It’s fair to say that game developers and writers are running out of ideas, otherwise we wouldn’t need to keep revisiting the past would we. Sure in the past couple of years some cracking narratives have surfaced and have been credited as some of the greatest games of our generation, but they’re pretty few and far between. It’s become a rather used term in the industry, and especially amongst the guys and gals of Invision, that this is the ‘Remastered Generation’, where it is now common place for the world’s greatest studios to sack of a new project in favour of re-releasing something from their successful back catalogue. It’s not their fault really though, we gamers are constantly comparing what’s on offer now to the games we used to play when we were younger, and it doesn’t matter how incredible the latest AAA titles are on the PS4, they just suck alongside a pixalated, tough to control, difficult to play gem from 2 decades ago. Then came the wave of remasters, which began as multiple last gen games compiled together onto one bluray disk, whilst favourites like Ratchet & Clank and Sly Racoon were a joy to revisit, compilations of 2 forgettable Tomb Raider titles and HD ports of PSP games were not so welcome. Since the launch of the PS4 and Xbox One, gamers have been treated to even more remastered work to compensate for the lack of new IPs and only a couple have been met with critical acclaim, I mean who the hell asked for Cel Damage? British studio Just Add Water did a staggering job bringing Abe’s Odyssey back to consoles, creating their own take on the cult classic and rebuilding the game completely from scratch yet maintaining the same look and feel avid fans longed for. At last year’s E3, I along with thousands of gamers squealed like prepubescent school girls when Tim Schafer revealed ‘Grim Fandango’, one of the finest point and click adventure games ever released, was getting the HD treatment. Having played through it once more, it may not be a ‘true remaster’, but it serves as a HD reminder, that a daft 17 year old PC game packs more of a punch than anything I’ve played since.
Releasing for PS4, PSVita and PC, ‘Grim Fandango Remastered’ is a HD throwback to a legendary cult classic from 1998, which is still highly regarding as one of the greatest games ever made, (it ranked 21st in PC Gamers Top 100 PC Games only last year). Grim Fandango was unfortunately released when point and click adventure games began to lose their mass appeal, and no adventure game other than the Monkey Island series really got a look in. Those fortunate to own the game couldn’t have praised it more but despite this it couldn’t change the fact it was a commercial flop, and contributed to Schafer’s decision to leave LucasArts and create his own studio Double Fine. For those who have escaped the game’s legacy, Grim Fandango follows Manny Calavera, a travel agent and lost soul in the Land of The Dead, whose sole purpose is to assist the dead in travelling to the ninth underworld to seek eternal rest. Working for The Department of Death, guiding souls on travel packages means commission, which in turn gives Manny that opportunity to finally rest after his own death. After a string of bad clients, Manny follows a lead which leads him to Mercedes ‘Meche’ Colomar, a recently departed ‘saint’, who is mysteriously denied a ticket on the Number Nine train to lead her to salvation in just 4 minutes, and thus runs away to travel to the Ninth Underworld alone and on foot, which takes 4 years. Grim Fandango takes its players on a 4 year journey as Manny tries to find Meche and escort her safely to her eternal rest whilst trying to uncover the conspiracy behind the DoD. Blending a perfect combination of old film noir and dark Schafer comedy, Grim was highly acclaimed for its vibrant art style and deeply inspiring narrative that was an absolute joy to play growing up. So fast-forward to the present day, I’m now sitting down to play a game I know like the back of my hand, a game which I have such fond memories of and a tale which never gets old no matter how many times you tackle it, but is it really ‘remastered’? Not really no, but that is by no means a bad thing.
Honestly I could talk about this game for hours and really rave about the game’s narrative, dissect the graphics and go deeper into the game’s history, but this for me is a different kind of review. This review is more about pointing out the new additions to the game since its original release and how they justify the game’s re-release, so what’s new? First of all, only so much has been graphically remastered, which I believe would have been more an issue if it was any other game, as it’s nice to still see most of the game for what it was. Whereas the 2D still backgrounds remain untouched, the game’s characters have had a lovely sharpened facelift, which though admittedly it isn’t HD, it’s definitely an advancement to the game’s original development. Much like the HD remaster of the first 2 Monkey Island games, players can switch from the game’s original textures to the remastered look with the click of a button, which though it’s not a massive difference in appearance, you can admire the effort and trials Schafer and the gang had developing the game. Every character in the game has been fitted with the new high resolution textures, which by no means dramatically changes everyone’s appearance but who care’s when you’re playing a game for the story it has to tell. As well as up-scaling the beloved cast, the team have added in new advanced lighting, which sounds daft to think that’s something to brag about, but once again switching between the 2 versions of the game you can see how this was difficult to achieve in a studio that was losing interest in that genre of gaming. The newly added lighting gives the game a much more plausible environment to roam through whilst also nicely lighting up some horribly dark areas of the original game.
