August 2, 2008
Below are my thoughts on the second chapter of Grim Fandango, the inaugural title of the Vintage Game Club. Check the relevant forum thread for others’ responses, or see David’s post at Malvasia Bianca for a dissenting opinion.
I plowed through all of Grim Fandango’s second act in one sitting this week, partially because it’s my preferred method of playing these sorts of games and partly because I loved it so much.
Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first: the puzzles are spread out over the whole city of Rubacava and require too much dull backtracking. Some of the programming felt a little rough around the edges — I waved my scythe around for ten minutes before managing to hit upon the exact spot to pick up the metal detector, for example, and I once had to reload from a not-so-recent save because I suddenly couldn’t move. And the elevator outside the Blue Casket was a bit too eager for passengers, often grabbing me as I innocently passed by.
Implementation details aside, though, I thought Year 2 was head and shoulders above Year 1. The puzzles never felt “cheap” or “illegitimate,” as they sometimes did in the first act; within fifteen minutes of wandering Rubacava, I had a good sense of what had to be done, even if I didn’t know how I’d do it. Clear goals go a long way towards making puzzle-solving feel rewarding.
That’s not to say that I fared much better at Year 2′s puzzles, of course. Though my adventure game muscles are recovering from their atrophy, I’m fairly inept at the genre at my best. Things seem to have improved, somehow, though; I still consulted the walkthrough when I got stuck, but I made enough progress on my own that I didn’t feel like I was cheating through the game.
To that end, I was very pleased by Year 2′s nonlinearity. Getting hung up on one section didn’t bring my progress grinding to a halt, as I could just try my hand at something else. I tend to check GameFAQs out of frustration more than boredom, so when I’m not up against a wall I’m willing to I do have to say, though, that the dialogue occasionally betrayed the puzzles, most obviously when Manny shows a keen interest in Carla’s metal detector before he has any reason to do so.
Speaking of Carla, the game’s narrative elements really come into their own in the second act, with the film noir style coming through especially well. Year 1 had its share of memorable characters and moments, but the writing in Rubacava’s scenes is really top-notch, from the Blue Casket beatniks to the poetry readings to Glottis’ drunken one-liners to the low-rent revolutionary Sea-Bees. And my favorite scene so far — the back-room conversation featuring Carla’s sob story and Manny’s rapidly changing dialog options — literally had me laughing until I was crying.
I’ve been trying not to read ahead on the forum, but I caved and saw that Year 3 has largely been a disappointment. I’m staying optimistic, though. I’ve bought into the fiction enough that I might not mind blasting through bad puzzles with a walkthrough, my previous objections notwithstanding.