Reviewed: May 9, 2003
Released: March 12, 2003
When I first heard about GROM: Terror in Tibet! my first reaction was "What the heck kind of name for a game is GROM?" As it turns out, Grom is the name of the main character in an innovative action/RPG title from the fine minds at Rebelmind. Grom: Terror in Tibet boasts unique gameplay and high quality production values in an unusual adventure setting, for a good price. Think Indiana Jones in the Temple of Doom and you're not too terribly far off the mark for what is in store for you with this game.
Colonel Grom fought the invading Nazis in his home country of Poland. They were defeated, but Grom left his homeland rather than surrender, going to Tibet to escape his past. In Tibet Grom partners up with Petr, a smooth talking, business minded, practical individual who uses Grom for protection. Grom and Petr work together doing trade routes in the Tibetan mountains, which is a dangerous occupation with all the bandits and yeti about. Unfortunately, Grom cannot escape his past, as he finds that the Nazis have come to Tibet in search of ancient mystical weapons of mass destruction.
The gameplay in GROM is an eclectic mixture of adventure, RPG, real-time strategy, and action game. You can select your party members by dragging a box around the characters on screen much the way units get selected in real-time strategy titles. Click on a destination for them to walk there our double click to have them double-time it. To attack a foe, you wait for a bright red crosshairs and click on the target to fire your selected weapon. You can select a different weapon by clicking on an onscreen pull down menu.
The learning curve to the game is somewhat steep. Expect to spend the first 30 minutes going through the in-game tutorial and learning the ropes. Since this game has a unique interface it will take a while to get accustomed to the various things you can do. Fortunately, you can use the spacebar to pause the action while you think about what you need to do and you can issue orders while the game is paused and then un-pause it to let them occur. In this way you can give simultaneous orders to multiple members of your party.
The inventory window is a grid of boxes and different items take up different amounts of space in your inventory. Fortunately you are given a yak that can carry the burden of many of your items you acquire. Unfortunately the Yak can sometimes get stuck when you are trying to lead him around and you may need to fiddle with the commands to tell the yak to move away and then once he gets unstuck, click on the command to make him follow you again. You will find items that you can use for weapons, healing, or trade goods to sell.
The combat system is somewhat chaotic, with enemy AI opponents running around the screen like crazy. Sometimes the enemies are smart enough to take cover or lie low, other times they seem to just run in circles while you peg them from afar with the rifle. In firefights it's tricky to control multiple characters, having to rapidly click goes against the feel of the game, but that is what gives it the action aspect to the game. Fans of games like Baldur's Gate will sit around wondering why their characters aren't attacking until they realize they need to click to cause those attacks to happen.
Damage modeling isn't terribly realistic, it's much more arcadish, with opponents and your party members having a set number of health points that get depleted as they take damage. There is a good variety of weapons in the game, and different weapons do different amounts of damage. This gives the game more of an adventure/arcade feel rather than a tactical simulation, but there are many tactical aspects to the gameplay. One tactic that works pretty well is to use one character to draw the enemies in to where you have the other characters lying in ambush.
Your character's skill with the weapon affects whether or not you hit and how much damage is done. Your characters' skills will improve over time in the game with use. Different characters are good with different weapons from the start. Deciding how to outfit your characters is part of the strategy of the game, as well as where to position and what stances and facings to use during combat. You can specify one of three AI actions for your party when you are not controlling them directly, either defend, attack-when-attacked, and fire-at-will.
Sometimes fighting isn't always the best way to get past a situation, talking your way through things can also be a good tactic. Sneaking around is also possible in many situations, and a highly effective way to avoid certain enemies or at least get better positions to attack from. When you have more members in the party it becomes somewhat harder to sneak effectively, but you can split your time up into different groups many times.
There are also plenty of mini-games available to do during the game for extra cash and rewards. These mini-games also serve as a good way to practice your action skills which you will need for doing well during the real-time combat sequences, but they are mostly optional. The mini-games are typically tests of dexterity with the mouse, and a few of them also involve a bit of thinking.
