Grimm: Quest for the Gatherer’s Key (Doom 3 mod) Impressions…

Grimm: Quest for the Gatherer’s Key (Doom 3 mod) Impressions after the break…

Grimm: Quest for the Gatherer’s Key (Doom 3 mod) Impressions…

As the Triple-A game developers all move towards the “You don’t own your own game” DRM (digital rights management) scheme for PC games, I find myself increasingly isolated in my gaming options. Older games simply do not play well with Windows 7, the latest Windows operating system. Heck, a lot of older games didn’t play well with the earlier Windows XP, either.

Having re-loaded Doom 3 back onto my new computer for the expressed purpose of playing the excellent “The Dark Mod” mod that emulates game play from the Thief 1 & 2 games, I happened upon another total conversion mod – Grimm: Quest for the Gatherer’s Key. To say that Grimm is the polar opposite in terms of game play to The Dark Mod would be an understatement.

To be fair, the version of Grimm that I played was a demo, version 0.1. From what I learned, a lot of what I played will most likely change by the time the final version is released.

Grimm’s game play harkens back to an age when first person shooters (FPS) did not have to make a lot of narrative sense. Level design existed strictly for the purpose of game play and little else. Creatures on an inaccessible ledge, waiting all day for someone like yourself to roam around? Yup. Gargantuan hallways and barren rooms without any explicit purpose? Got it. Enemies that appear out of nowhere for no other reason then to challenge the player in combat? In spades. Buttons for buttons sake? Already there.

Grimm has a story line. Want it? Here it is, ripped straight from the developer’s own words –

Heaven and Hell are at war and have been closed off to new souls. Human souls now wander in purgatory after death, unable to go up to Heaven or descend down to Hell. The angel, Gabriel, has stolen The Grim Reaper’s key of the Gatherer’s Keep, the entrance to both Heaven and Hell. He is determined to fight his way through the souls in purgatory and the Demons and Angels in Heaven and in Hell to regain what is rightfully his and restore order. You are the Grim Reaper.

The storyline is never addressed in the game. Such an omission might be due to the fact that the game is version 0.1 and, at times, feels very much like a version 0.1. For starters, people with ATI graphics cards may want to be hesitant about even installing this mod, as the ability to disable Catalyst AI seems to be a very essential step in having the mod display correctly.

Grimm is very much a first person platforming type of game, the type of game where running and jumping puzzles are the norm. You start the game with a scythe (You’re THE Grim Reaper, remember?) and can eventually move on to a fireball-spitting staff and a fiery scythe. There are red vials that increase your health, blue vials that are essentially ammunition and then armor to shield you from the eventually whipping that you are going to receive. These vials sometimes visible but mostly hidden inside of barrels and Arabic-looking vases. Purgatory, it seems, has a very Arabic influence to it, the same way that the computer game “Quake 1” had a somewhat Lovecraftian influence wedded with science fiction.

Enemies abound in the game, including two types of skeletons (one that crawls up to you on all fours, much like the Imps from Doom 3, and one that throws knives at you), flying spirits (that remind me of a redress of the original flying enemies in Quake 1) and spiders. The spiders, for reasons that elude me, did not seem to be functioning in the version 0.1 demo. Regardless, one aspect of the v0.1 demo that will most likely change by the final version are the models for these creatures. While I can claim no superior talent, the models of the creatures appeared to have been placeholders (especially the spiders).

