It’s been a very long time since we last delved in the circle of the underworld inhabited by Manny and his Noire inspired friends. For those new to the game, Grim Fandango follows a simple salesman as he tries to sell the recently deceased travel packages to Heaven and thus work off his own purgatorial debt. However, all is not as it seems in the land of the dead. Why does Manny never get the good clients? And why when he gets a saint do they not qualify for the best packages? In line with all the best Noir stories something is rotten and Manny has decided to find out what it is.
Grim Fandango was the first Lucas Arts adventure to move away from the more traditional 2D point and click interface. Instead, players moved Manny around on a tank track system in 3D environments. Left and right would spin him around while pushing up or down would move forward or back. It was awkward at the time and we’re very glad to see it has been replaced with a more sensible system where the left analogue stick is used to move. For those that want to experience the old style you can always switch back in the options menu but you really don’t want to.
Aside from the controls the games characters, objects and movable parts have been given a bit of a facelift and smoothed out. It’s nothing dramatic or drastic but it does help to make things look that little bit more like a macabre cartoon than before. The static environments haven’t really had much done to them though so those expecting a super full-on HD remake will be disappointed.
As Manny wanders around he will move his head to look at objects of interest which can then be examined, used or picked up. The ‘look’ system can be a little tricky to use as it’s not always obvious if there are objects around to pick up that you can’t really see. This can end up in an inch by inch movement and button press-athon but for the most part you shouldn’t be stopped too often by it.
You will however be stopped by the puzzles you come up against. Things start out fairly well with progress not that difficult to make once you get your head around the strange logic required. Indeed, there is little here players who have experienced other point and click series’ will find that taxing. But as you progress things start to get very odd and some solutions will leave you in disbelief as to how you were ever supposed to work them out. Tie this in with some objects being fairly difficult to spot and it can end up with players wandering around aimlessly for far too long before they eventually give up and head to a guide.
The real star of Grim Fandango is the writing. The script and story are excellent with an intriguing and engaging tale filled with excellent characters and excellent voice acting. From the sneaky sales men to the downtrodden residents and the strange elemental creatures left looking for purpose after they become obsolete, every character has something about them and they remain far more memorable than many other games.
It sets up an interesting and unique world that is difficult to find anywhere else and in this respect the game still stands head and shoulders above most others out there. The mix of Noir iconography and surreal fantasy also mix very well and shows how imaginative games can be when left in the right hands.
Overall, the decision as to whether you are going to enjoy Grim Fandango will come down to how much patience you have. There will be frustrating moments that stop you in your tracks but they are well worth persevering with in order to engage with one of the best tales that has been told through a video game. It’s a slow burning game of depth and invention and it may not be perfect but it’s certainly still well worth sorting through the mystery of what’s rotten in the land in of the dead.