Grim Fandango (2015)

Grim Fandango is THE game for a lot of adventure gamers. This Tim Schafer title wasn't a huge hit when it came out, but its story, characters and art direction garnered it a cult following as one of the great games of adventure gaming. For me, it has never been that. It's a fun game, I'm not denying that and it is at places very well written, but as a whole, I've never really considered being THAT good. It's not a title I have burning desire to play over again and again nor would it end up on my theoretical and non-existing Top 10 list of any kind.  I know, sacrilegious, but that's how it is. Grim Fandango still is a pretty unique game, as far settings go.

The story itself is set in a Mexican themed Land of the Dead. You control Manny Calavera, a travel agent, who's job is to find the best possible way for freshly departed to get to the destination they deserve. But something is rotten in the Land, as Manny is short of good clients, clients who would help him pay off his debts so he would be able to leave the afterlife to the better place, whatever that is. From this scenario it begins, a noir laced, a darkly comedic tale of greed, crime, betrayal and maybe even a hint of love. As I said, the setting is unique, or at least I don't know that many games like it. Still, I don't think it is THAT great as a whole. Schafer has done better. Day of the Tentacle is better, perhaps my favourite Lucasarts game as a whole. Full Throttle trumps Grim Fandango as well, as far I'm concerned.

This is Manny Calavera, a travel agent for the freshly departed.
See, the thing is, I think the game as a whole has too much empty space in it. The second chapter especially feels like it's dragging far too much. The first chapter is good, albeit it has some bad puzzle design, as is the third chapter, which has some of my favourite moments in it, but the second chapter, well, it feels like those padding episodes in your favourite TV show in between of the good stuff.  It's a shame really, as GF does pick up quite noticeably after that. It turns from something that drags into something that feels like it has laser sharp focus. Everything you do feels more like it has a direct target in mind, whereas the second chapters just feels like you're doing stuff for the sake of doing stuff.

In a way, the second chapter feels like Schafer didn't know where he'd actually want to take the story. The Rubacava setting is nice as such, but it doesn't really work well as a part of a whole and the couple of times I've played the game through, it's the place that has taken the longest for me to complete, as it just feels so dragged out, that I get bored by it, which leads me to quit the game and then psyche myself up in order to just muster it through in order to get to the good stuff again.

And that, to me at least, prevents GF to be THE adventure game for me. Not the notoriously bad controls the original version had, but the second chapter of the story, which just feels like padding. But let's get to what's good about the game.

Dock workers at Rubacava. Notice how Manny has changed his clothing, which he does quite often during the story, not only to bring in some variation but to signify how his status and vocation changes
The remastered version of Grim Fandango does fix some issues from the original, one of the biggest being the terrible control scheme it had going on. Now the modern players can go through the game with a bit more ease and that's a huge plus.  You can choose between mouse controls or even use a pad if you want and if you ask me, you can't really go wrong with any of the new control schemes as they do make playing so much more pleasant.

The audio visual side of Grim Fandango is top notch. Or at least the design of artwork is. Sadly enough the game is an older pre-rendered 2.5D game, so Double Fine did what they could in order to make it look a bit nicer, but as they didn't have old background assets, they could just do some cleaning up to the backgrounds, which do look nice for their age, but could have looked so much nicer had they been able to re-render everything with new high-resolution textures.

Character models have been re-textured, so they do look a bit nicer, but the models themselves still are low poly, so there's plenty of sharp edges abound. Thankfully the art design of characters is pretty good, so they don't look as bad as some other 90's 3D characters do. It's a shame though that they didn't remodel the characters to look even closer to Peter Changs original stunning artwork. But as they really couldn't do that much to the backgrounds, or the pre-rendered cinematics,  I do understand why they didn't want to alter the in-game characters too much. There's also some new light and shader tricks, which make the blocky skeletons a bit nicer to look at as well, as they do add some more mood to the game.

Chang's original design work has details and shapes which don't necessarily translate to the 90's low-polygonal 3D design. The high-resolution textures do fix things, but the models are still mainly very low poly.
 Original Grim Fandango had a fantastic voice cast and soundtrack and that goes for the remaster as well, as just like with their remaster of Day of the Tentacle, Double Fine managed to get the original voice sessions tapes, so they were able to remaster the audio to modern standards. The soundtrack was lovingly re-recorded by using real musicians, so all in all a stellar job on both count. Back in the day, I hoped this would have been the case with Gabriel Knight remake as well, but that wasn't in the cards sadly.

As I've said, Grim Fandango isn't the adventure game for me. I'm not sure it would even get into my theoretical top 10 lists of adventure games. But it is, none the less, a nice game. At places it's funny, at places it's just well-written noir pastiche and at places it just unnecessarily drags. At times it feels a bit undercooked, at times it has a laser sharp focus, a b it of a mixed bag, but with strengths that outweigh the bad. So would I recommend it? Yes, if you like adventure and yes, if you like games with unique settings. But I'd still maintain, that it's not as great as some people make it out to be.

Grim Fandango Remastered can be purchased through GOG and Steam. It's also for Androids and Apple iDevices and Sony's consoles. So plenty of options, if you so want.