Back in the dark times of PC gaming during the late 1990s, a genre was on its last legs. Companies weren’t so willing to give big budgets to point and click adventures. In those final days however, the last gasp of LucasArts’ point and click style of games was born into greatness. Since then, Grim Fandango has largely been lost to memory, existing only in old PC boxes on eBay that don’t run on modern PCs or illegal digital downloads laden with viruses. Long had a fan-base, including myself, urged the fine people at Double Fine to attempt to come to a deal with LucasArts to buy the rights.
Somehow, it’s fitting that the revival of the point and click genre has renewed interest to the point where it became a big announcement at E3 2014. With Grim Fandango Remastered being the only way to easily experience this fabled game, it’s great to have a version of the game that is largely unaltered from the original, with some great added control schemes and director commentary to flesh out the experience in 2015. That said, this port isn’t without its own problems, old and new.
“We’ll always have Paris.”
Set out on our four year (act) quest for redemption and salvation, our protagonist Manuel ‘Manny’ Calavera goes from bumbling travel salesman of the dead to unearthing a conspiracy with ramifications so large that he feels compelled to find the one woman he felt he wronged. There are twists, there are turns. There are sequences that ooze charisma and there are parts that are tense. By incorporating the Mexican Day of the Dead/Film Noir motif in its presentation and dialogue, Grim Fandango is an adventure unlike anything else out there.
Artistically, it is timeless. No locations compare to the likes of Rubacava in the second act when it comes to design and coolness. The re-recorded score in particular sets the tone, that flawless aesthetic that sucks you in. New audio recordings, which I wish had some kind of “played that already icon” to indicate when you’ve already heard something, are a fascinating insight into the creation of a beloved classic. Grim Fandango Remastered also features touched up character models that don’t look drastically different from their original counterparts. Don’t believe me? Just press a button and the game reverts to its old style, blurry warts and all.
Doing this does draw attention to one elephant in the room with regards to the presentation, which is that Double Fine did nothing with the scenes. One could argue that the design of the environments meant touching these up would have been difficult. This may be true, but it doesn’t half sting all the same. Having 4:3 aspect ratios with borders is the best way to play it as 16:9 Widescreen makes everything look stretched. A little more time could have gone into making the visuals pop in all formats, which sadly wasn’t given.
“I could have been somebody…”
Puzzle design is as divisive as ever. One or two bad eggs in the first act are so obtuse that you might be stumped for hours figuring it out, but in general nothing is too much of a hassle. Point and click logic does apply, so be prepared to use anything with everything. On PlayStation consoles, you have the control options of the classic tank controls and new conventional movement, which largely is superior to the tank controls, albeit fiddly during screen transitions. The PC version on the other hand has a point and click that largely works well too, though in its case the inventory menu is cumbersome.
But if one thing does bring it down a notch is that there don’t seem to be a lot of bug fixes from the original and some new ones have crept into the mix. Game crashes seem more frequent than usual and one bug in particular made it impossible for Manny to interact with the car to get into the vehicle. This wouldn’t be so bad if the game had included an auto-save. At the very beginning, the game warns you there is no auto-save, which while okay in principal (after all, they did warn us) means that if it was a while since you saved, you’ll have to go through it all over again.
Grim Fandango Remastered is the only way you’re going to legitimately and affordably play this game in 2015, so naturally if you’re interested this should be part of your game collection. The adventure holds up substantially and a few new features that are welcome. Having multiple control schemes, director commentaries, and a small upgrade to visual fidelity mean that Double Fine are proud to call this game one of their own. If only they’d fixed the bugs, updated the backgrounds in the remastered visuals, and included the option of having an auto-save! Yet, when all is said and done, this classic point and click adventure remains timeless.