A movie can’t refuse to tell you it’s story. A book can’t be left blank in the hopes that you’ll fill in the pages for yourself. What makes videogames special is that they have a level of freedom in the way they interact with the audience that no other type of media can afford. Videogames have come a long way since Pong and Pac-man, but the industry’s roots do not lie in narrative. This evolution into storytelling, as opposed to from it, has allowed videogames a freedom to tell stories in more ways than any other type of entertainment. Almost Human’s Legend of Grimrock is a prime example as it encourages players to write their own story.
Grimrock prioritizes building your characters, little attention is devoted to their back story. That doesn’t mean Almost Human doesn’t care about the narrative. Anyone who has ever played a game of Dungeons & Dragons will recognize Grimrock’s formula instantly. Instead of telling the player a story, Grimrock chooses to provide a setting and a framework that encourages the player to tell their own story with their own characters. Almost Human uses the dungeon of Mount Grimrock as a backdrop for your hand-crafted party of adventurers as they make their way through in exchange for leniency. With a setting and starting point, it’s time for the player to take over.
From here you’ll painstakingly build your four characters, choosing their stats, traits, race, and gender before setting foot in Grimrock. As you mull over every little detail of your character you begin to feel an attachment to them. Their history is relatively vague and encourages players to fill it in almost instinctively. We know that they are convicts, but who are these people? What are they accused of, and are they even guilty of these crimes? Were they brought together by chance or fate? All of these questions are yours to answer.
What Grimrock really offers you is a chance to use your imagination in a way most games scoff at. Grimrock’s perspective isn’t that you’ve come here to be entertained by it, but that it exists simply to allow you a platform to entertain yourself. As you fight your way through the dungeon’s many floors you’ll find just enough scraps of story to keep a narrative forming in your head. Seeing things as your characters do may seem a slow and arduous thing when you’re managing inventory and mixing ingredients in hopes of a new potion, but it’s that level of intimacy that amplifies every achievement. Every level gained is a reward for hours of toil and combat. Every item found is a precious treasure you’ll have to divvy out to whomever needs it most. The meticulous tending of rations and ingredients can ensure your party’s strength and a necessary supply of curative potions when your party needs it most, whereas rushing into battle blindly will have them hobbling to the nearest resurrection stone. It’s a process of bonding through ownership. You made these characters, and their flaws and shortcomings are your own oversights. Now you have to take responsibility of that and see them through this safely. The journey is long and slow, and those looking for a grandly-constructed story may find a lot to be desired, but Grimrock is about creating a story of your own through your characters actions, and that’s a process that takes time.
Legend of Grimrock is an opportunity to raise a child of sorts. To undertake the responsibility of your creation’s welfare and see if you can guide and manage them through almost anything. Satisfaction in Grimrock isn’t found so much from killing monsters, or finding loot, or even leveling up. More than sitting down to play through a linear story, it’s about leaning back in your chair after dozens of hours of careful planning and execution and seeing the fruits of your labor. This process bonds you to a band of misfits. In Grimrock, it is the journey that matters and it is a journey that becomes distinctively yours.