Grim Fandango Remastered review

Grim Fandango Remastered review

Grim Fandango Remastered review

by January 27, 2015

I don’t get many chances to bust out the phrase mise-en-scene in a video game review without sounding like a pretentious asshole, so I’m going to take the opportunity here. It’s a French term used in film to encompass the art of environmental storytelling – and it’s something Grim Fandango absolutely nailed in 1998. Now, 17 years later, Grim Fandango Remastered brings the brilliant Mexican-underworld-meets-film-noir classic adventure to modern machines with a host of welcome new features. It also brings with it a few new problems of its own.

Grim Fandango follows the exploits of Manuel Calavera, a travel agent who helps the recently deceased find passage from the Eighth Underworld to the great beyond. When one of his saintly clients doesn’t qualify for the express train ticket she rightly deserves, he sets out to uncover the corruption lurking beneath the surface of the underworld while bringing his client to her final resting place. It’s Raymond Chandler by way of the Land of the Dead, yet made all its own with all the wit and hilarity that defines classic LucasArts adventure games.

What makes Grim Fandango stand out is how it deals with the passing of time. The journey to the end of the underworld takes four whole years, and during that time we see characters grow and friendships evolve in the kinds of ways that most games gloss over. Grim Fandango is a long game (I’ve played it before and it took me 12 hours to beat it this time around), but everything feels like it has a purpose, even if that purpose is merely to flesh out the incredible atmosphere. With top-notch voice acting and a spectacular swing-era jazz-infused soundtrack, the Eighth Underworld feels like a real, lived in place – even if its inhabitants are all dead.

For all of its success in telling a narrative that’s equal parts hilarious and somber, Grim Fandango Remastered is – for better and for worse – the same game as it was over a decade ago. Yes, that same charm and cleverness is still just as effective, but the puzzles themselves feel like a relic of the past. ‘Adventure game logic’ is in full effect here, meaning you’ll have to scour every last pixel to snag everything that isn’t nailed down. Then, you’ll use said objects on whatever (and whomever) you can find to move the game forward. The leaps of logic here aren’t as bad as other adventure games, but there are moments where I wondered how anyone ever found out how to get new shocks for Manny’s sweet ride without consulting a FAQ.

As for the aging graphics, well… the pre-rendered 3D environments certainly aren’t doing anyone favors. The character models and lighting are touched up, but these static backgrounds appear to be just as low-res and grainy as they were back in the ’90s, and nothing has been done to highlight critical item pick-ups or pathways. While the pre-rendered backdrops allow for some truly breathtaking camera angles (that one with the blimp still impresses the hell out of me – you’ll know it when you see it), it means you’re more likely to get stuck because you literally can’t find the next place to go. Higher-resolution backgrounds would’ve gone a long way to making the world more vibrant and easier to navigate.