Game review: Grim Fandango - an old classic remastered

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 February, 2015, 10:49pm
UPDATED : Monday, 09 February, 2015, 10:34am

Grim Fandango
Double Fine Productions

They don't make games like they used to - unless they're repackaging them with slightly updated visuals. Grim Fandango was a 1998 PC adventure game. Remember those? Simple puzzle adventures that made up for their low-bit graphics and point-and-click gameplay with funny stories and clever brainteasers. Indiana Jones, Monkey Island, King's Quest, that sort of thing.

Grim Fandango came around the time Half-Life was cementing the status of first-person shooters as the future of gaming. Grim never stood a chance and all but signalled its genre's death. It's a shame, because alongside its highly original story, it was arguably the first to improve on the PC adventure format.

Graphically, it embraced advances of the time through comic book-style 3D renderings, while the gameplay perfectly blended years of clever adventure stories with a range of influences and absorbing puzzles. Grim Fandango was ahead of its time, although hardly anyone played it.

Available for PC, Mac, Linux, PS4 and PS Vita, this update couldn't have come at a better time, when overblown stories and ADD-raddled action threaten to destroy all that was fun about the medium.

Players take on Manny, a skeletal afterlife travel agent paying off his debts to get into heaven. Spread across four years, the 12-plus-hour story is wonderfully told, taking influences from Mexican folklore, film noir and jazz.

It would be a disservice to spoil any part of its well-crafted tale as the story makes up more than half of an adventure game's appeal. Then there are the many puzzles. Without a doubt, most are harder than similar adventure games from the era, taking equal measures of concentration on the story's key elements and logic. There are beautiful visuals, and nothing speaks louder about Grim's initially progressive graphics than how little remastering has gone into this "remaster". Characters were a little rough around the edges and nearly all pixilation has been removed, but generally, art direction and background are unchanged.

Grim Fandango regularly places high on lists of the all-time greatest games and its unavailability over the past decade has been a source of frustration for fans. The game's low HK$100 price and broad story are obvious selling points, but more than that is the experience of playing one of the early efforts of the videogame as art.