As well as its visuals, the game was also originally credited highly for its soundtrack which is still to this day considered one of the best gaming scores ever written. Combining orchestral, folk, big band, swing and succulent jazz, it was a soundtrack that achieved something that has yet to be replicated to this day, it in no way became annoying, repetitive or distracting. When Tim Schafer announced that the remaster was on its way, Peter McConnell, the original LucasArts composer too announced that an audio remaster was happening thanks to the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. As a huge fan of the game’s music, I have owned the original Grim Fandango soundtrack for almost a decade and I can safely say that there is a delightful difference in its quality. By far the best new addition to Grim Fandango Remastered is somewhat of a celebration of the game and a personal gift to the game’s fans, which opens up El Marrow so much more than I thought it would. The inclusion of ‘Director’s Commentary’ tracks which can be enabled when prompted in game offer a whole new way to absorb one of the finest adventure games ever crafted, and never have I heard a studio’s team be so open and honest about a piece of their work. Recorded by 14 members of the original team, the commentary explores the game’s art, characters, struggles, faults and legacy in a way which has never been done before and I cannot urge you enough to explore every inch of the game to listen to them all. I will admit that not all of the tracks had me stimulated throughout, however it’s truly warming and interesting to find out exactly how a game is created by people who all remember it fondly; the guys at Double Fine have gone the extra mile so if they ask you to appreciate something, I suggest you do it!
Having only ever been playable on a PC, it’s great to see a game I’m so familiar with being just as easy to control with a Dualshock 4 and touch screen, giving me a whole new way to enjoy one of my favourite games. Releasing a 17 year old game on today’s consoles however come with a few expectations, and unfortunately Grim Fandango misses these out, as I’ve never released until now just how important an Auto Save option was until the game crashed and I had to start again. Likewise with the new controls, I found a lot of the time Manny would switch directions along with the camera angles and it can be confusing to determine which direction he will continue moving in, making some puzzles that rely on accuracy and timing a lot more difficult to execute this time round. Back in the 90s games were supposed to be difficult and puzzles were meant to be brutal, whereas nowadays gamers depend on strategy guides and online forums for help, so it’s a bit of a shame that a ‘hint’ option hasn’t been added to Grim Fandango to help stressful players. This was a great feature that was added to the brilliant Monkey Island Collection on PS3, and it was only thanks to that I was able to complete the games without pulling my hair out, however with Grim I’m relying completely on my memory. It’s when you play a game after a long absence that you realise it’s a lot harder than you remember, and you will agree with me that a lot of the solutions in this game are rather farfetched and in most cases the answers are very difficult to find. I’m not saying this should have been added or that it was ever promised, but in a world overrun by first person shooters and mobile games, a bit of in game guidance would have very much appreciated.
As we all expected, ‘Grim Fandango Remastered’ isn’t exactly a remastered game, but more of an updated re-release of a fondly remembered game from my childhood. Originally released in a time where adventure games started to die out, the remastered edition seems to have been reborn in a time where they are once again relevant thanks to the award winning TellTale Studios. Visually the game’s characters have been rejuvenated and now look a lot prettier, but against the same old backdrops it’s a shame that these haven’t been touched up slightly too. The newly recorded soundtrack is that little bit better than the original score and the Director’s commentary tracks are a wonderful listen that make you appreciate the legacy Grim Fandango has left behind. The game lacks an auto safe function and a hint option that would have made the game easier for those that missed the game’s first retail run. Though it is very easy to play with a controller opposed to a keyboard and mouse, the fixed camera positions often cause the D-Pad to get confused and you’ll find yourself getting lost in between locations. Grim Fandango is a remarkable game and if this was a brand new never before seen title I would gladly give it full marks for its challenging puzzles, charm and charismatic cast that make it a wonderful journey start to finish, however as a remaster it could have potentially been that little bit better. Its re-release proves that it’s a timeless classic that still remains strong in the hearts of its fans, but as for an apparent ‘Remaster’ it doesn’t quite cut it, but what it does do is ironically give a game about the dead a brand new lease of life.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.