GRUNND Review – Dark and intriguing, but also rough around the edges

Gare – Friday, January 27, 2023 3:32 PM
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Grunnd is quite unlike your typical point & click adventure. Don’t get me wrong, you do indeed point and click at things, and it certainly is an adventure game, but it’s also a game that prefers to keep its secrets close to its chest. Described as having been inspired by the works of David Lynch and Franz Kafka, along with Southern Gothic and Black Metal influences, Grunnd oftentimes feels like a dark, ominous painting in video game form. That’s not to say there aren’t any cracks in the paint, if you will, and Grunnd is certainly a game I would describe as somewhat “rough around the edges” – thankfully, it also does a variety of things right.

Off the train and into the unknown

Grunnd begins with a fairly everyday premise. Our hero falls asleep on the train while on his way home from work, and ends up at the faraway station of a town he’s not familiar with – realizing that the next train won’t arrive for quite some time, he then decides to explore and converse with the locals to get some help. And that is more or less where normalcy ends for Grunnd, as the game wastes no time in throwing you head-first into its bizarre, almost surreally artistic world. Which leads me to my next point: atmosphere. Grunnd is the kind of game you can simply ease yourself into on a winter night. The moody soundtrack with its occasional metal riffs, the dark, contrast-heavy art style with its sharp edges and deep colors, as well as the rugged voice of the narrator keeping you company throughout every step of the journey – these elements all work in unison and they usually work well. From an audiovisual standpoint alone, Grunnd creates a surreal, melancholy style that I quite enjoyed immersing myself in.

Being an adventure game, you’ll also be expected to look around, explore, converse with people and solve some puzzles. Right off the bat, I need to make it clear that Grunnd isn’t a particularly challenging game, and most of the time when I did get stuck, it was due to bugs and technical issues, but more on that later. Generally speaking, if you explore every single area and exhaust every line of dialogue with NPCs, you’re bound to eventually figure out what to do. There was one particular instance where I had to look around a bit before finding the right NPC to talk to (who would then give me a piece of information I needed), but most of the time, if you’re thorough enough in your investigations and pay some attention, you should have no issues with the game. What I’m trying to say is that you shouldn’t expect overly complicated puzzles that would require oodles of detective work and item combining; Grunnd plays it fairly straight, all in all, and the focus is more on building atmosphere and less on providing tough brain-teasers for the player.

The cracks begin to show

Most of my issues with Grunnd can more or less be narrowed down to two major things: technical problems (bugs, essentially) and a somewhat frustrating lack of polish in terms of presentation. The latter is largely related to issues with the in-game narration: for instance, the English text would occasionally not match up with the voiced lines being spoken, while the translation itself, I feel, could most definitely use a decent bit of cleaning up to get rid of typos and other problems, especially since the game relies so heavily on its dialogue. The bugs and technical issues, sadly, are a touch more egregious. I can only hope that most of these get ironed out eventually, but the fact remains that my playthrough of Grunnd was plagued by a host of setbacks – some small, others major enough to almost force me to restart the whole game from the beginning due to the fact that you only get a single auto-save slot, and if you run into any game-breaking, progress-halting issues like I did, you can’t just revert back to an older save. You’re essentially stuck.

Story-wise, Grunnd will not appeal to every type of point & click aficionado. If you want something straightforward and easy to digest, this is not your game. Lynch and Kafka are cited as the project’s chief inspirations, and indeed, the narrative keeps things fairly vague and cryptic for the most part. During the majority of your adventure, you will probably be just as confused as the nameless protagonist, scratching your head at the peculiar interactions between him and the locals, and that’s not even mentioning the seemingly otherworldly phenomena you’ll also encounter. Grunnd almost feels like exploring a waking nightmare, where everything seems to mean or symbolize something, but you’re never quite sure what; there are the vague contours of a bigger story, but a lot of it is not said out loud and is probably left to personal interpretation.

Closing thoughts

Going into Grunnd, you should know more or less what to expect – and what not to. The game’s surreal themes and delightfully somber world can certainly draw you in, but at the same time, its technical issues, potentially game-breaking bugs and other inconsistencies can just as swiftly take you out of the experience. I’m sure the cryptic storyline will similarly have its advocates, but might confuse or put others off, while the puzzles are kept simplistic enough where they likely won’t satisfy those actively looking for a challenge. The game does a number of things right, yet most of its positive aspects are offset by something else – however, if that’s okay with you, and you can look past its roughness and just enjoy the dark, brooding atmosphere, Grunnd is worth experiencing at least once.

Grunnd is available on Steam and GOG.

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