PS4 / Rated T
Publisher: Double Fine, LucasArts
Developer: Double Fine, LucasArts
1998 was a big year for video games. The year ranks high among fans, due to the plethora of major hits that came out during that time. Grim Fandango, although more of a cult hit, was one of the games that defined the year. The game, which was made by LucasArts, was one of the last great adventure games released in the “golden era of adventure games.” Almost sixteen years later, it was announced that a remastered version of the game would be released on PC and the PS4. After spending a lot of time with the game, I have to say, the game still stands up to this day.
In Grim Fandango, we explore the story of Manny Calavera, a travel agent for the Department of Death, was tasked with fighting the corruption that plagued the Land of the Dead. Manny is a pretty unlucky guy, and things never seem to go his way. He’s at the bottom of the company ladder, and he’s barely clinging on. The Department of Death is an agency that offers travel packages to the recently deceased for travel to the 9th Underworld, the final resting place for the dead. The No 9. Train is the most luxurious way to travel the Land of the Dead, but it seems that Manny’s clients never qualify for anything other than a nice long walk through the dangers of the land. Something must be up.
One of the most unique things about the game is its blend of Mexican culture, as well as Mayan culture. There is even a nice dose of film noir elements, inspired by movies like The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca. Manny ends up going on an adventure to get to the bottom of the corrupt evildoings of the agency. Along the way, Manny comes into contact with some lovable characters like the demon mechanic Glottis, and the femme fatale that is Mercedes “Meche” Colomar.
The story spans four years, and each year is pretty different from the other. Unfortunately, this is at the expense of the story. For instance, at the end of the year, Manny is out looking for Meche when he decides to stick around in Rubacavera and wait for her to come through. The game then flashes to the next year, where Manny is the classy owner of the Calavera Café, a luxurious casino on the pier of Rubacavera. It doesn’t make sense how Manny went from being a lowly travel agent to a business owner, but the player is just left to accept and move on.
The environments that the player discovers on the adventure are some of the coolest parts fo the game. The player starts in the city of El Marrow, which has a ton of art deco influence. We then see all sorts of places, like the Edge of the World, the Petrified Forest, Rubacavera and its surrounding film noir locations, and a bunch of other unique locales.
The game is very much the same as it was back in 1998. This probably brings up the question, what does the remastered version bring to the table? The biggest update comes with the visual clean-up that Tim Schafer and the guys at Double Fine performed. All of the characters models were spruced up and are now much more modern looking. However, the same can’t be said for the surrounding environments. This is due to the fact that they were all pre-rendered, but it still would have been nice to see more updated visuals. The cut-scenes really haven’t been touched as well. It’s almost like they should put an asterisk next to remastered, because the term can be a little misleading.
A side-effect of 90’s adventure game design is the intense puzzles with crazy solutions you would never think of. The game’s puzzles haven’t been changed, which made the game pretty tough. With the surprising lack of a hint system, I was left playing the game with a FAQ at the side to help me get through some of the challenging puzzles that the game gave you. This was a rather unfortunate oversight. If you want an extra challenge, try maneuvering the game with tank controls. The remastered version does contain modernized movement, but the option to go back to tank controls is there…only if you really want it. (I suffered through it to get the stupid trophy…)
The neat thing about the remastered version is the developer commentary that is sprinkled throughout the game, only a click away. Tim Schafer and the other developers from the game give some interesting insight into some of the design and creative decisions that were made, as well as some talk about the inspirations for the game, the technical aspects that made the game run, as well as some talk about the music in certain portions of the game. They’re pretty enlightening tidbits of information that make the remastered version worthwhile on it’s own.
Grim Fandango Remastered offers a lot for players that fondly remembered the cult hit. This may not have been the remake that some fans would have wanted, but Double Fine did a good job at making the game more modernized and relevant in the modern landscape of video games. If you’re going to go on the adventure for the first time, like me; I would definitely recommend a walkthrough for some portions of the game, because I don’t know how you would get through it otherwise.