Grim Fandango Review

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Publisher: LucasArts
Developer: LucasArts

Platform: PC
Reviewed on PC

Windows System Requirements: Pentium 133 MHz, 32 MB RAM, 4 MB 3D video card, 4x CD-ROM

Grim Fandango describes itself as "An epic tale of crime and corruption in the land of the dead," and it truly is. The game combines Mexican folklore and film noir crime drama to create a stylized experience that is as engrossing as it is entertaining. The game's protagonist, Manny Calavera, is a travel agent for the Department of Death. All souls must journey through the underworld to come to their final resting place. Depending on the quality of one's life, that journey can be fast by express train, pleasant on a luxury ocean liner, or on foot through perilous terrain. As more-than-mortal perils lurk in the land of the dead that could prevent a soul from ever achieving rest, the cushier the journey, the better. The Department of Death is responsible for harvesting souls that have recently met their demise (a task for which Manny has a Grim Reaper outfit with his own scythe), and fixing them up with a mode of transportation that befits the quality of their life. Manny is hoping to harvest and help enough good souls to earn himself an easy trip to his final rest (financed with commissions on each ticket).

Oddly enough, Manny only ever seems to collect the dregs of humanity, and appears doomed to spend eternity without a decent commission. When Manny steals a good lead, he stumbles upon a conspiracy that has doomed good souls to eternal slavery and given their just rest to the wicked. Obviously in love with his scooped client, Mercedes Colomar, Manny sets out to save her, and by doing so, untangle the web of deceit that strangles the underworld. Along the way, Manny learns to give florists a wide berth.

Kyle Ackerman

Grim Fandango is a triumph of plot and setting. The strength of this game is the sense of detail and craft that went into creating every aspect of the world. Set in the Land of the Dead, it spans four years – each episode occurring on the Day of the Dead, when most souls have exited to visit the Land of the Living. The environments are attractive and clever, the sound is perfectly suited to the environment, and dialogue is well scripted, with some of the best voice acting that I have ever heard in a computer game. The characters are stylized in such a way that it is easier to accept the failings of a simple three-dimensional engine because the characters seem more in tune with their folk art inspiration and Art Deco setting. The scenery and setting are detailed to such an extent that the world is a pleasure to explore. The three-dimensional interface is, itself, a little challenging to master, but harmless – rarely either adding to or detracting from the experience. This game is a pleasure to play, and even if you don't enjoy adventure games, you may find it worthwhile to sit down for an afternoon with the game and a hint guide, just to enjoy the game world the same way you might watch a movie.

That said, the more technical aspects of the game may overreach a beginner. The inventory is usually kept simple, with a novel interface (Manny pulls items from within his coat as you cycle through his possessions), and is culled frequently for useless items, simplifying the inventory management process. Most puzzles are restricted to a limited area, allowing them to be solved with a minimum of frustration, but some areas in Year Two span a large enough group of puzzles to be easily frustrating. Puzzles rarely require timing (with a few notable exceptions), and the player can never be put in a position where the game is stuck because important pieces cannot be found, but many of the puzzles are contrived, and may be difficult for the novice adventure gamer. Grim Fandango, like many other adventure games, exhibits a cartoon-like sensibility rather than a real-world ethic when determining which objects will work well together. For example, in order to locate an exit, Manny moves a signpost around (which spins to face the correct direction) until he has triangulated the exit's position.

With going prices for Grim Fandango barely more than the price of a movie ticket, consider buying this one just to see what skillful designers can do with a unique and innovative concept.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on July 31, 2001 12:59 PM.

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