimes this it just the nature of tile-based movement, that rather allows for beasties flanking you unexpectedly, but other times it's the sort of purposeful malevolence of truly evil game designers that we used to have a lot of in the olden days. Without saying too much, there are certain monsters that were popular in old versions of Dungeons & Dragons solely because they're a way to screw with players, which make a horrifying and unexpected comeback in Grimrock 2.
Aside from the tricks and monsters though, there’s something that just feels creepy about the whole affair. Not just the “Saw meets Lost” storyline, but just the whole exploration thing. Incidental sound effects go a long way toward doing that, and the overgrown, abandoned ruins that make up most of the architecture help as well. Graphically Legend of Grimrock 2 is really nice, and it does an excellent job of maintaining the mood. Different areas have different feels, from crumbling dungeons and mist-shrouded mines to claustrophobic underwater areas and dark forests. There’s a day-night cycle as well, and many of the open spaces can look quite different in the light of day to how they looked at night.
I didn’t expect to get on all that well with Grimrock 2, and I was pleasantly surprised. This does have to be your kind of thing – that’s not to say that newcomers can’t find anything to enjoy, but lots of what I took away from LoG2 came from nostalgia and references to yesteryear – not exactly in-jokes so much as a firm appreciation of the videogame RPG’s tabletop roots.