The Bestest Best Something In 2014: Legend Of Grimrock 2
Legend of Grimrock 2 sure was very good, everyone can agree. It took the style and mechanics of the original and expanded them in every direction, and the result is something that is definitely the best... something or other.
John: Ooh, this was a tough game. A lovely, tough game. Not just because it starts you off far too weak and dumps you in the middle of a vast labyrinth of levels with no sensible way to know which bits are going to be too difficult, but also because the puzzles require an extension be built on your brain.
I feel like I wrote my lungs out when reviewing the sequel back in October, but here I want to celebrate the way it scales. The original Grimrock used the classic Dungeon Master dungeon descent, and while there was some cause for backtracking, it was a predominantly and necessarily linear affair. This time out, it's a sprawling outdoor mass, overwhelmingly huge, but really rather cleverly curated.
There's no question that it can, at times, feel directionless. While it drops hints that if you're really struggling with a section, you might want to come back to it later, it's not clearly signposted which those are, and that can be frustrating. However, as you progress things begin to make more sense. You start to learn its ambiguous vocabulary, recognise your limitations, and drop notes on the map of places to come back to in a bit. And as you do, you realise the game is quietly evolving itself as you go along.
My favourite moment is a massive spoiler, so I can't use it as an example. Curses. But instead I'll talk about the rocket-launcher-weilding giant rat. When you encounter him as an end-of-dungeon boss, surrounded by a really quite worrying number of smaller rats, it feels nightmarishly tough. Working out how to cope with so many baddies moving in real-time, in the tile-based world, is a real education for the rest of the game, while wondering how you'll ever actually kill this rocking-toting arsehole. So much, much later, when you encounter three of the bastards at once, along with literally dozens of other rats, you realise just how far you've come.
I love how the whole game, including older areas, scale up around you in such interesting ways. It pushes you, demands more of you, and expects you to be able to meet it. Which is so strikingly different to the norm in mainstream gaming now, which so commonly scales itself down to meet you where you started. Grimrock 2 is a really excellent thing, deeply unusual for its mix of classic late 80s mechanics and an extremely modern way of thinking. A real contender for my game of 2014.
Alec: I've only played about two hours of this due to babies/time, so please feel free to ignore almost everything I say about Grimrock 2. However, of everything in 2014 it's the game I most hope to have time to return to. My time with it was like a lovely puzzley cuddle - the warmth of throwback familiarity paired with a certain awe at the size, scale and prettiness of the thing.
A Grimrock sequel didn't have to leave the dungeon to earn fondness, but that it did, and that it did it so immediately and so impressively, made me love it from the first minutes. This is the very best thing that a game whose foundations are built from nostalgia can do - to escalate far beyond nostalgia and into a personality and a scope of its own.
Back to the complete bestest best PC games of 2014.