Metacritic score: 94
VGChartz sales to date: Unknown
WHAT MADE IT GREAT
Death is the one certainty in life. Ok, Benjamin Franklin thought taxes were another but he was born before tax fraud became enshrined in our system as loopholes. But no amount of Swiss bank accounts can stave off death, sooner or later it comes for us all. Death is a daily occurrence, as sure a bet as the sun rising in the East each day, and yet it never feels mundane or everyday even when it doesn't effect us personally. When death recently came for LucasArts it was a blow to many gamers because the studio has created some classic gems during its heyday, perhaps one of the greatest of which being Grim Fandango.
The game draws many themes from the Dia De Los Muertes festival in Mexico including both design and story elements. Souls of the recently deceased must travel through the Land of the Dead (no relation to the Romero flick) to reach the Ninth Underworld. Those who lived good and honorable lives ride the express train and make the journey in just a few minutes. If your life was, shall we say, a bit more raucous you have to travel on foot which adds about 4 years onto the trek. These souls are represented as calaca figures and many of them decide to take up permanent residence in limbo. Some of them become Grim Reapers, agents who help ferry other souls to the Ninth Underworld, but many of them fill more mundane jobs. You'd think someone already dead wouldn't have a lot to worry about, but it's possible to suffer a more final death if you fall victim to 'sprouting'. This is caused by toxic darts that make flowers grow from your bones (literally pushing daisies) and it makes for a powerful incentive for the souls to stay in line. Within this setting, Tim Schafer (who you may remember from a previous feature) has crafted a neo-noir crime thriller that's straight out of Hollywood's silver age.
|The Land of the Dead is a surprisingly lively place|
|Don't worry if you're not as suave with the dames as Bogart was, if you botch a conversation you can still try again until you get it right|
|Also like in Mad Men, the characters are constantly smoking. The instruction manual helpfully points out in very tiny print that they are all dead already and thus not good role models.|
The gaming landscape is constantly shifting over time, partly the result of consumer tastes and partly thanks to advancements in the necessary hardware and software. Grim Fandango's 1998 release came at a pivotal time as the year marked the release of multiple titles that would come to define the current era of gaming. Metal Gear Solid and Thief gave birth to the stealth action genre, Half-Life redefined first person shooters and Ocarina of Time highlighted just how far adventure games had evolved beyond their interactive story origins. Each of these games could only be possible because the technology supporting them had advanced far enough to allow for the improved environments, AI and gameplay mechanics they were built on. The result was that players could take a greater level of control that previously didn't exist, letting you direct your character to perform more complex actions directly instead of watching them play out in cut-scenes.
As action oriented games began to fully dominate the market, graphic adventure games found themselves thrust into the Land of the Dead and heading towards the afterlife. Grim Fandango can be thought of as the earliest death rattle of the genre as it sold poorly despite considerable critical praise and a sincere marketing push. Despite LucasArts' insistence that Grim Fandango met sales expectations, the company decided to drastically scale back their focus on similar adventure titles. The Sam & Max series was mothballed, a planned sequel to Full Throttle was scrapped, and Tim Schafer, the man responsible for designing most of LucasArts' stable of adventure games, left the company to found his own studio Double Fine. Rival studio Sierra, the other big name in adventure games, looked at the poor sales of Grim Fandango and, seeing the writing on the wall, decided to exit the genre also. In a cosmic twist of irony, Grim Fandango became the reaper for the entire graphic adventure genre.
|Sure reaping seems like a sweet gig, but you'd be surprised how rarely you get to wear the robes and the benefits are terrible|
WILL WE EVER SEE IT AGAIN
Is it possible for a Grim Reaper to return among the living? There are a lot of people hoping that will happen and they'll accept it in just about any form. That's because we haven't seen so much as a pinky bone from Manny since his original debut, LucasArts owns the rights and hasn't shown any interest in making a sequel. Some might say that's a wise decision since Schafer was such an integral part of its tone and without his input it would be impossible to recapture that. But gamers who missed out in 1998 haven't gotten an HD re-release or even a straight port to console. You can't even download it on Steam, the only way to get your hands on a copy is by begging a friend or scoring one online where used copies still go for around $50.
|If you want an unopened copy you have to stand before the Gate Keeper while he stares deep into your soul and judges whether you are worthy of the honor.|
|What is dead may never die, but rises, harder and stronger|