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Aaron Waite Aaron Waite
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Classic dungeon-romping gets an overhaul

The light slowly seeped into my cell, my eyes adjusting to its intrusion upon my unconsciousness. With the light came the intricate details of my surroundings: stone walls, stone ceilings, torch, barred door.

Well, fancy that. I was prison. In prison, with no knowledge of my previous crimes, and with a minotaur, an insectoid, and a lizardman, no less. After making our introductions (minotaurs are surprisingly pleasant, contrary to popular belief), we set about inspecting our new home. We gave every side of the cell a long look, running our fingers over the cracks, hoping for a secret passageway or a draft. As the minutes turned to hours, we became more desperate, to the point of even throwing ourselves against weak-looking section of the walls. Poor Riff broke part of his exoskeleton against a such unyielding segment, certain that the mortar was weaker in that section. Just as we were beginning to lose hope, a glint of lettering caught my eye right next to the door. I squinted against the heat from the torch nearby to read the charcoal-written message.

'Choose your fate: perish in this cell or pick up the torch,' declared the scrawled lettering. I raised an eyebrow. We weren't given much of a choice, if you ask me. The others read the warning with keen interest. We glanced at each other, then to the torch.

'Nothing gained, nothing ventured, I suppose,' Grant the minotaur rumbled while checking the tip on one of his horns distractedly. Silently musing over the quandary in front of us, we watched cold-blooded Grumff bask in the warmth of the torch. Unable to get close enough to the heat for comfort, he freed it from its sconce. Grumff was just as shocked as us to find that our cell door ground open in response. I cautiously poked my head into the hallway, hoping I wasn't about to espy some gigantic creature about force me back into my cell with some equally gigantic and sharp instrument of death. Assured at the immediate absence of said death-dealing monster, we took our first steps toward freedom, into the dungeons of Mount Grimrock...

I've never been the dungeon crawler type. There's something about superbly old school RPGs in the vein of 'Eye of the Beholder' and 'Dungeon Master' that both intimidates and befuddles me. Any attempt in playing one of these DOS-bound behemoths resulted in immediate frustration at the archaic user interface and a strict adherence to incredibly difficult 'Dungeons and Dragons 3rd Edition' rules. I never figured I'd ever actually enjoy these dusty beasts of yore.

Enter 'Legend of Grimrock,' a tribute to the crawler roots of a bygone age.

'Grimrock' is a fantastic example of a genre revival. Taking all of the features that made dungeon crawling fun (deep character creation, dungeons, possibly some dragons) while throwing out what needed to go (terrible UI, unpolished battle system), the fine developers at Almost Human Games have crafted a fantastic homage to the days when story didn't matter because running around a dungeon was more than awesome enough.

Here's the odd thing, though. Usually I'm completely put off by the lack of story in a game. However, I find myself enjoying the sparse universe of 'Grimrock.' I'll catch myself adding personalities to my party, from what they're terrified of, to what they eat, to their creature comforts. So Riff is a chronic arachnophobe (seeing as he's kinda low on the spider food chain), Grant hates mole jerky, and Grumff always carries the torch for the simple sake of the warmth. With this void in storytelling on the developer's part, my imagination is filling in the blanks and creating characters that I can relate to, which in turn creates an attachment to the game, even affecting my gameplay style to suit their needs.

Immersiveness in games is created when we feel some sort of connection with the on-screen protagonists, usually through exposition via cutscenes or in-game cinematics. What's fascinating about 'Legend of Grimrock' is that it bucks the industry standard and dares you to think for yourself and tell your own tale within theirs.

Aaron Waite wrestled Chthulu once. But only once. And you don't see Chthulu around now, do you?

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