Grimsfield: a delightfully absurd northern noir game

Sexy Jim looks at me across the counter of the adult store and tells me plague masks are all the rage. I hand him over the cash for some reverse lubricant that, he assures me, definitely isn’t made of horse.

So goes Adam Wells’ short adventure Grimsfield, which puts the player in the role of an ex-detective pursuing his dreams of being a poet in a market town “somewhere off the M62 between Leeds and Manchester” – a world built up of square dioramas, populated by self-absorbed, cube-headed citizens. Citizens like Sexy Jim.

Grimsfield is Wells’ first foray into game development, although its style has been preempted by his animation work, such as his short films Brave New Old and The Circle Line. The main thrust of the game is centred on preparing for an open-mic poetry gig, which in classic point-and-click style quickly descends into a nebulous ripple of tasks and conversations.

The beatnik poetry-reading trope nods consciously to the Blue Casket portion of classic adventure Grim Fandango, which certainly plays up to the humour inherent in self-important poetry types, although layering this with all the other absurdity in the town can sometimes feel like putting a hat on a hat, as it were. Or a beret on a beret. Nevertheless, there’s much to like in the game, and, with a playtime of roughly one hour, the gleefully silly characters don’t outstay their welcome.

What is a British game?

The game describes itself as Kafkaesque, and Grimsfield is certainly a town tied up in obtuse bureaucracy. However, the tone of the adventure is closer in many ways to absurd British comedy in the vein of Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer. Wells himself points to Chris Morris’ surreal Blue Jam monologues as a touch point, as well as black comedy The League of Gentlemen.

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While a number of recent games have used the point-and-click adventure format as a way to tell a character-based story (most notably Kentucky Route Zero), these all tend to pull heavily on US culture and sensibilities. It’s heartening, then, to see a UK developer go big on local atmosphere.

“I know that a lot of early games seemed to be very characterful in a British kind of way, with that kind of Douglas Adams-style humour,” Wells tells me. “But I can’t think of that many games, past or present, that use the place of England as a setting, London sometimes, but not smaller-town England – the recent exception being Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture.”

Without getting too bogged down in questions of identity, Grimsfield is an interesting provocation of sorts. What is a British game? How can developers tell stories about British life? How did Sexy Jim get his name?

Grimsfield is available on itch.io and Steam for £2.99.

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