Written by  :  Zack Green (1185)
Written on  :  May 02, 2005
Rating  :  5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars

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A gem so flawless, you need an electron microscope to see its flaws.

The Good

I am never one to exaggerate when I praise games. When I play a game, I note why it is good, why I enjoyed it, and what few things marred the experience for me, being extremely careful not to use any hyperbole that I will later regret. Same with games I don't like. I'm careful not to make the mistake of exaggeration again after I bashed Half-Life for ridiculous reasons so many years ago, simply because I didn't feel it was the greatest game ever made (I replaced that review with a better one two years after). But essentially what I say is that I will be the last person to exaggerate how good or bad a game is these days.

The reason I tell you this is because after playing Grim Fandango multiple times over the course of the last three years, I will come up to anyone with a completely straight face, without any doubt in my mind, that it is the single greatest game I have ever played in my entire life.

I've stood by that claim for three years now. Other games have come into my heart, but situated themselves firmly below Grim rather than unseating it in my mind. It is the single piece of literature (yes, I called a game "literature") that has touched me more than anything. I say this all without any hesitation whatsoever, and I will tell you why.

In an afterlife world inspired by Aztec and Mexican mythology, you play as Manny Calavera, a dead man who wants nothing more than to move on to his next life. But something he did in life got him stuck doing community service for the Department of Death, an organization that helps newly dead souls find their way across the Land of the Dead until they reach the Land of Eternal Rest, a four year journey that is more luxurious for those who have lived good, selfless lives. All of the above, excluding the Department of Death, is true to the Aztec myths that inspired it.

At the DOD, Manny works as a travel agent, picking up new clients at the spot of their death and giving them travel packages that they qualify for. Unfortunately, Manny is conspicuously getting a large amount of clients who were apparently cruel people in life, while his colleague Domino is getting all the premium, saintly ones. Without any premium sales, Manny is unlikely to get out of the DOD any time soon.

However, when Manny steals a humanitarian client, Meche, from under Domino's nose, he finds that she qualifies for the same meager package as the others. This discovery draws Manny into a web of corruption, and the mysterious resistance group that is trying to fight it.

Over four years, you guide Manny throughout the Land of the Dead, and with the help of his demonic driver, Glottis, you will uncover one of the best stories that interactive entertainment has to offer. You will feel like you're inside a noir-ish thriller from beginning to end, except when you're laughing hysterically at Tim Schaefer's hilarious writing. Then it feels like a comedy, which is even funnier if you know Spanish. Because of the Latin American theme, many things have some pretty ridiculous Spanish names, such as the town of Puerto Zapato (Port Shoe). The puzzles are relatively easy for experienced gamers, but a good enough walkthrough doesn't prevent you from appreciating the excellent story.

Graphically, the game excels as well. Despite the fact that the 3D models have a lower polygon count than those in recent games, the visual style is breathtaking. Excellent prerendered backgrounds add to the eye candy, and are full of variety in their art style. The graphics combine themselves with excellent sound effects and catchy Latin music, which make this game a treat for your ears as well.

To round it all up, the game has world class voice actors behind the characters. Tony Plana (actor/director of "Resurrection Blvd") does an amazing job as Manny, on both the comedic and dramatic fronts, and is supported excellently by Maria Canals (you may know her as Hawkgirl from the recent Justice League TV series) in the role of Meche. The other actors, including Alan Blumenfield as Glottis, Patrick Dollaghan as Domino, and Sal Lopez as revolutionary leader Salvador Limones, are unfortunately B-list celebrities at best, which is despicable. These people should be in lead roles of movies. (Note: If I didn't include one of the voice actors, that in no way means they're not good enough to be worth mentioning. Everyone is outstanding.)

The Bad

Grim's plot, however, as careful as Schafer was to make it consistent, has a few minor, teeny tiny, barely even noticeable continuity errors in the early part of the game. After playing through it three times, I didn't even notice them until reading about them on a fan site. So unless you stop every five minutes to make an in-depth analysis of what you've just played, you won't notice anything your first time through.

The lip-syncing animations are also slightly ugly. But it was 1998, and LucasArts wanted to run the game on a Pentium 133, so give the game a break.

And, as many people have noted, the game is controlled with the keyboard, and there is no interface at all. Whatsoever. Normally, this works phenomenally. But at some points it's hard to maneuver Manny in the right place to use a particular object.

Oh, and one of the puzzles involving a couple of anchors is a bit Myst-like in terms of its obscurity. But don't let that deter you. Please don't.

The Bottom Line

Normally, I give games a score out of 10000 points, writing one or two sentences about 10 categories that I rate it on. But not this time. It would be a waste of words, because all you need to know is that you must play this game. There is absolutely nothing I can think of that would prevent any rational gamer from enjoying this, other than racism against Latinos, which is just stupid.

You know what? You see that whole section under "The Bad?" Disregard it. It's there, but don't pay attention to it. I tried very, very hard to come up with those four tiny flaws, because this game is just so damn perfect that once you get into it, anything that could possibly displease you about it is wiped away. Buy this game. You'll love yourself for it.