|Something is amiss in the land of the dead! Someone is robbing souls
of their hard-earned travel packages to the Ninth Underworld, "causing them to walk
on a treacherous trail of tears, unprotected and alone . . . like babies, Manuel . . .
like babies." On the surface you are Manny Calavera, travel agent of death, and you
have no clue as to why your clients dont qualify for premium travel packages.
Scratch a little deeper, however, and you are "Agent Calavera," out to
investigate and discover whos behind this insidious thievery.
Grim Fandango is the latest installment in the LucasArts long series of successful adventure games, including the Monkey Island Series, The Dig, Indiana Jones and Full Throttle. All of LucasArts previous adventure games have been loads of fun to play, and the animation and plot were always well done, even if the games were sometimes a little short. Grim Fandango triumphantly continues the LucasArts tradition of adventure games, delivering great gameplay, compelling characters and story line, stunning 3-D graphics (Yes, you heard right! 3-D!) and slightly twisted humor.
This game was created by the same people who made Full Throttle, and at first I was worried that the game was going to be a little on the short side. So I sat down at the computer with the game in hand, fully expecting to get through the game in a long evening of play or so. Installing went smoothly, and as soon as the game installed I checked what graphic options were available. Initially the game is set by default for software rendering mode, so I kicked in the Direct 3-D capabilities of my Matrox G-200 and switched back to the game. After walking Manny around the first scene a bit, I switched over to my Voodoo 2 card. To my dismay, I found that the G-200 renders much cleaner and looks less bleached-out in this game, so I ended up switching back to the G-200. The game is locked into 640 X 480 resolution, and although I was initially disappointed, after playing for a little while I didnt even notice the low res because of the very clean rendering.
LucasArts has redesigned its control system in Grim Fandango; the familiar mouse control of The Dig and Curse of Monkey Island has been replaced by keyboard, joystick, or gamepad control options. The controls are quite simple and take just a few minutes at most to master, which adds immensely to gameplay. I tried both the gamepad and keyboard control systems and found that I liked the keyboard control the best; I also found that with familiarity the control system actually became less unwieldy than the mouse. LucasArts has also taken a new approach to how you interact with characters and your surroundings in this game. If Manny turns his head to look at something or someone while walking about, you press the action button and hell either talk to the person or pick up/use the item in question. This control system does take some getting used too compared to Curse of Monkey Island or The Dig, but suits the game quite well.
Once I got everything set up, I sat down for a good 5 hours and played what I thought was a good chunk of Grim Fandango. To my surprise, I found that I was nowhere near the endin fact, I was only about a quarter finished with the game! I was extremely pleased to see this after being extremely disappointed with the length of the oh-so-fun but oh-so-short Full Throttle. Grim Fandangos gameplay is great fun, and most of the puzzles are just right--hard enough to make you think but not mind-numbingly hard. What I really liked about the game is the subtle hints that it sometimes gives you if you are paying attention to the surroundings. For example, when you first talk to the clown in the market, a balloon gets popped and the noise frightens off some pigeons in the background; later you'll need to pop a balloon to frighten some pigeons away from their nest. The humor in this game is really funny; its witty and sly, and its worth playing the game just for the jokes. I found myself laughing hysterically at a lot of the scenes where Manny is involved with leader of the Lost Souls Alliance (LSA). As for the story, well, as in all LucasArts adventures, its compelling and very well done, and LucasArts uses cutscenes beautifully to make the story flow seamlessly along with the gameplay. In fact, one of the great things about Grim Fandango is the fact that its sometimes hard to tell where the cutscenes end and the gameplay begins. This smooth transition makes you feel like you ARE Manny Calavera and really draws you deep into the gameplay.
The backgrounds in this game are absolutely stunning and I highly recommend a good 3-D card to get the full effect. I found that Grim Fandango looks best on Intel i740, Matrox G-200, and Riva TNT-based cards. If you dont have a 3-D card, however, dont fretGrim Fandango plays just fine in software mode. It just doesnt look as good. The sound is very well done and makes good use of Direct 3-D sound, so most anyone with a good Direct 3-D capable soundcard should be set. Its very cool to be walking in a parking garage and hear the echo of your footsteps as you walk. A lot of times, sounds even play an important part in providing hints at what you should do next or where a hidden item or room may be.
About the only drawback I found in this game is that it requires an 8X or higher CD ROM to play well; otherwise gameplay will get choppy. And perhaps the fact that it only runs in 640x480 can be considered a minus, but thats quibbling; it really doesnt detract from gameplay at all.
To sum up: the highs of this game include its graphics, sound, gameplay, humor, easy interface, and great storyline and cutscenes. The lows of this game are the fact that it requires an 8X or higher CD ROM to run properly and (if you really want to pick) that it has no available resolutions above 640x480. The bottom line is this: If you like adventure games with great stories and extremely funny humor, buy this game and you wont be disappointed. As in the words of Salvador Limones from Grim Fandango, "VIVA LA REVOLUTION!!!!".