The story in Grom involves everyone's favorite villains, the Nazis, and of course more common enemies like bandits and thieves. You will meet many different NPC characters along the way that you can join up with to help you in your quest to keep the Nazis away from the magical weapons. You'll also have to fight some unusual enemies like the yeti, and demons. The story can change somewhat in the minor details depending on how you answer certain questions in the dialogues and also what actions you perform.
Grom uses three dimensional character models over hand painted two-dimensional backgrounds. This technique gives the environments a handcrafted sense of detail, while allowing the ease of use that 3D character models provides. The game runs at only one resolution, 800x600, and this is due to the static nature of the background maps. However, the game's background graphics looked fine at that resolution on my 17" monitor.
The artistic style of the environments is somewhat realistic most of the time, but the characters have more of a cartoonish or anime feel to them. The walking animations for the characters are not terribly smooth, somewhat clunky. Likewise, since the game uses static backgrounds sometimes the character animations don't blend well with the backgrounds. At times there are cases where the characters will get stuck on something onscreen that doesn't look like they should be stuck on.
In game-engine cutscenes are used to tell the story. The graphics engine is flexible enough to support cinematic cutscenes as well as a good overhead strategic view during the main gameplay portion of the game. The game even supports a zoom out feature that lets you get a bigger picture of the area around your characters. The animations used in the cutscenes are well done, and the cutscenes flow well between the gameplay since it uses the same graphics engine.
Overall, the graphics in GROM are good, especially the hand painted backgrounds which are very detailed and have a great artistic style. The characters are perhaps one of the strengths and one of the weaknesses of the graphics. The flexibility having 3D characters onscreen offers makes the numerous cutscenes and different perspectives possible, but the lack of detail in some of the characters and some of the jerky animation sequences is a slight downside. The game isn't really an eye-candy type of game, but it's above average in the looks department.
The sound effects are a highlight of the game. Everything just sounds like you think it should, from the weapons fire and explosions, to the crowd of angry city dwellers, to the magical effects later in the game, or to the little audible clues that the interface provides when clicking around in the menus.
The music for Grom is surreal, full of deep unusual percussion and horns, sounding very at home in the games Tibetan setting. The music changes according to what is happening, for example, if you're being shot at the music is more frantic and bold, while if you're sneaking around the music is slower and deeper. Overall the music fits in well with the game's unusual setting.
Grom supports a lot of voice acting, which is mostly well done. Some of the dialog does not sound very natural; it is obvious in many places that the dialog was not originally written in English. Most of the time the voice acting is of above average quality for a PC game, and it truly enhances the gaming experience.
Overall Grom does an admirable job in the sound department -- your ears will be in for a treat as much as your eyes and mouse fingers are with this game. The sound effects aren't award winning, but they're well above average, especially compared to other games of its type on the PC.
Grom is not a terribly long game by RPG standards; about 30 hours on average to complete it, unless you spend a lot of time playing the mini-games and doing side quests. The game does not have a ton of replay value to it, either, because every time you play you'll get basically the same story with the same characters. The street price of the game is pretty reasonable, though, at around $20 - $30, which is a good value for the amount of unique gameplay that Grom offers. There really isn't another game quite like Grom.
Grom is a game that really sets itself apart from the pack with its unique blend of action and RPG elements as well as having a tactical depth to the game that many games lack. It's only flaw might be that the game is so unique that it can take quite a while to get into it, and the game is not very forgiving. Once you have mastered the controls the game becomes easier, but it is still quite difficult with each new screen bringing new challenges and requiring new techniques to survive. This is good if you like a game that provides a steady challenge, but it can also be somewhat frustrating at times having to reload and try multiple times to get past a certain stage of the game.
Grom offers a strong story, which keeps you coming back for more. The cast of characters in the game is unique and interesting and the game is set in a mystical Tibet that is quite unlike almost any other game out there. The game's setting and characters reminded me somewhat of adventure films such as the Raiders of the Lost Ark, with lots of adventure and action set in a strange land (to Westerners). The game offers enough gameplay for its reduced asking price to be worth a purchase, if you are a fan of action/RPG titles and are in the market for something unique.