Devolver Digital is known for getting their hands on interesting games. Sometimes the games are super fun, really strange, or both. Gris is a game that I had the privilege to see in person at the Foley Gallery in NYC in early August. It was fun, definitely strange, and undeniably beautiful.
The facade of the gallery was adorned in art for the game and the interior was covered with dozens of beautiful canvas paintings. Shortly thereafter, I learned that these were images from the game I was about to play. These still images could easily have fit into any art gallery and they wouldn't look out of place. They were certainly much more aesthetically pleasing than the incomprehensible creations I had seen in my last trip to the Museum of Modern Art.
A beautiful animation was being projected on the wall. The woman in the animation was clearly recognizable from the Gris poster. It was certainly pretty, but it gave me absolutely no clue as to what the game was about. It wasn't too long before I was offered the opportunity to go hands-on with the game's demo. I was more than ready to dive in and see what this mysterious title had in store for me.
The demo for Gris that myself (and others) played was comprised of several sections of the game remixed into one short, coherent experience. I played through sections of the game and acquired abilities that everyone else will be able to in the retail version, but the order in which I got them is very different from how it will be in the final product.
A short opening movie greeted me after I had donned headphones. It was the same video that was playing on a loop in the larger room of the gallery. The mysterious girl was singing in a lamentable fashion. The animation seemed very old-school—my intuition told me it was done at 24 or 30 frames per second. I was then dropped into the game world proper.
The protagonist of Gris is an alluring woman who wouldn't look out of place as a princess in a fairy tale. Her face is quite beautiful, but her arms and legs are incredibly thin. A cloak covers her entire body and makes her seem as if she were a ghost that moves through the alien geometries of the game. I spent the first few minutes of the demo simply enjoying the world at a casual pace and working towards picking up three bright lights that were conspicuously placed in important spots.
I had collected the third light and soon found myself in front of an altar. The lights (which had been previously dancing behind me) flew up and formed a triangle, granting me the first of the two power-ups I would get in this game: a combination double-jump and glide. The double-jump was executed in the usual fashion, and I could slow my fall substantially by holding onto the jump button after completing the second leap.
Once I had this first ability, the platforming ramped up in difficulty just a bit. I was on the lookout for enemies and traps, but there didn't seem to be anything that was trying to impede my progress. I made my way through this ethereal world, collecting a fourth light and acquiring my second power—I could now turn into a cube. This would let me resist being pushed around while slowly walking forward, and I could execute a sort of ground pound maneuver from the air.
A bit further on, a number of strange black masses coalesced into a gigantic bird. This was my first encounter with anything resembling an adversary in Gris. I kept pressing on as the bird harassed me and would try to impede my progress in various ways. I ascended a grand tower, the bird had disappeared, and the whole experience was over before I knew it.
I took a few moments to take notes and patiently waited my turn to talk with the sole developer present from Nomada Studio to find out a bit more about the game. Roger Mendoza is a former AI & Gameplay programmer at Ubisoft. He spoke with me in great detail about Gris, so much so that one of the PR people politely reminded the both of us that other people might want to talk to the developer at some point.
Gris is indeed animated at 24 frames per second, at least for the animation bits. The main character (and other things you meet in the world) are done in a traditional animation style. Particle effects and the like are rendered at 60 frames. It creates this interesting contrast between the artsy portions and the "game" portions, making the world feel a little odd in just the right way.
The protagonist was completely wordless throughout my experience, and Mr. Mendoza told me that this was certainly intentional. She sang during the cutscene (and we may very well see more of that later on in the game), but we shouldn't expect her to actually speak any words. (That's certainly one way to cut down on the localization budget!)
There won't be any combat in Gris, either. The game struck me as something akin to a 2-D Journey. The world or its inhabitants will, at worst, inhibit your progress and send you back in the level a little bit. There are no magical glowing checkpoints or anything of the sort; you'll just sort of naturally progress past them in the levels and not even notice.
At the moment, we know for certain that the game will be making its way to the PC and Nintendo Switch. Other consoles might be in the cards, although that will depend on just how well Gris manages out there in the wide world of video games. It certainly made for a compelling experience and I hope that people have the chance to explore this beautiful work of moving art for themselves.
Gris was certainly a beautiful, enjoyable game. We don't yet know what it will cost or when exactly it will come out, but Mr. Mendoza told me that they are on track for a 2018 release. Hopefully, you'll be able to pick up Gris for the PC or Nintendo Switch sometime later this year. It's an experience that you're going to want to play for yourself.
Disclosure: Devolver Digital provided me with transportation, food and drink, and a couple of free posters throughout my time at this event.