However, the most important enemies are the physical challenges of the game. Your first task is to navigate a series of slicing pendulums hung perilously above the typical bottomless pit. The physical obstacles never cease in this game and this is the first unfortunate design concern of the game – Aimless jumping puzzles. Why are the pendulums there? Why are the buzzsaws, the rolling spiked logs, the crushers and the spiked ceilings there? To punish the souls in Purgatory? Because someone thought they’d be neat? To crack the occasional walnut and slice the occasional loaf of bread? I’ve always wondered about the architects who had to work on these rooms – “Yeah, George, I was speaking with The Guy and he wondered if you could have three of those rolling spiked log thingies there instead of those two crushers. Yeah, I know – I told him that, too. He’s very persistent, though.” Or how about, “Hey, welcome to your first day on the job in Purgatory. He’s your work badge. Now, I’d like to show you to your work area. You’ll probably want to walk through this room here. Yeah, those are swinging pendulums over just one of our many bottomless pits. Don’t fall! Heh-heh, I always love telling new hires that on the first day. Don’t worry about railings – After a few days, you’ll forget that they’re not even there. What’s that? Yeah, it’s kind of tough jumping from spot to spot but, by the end of the month, you’ll get the hang of it. Second nature. Now, onto the next room here with these buzzsaws…”

The levels I played through were varied enough and that lent a little variety into the game. Most unique was the mine car level where a boulder pursues you, much like the famous opening action scene from the movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Again, the level design was a bit mystifying with rolling spiked logs all throughout the level to challenge your mine cart’s ability to keep you alive. Why not “lean” the mine car in order to keep it on the tracks from the oncoming boulder, instead? Sure, have a few non-spiked logs that you have to jump over for variety but, otherwise, have the game play match the scenery.

Probably the largest problem that I had with this game is that I simply can not grasp the nonsensical nature of the levels. I’ll fully admit the obvious – I’m not a platform player nor do I have the ambition to become one. I understand that a platform game needs not one bit of plot explanation to derive much of it’s entertainment value from it’s intended audience. Yet to simply expect players to travel through room after room without any explanation other then, like the proverbial chicken in the quintessential riddle “to get to the other side,” may be expecting too much from such a broad demographic of players. Why not meld the rooms into a cohesive story line themselves? Have cinematics showing souls getting chopped up by the pendulums or crushed by the crushers and then you having to avoid such things? Why not have skeletons pop up out of the ground logically from mass graves or out of barrels and spiders descend from ceilings or out from otherwise inaccessible holes?

Admittedly, I did not complete this game and that is why I can’t honestly label this as a “review.” I got all of the way up to the point where I had to jump onto these platforms that receded into a wall and, despite my best attempts, I could not jump from those platforms onto a moving platform which would have moved my character to… More platforms? At that point, my tolerance for “I’m getting to the next room so that I can… Get to the next room” became obliterated and I stopped caring. There was nothing to compel me to continue onward. No story to emotionally draw me further into the game. No significant new graphics in terms of models or enemies to typify that progress was being made.

It’s clear that the game is still in it’s formative stages, with some of the game already complete (I’d be hard pressed to see any reason to change the models for the scythe, the vials, the barrels and vases) and some of the game very not complete (Spiders and skeletons that look like placeholders, spiders that didn’t look like they even functioned, some areas of the map that looked very incomplete or hastily completed).

For gamers who partake in platforming pleasures, what could be written short of “It totally sucks and you shouldn’t play it” that would prevent them from having a look? Nothing. Platforming enthusiasts should take a look at it if only to experience it for themselves. Odds are, they’d have a greater tolerance for the “I have no idea why those buzzsaws are there but I don’t care, I’ll find the motivation to move past them anyway.” Yet, I can’t help but think that for other people, playing this game will become progressively harder because the motivation just isn’t there to continue. Besides the mine car level, each level is “Go into area, study obstacles, find out what triggers skeletons to appear, see if you can get the skeletons to run into the obstacles and die, kill the skeletons yourself if you have to, avoid obstacles after the area is clear, get ammo and health, move onward.” For some people, that’s all they need. For others, not so much.

You can’t judge a game by it’s version 0.1 game play but chances are grim that I’m not waiting with baited breath to quest onward for the Gatherer’s Key. Platforming enthusiasts will likely see it differently but, for myself, I’m calling a locksmith until version 1.0 comes out.

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