I'm usually not one for artsy games. I care about the mechanics of a game first and foremost. The narrative comes second, and elements like graphics and sound are a distant third. I got to play GRIS (developed by Nomada Studio and published by Devolver Digital) at a press event with an open mind, skeptical that I'd find it an engaging experience.
Just recently, a preview build of GRIS made its way to me. Intrigued to see how the final product turned out as compared to that demo build, I dove in. I can certainly say that what they've come up with is a much richer, well-rounded experience. Take a peek at the Reveal Trailer to get a feel for what it's like:
Your adventure begins with the titular protagonist singing to a gigantic statue that is in quite a sorry state. In the midst of her song, an unseen force assails the statue and shatters it to pieces. These scenes render in classic 24 fps animation, just like you'd see in the fine motion pictures of yesteryear (and even some of them coming out today).
A neat little graphical trick transitions from an animated cutscene to the playable world. After quite a fall, Gris lands in the desert with a dejected look on her face. Not a word has been uttered, but it's clear that this statue was important to her and she's understandably sullen about it breaking. She stumbles as she moves onward, eventually hitting a stride and giving you the ability to explore this beautiful world.
Normally, picking out screenshots to use in an article is a chore. With GRIS, I find myself positively spoiled for choice. Even the most mundane of scenery is beautiful in its own way. The larger set pieces - shown off by the camera helpfully zooming out - are absolutely breathtaking. The mix of traditional animation, computer graphics, and particle effects all seamlessly blend together into one gorgeous package.
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Trees serve as platforms in many areas of the world. Those on the left change shape periodically, creating a timed platform puzzle. The one on the right is simply a nice design.
That's not to say GRIS is devoid of meaningful gameplay. It handily fits into the puzzle platformer category with just a dash of Metroidvania. Your early experience focuses on collecting stars that can form constellations in the world, helpfully bridging impassable gaps. These stars spirit away to the sky at certain points in the game, forming a much larger picture that fills out as you make your way through this ethereal experience.
Later on, you'll acquire some special abilities. The first that comes to mind is called "Heavy" in the options menu. Gris' dress changes into a cube and she'll fall down to the ground with a thud. A double jump and glide come at the same time a little later on. The ability to swim (quite helpful for the game's underwater sections) comes not too long after that.
The double jump and glide should be well-familiar to any player of platformers - strictly speaking, GRIS doesn't do anything particularly new with this mechanic alone. It is, however, occasionally combined with environmental effects like the wind to make for some challenging jumps.
Heavy, on the other hand, is used in a number of much more interesting ways. It's immediate and most obvious use is rapidly dropping yourself to the ground which can be used to break things underneath you like pottery or cracked floors. Secondary to that is the ability to resist strong winds trying to push you off course. The ability also makes you, well, heavy. The added weight is occasionally put into play manipulating pendulums or the mechanisms of strange machines in the world.
Something I found positively striking about GRIS is the complete lack of any obvious checkpoints or levels. I played the entire preview build in two sessions, but every single transition between areas is marked by just a cutscene at most. The transitions between the game, in-game cutscenes, and animated cutscenes are so seamless that I can't honestly tell you which was which.
Gris will make her way back to a similar statue (or perhaps the same one) at a few points. Her presence there will result in an explosion of a particular color, signaling the transition into a new stage of the game. The menu definitely splits everything into chapters, but I couldn't for the life of me tell you where one ends and one begins. It's a seamless experience.
It took me a hair under three hours to play through the preview build of GRIS from start to finish. In that time, nary a word is said or spoken. Our protagonist sings and you'll get a tooltip when you acquire a new ability, but other than that it's a completely wordless adventure.
The well-designed sound evokes the sort of otherworldly feeling that surrounds every aspect of the world. The music is certainly a highlight of this title, perfectly complimenting each of the world's various locations.
If it sounds like I'm gushing over GRIS, well... I am. It's a fantastic game with an alluring aesthetic. The thoughtful puzzle design blew away all of my concerns about this being a walking simulator.
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The Heavy ability gets a lot of mileage in the game. It can manipulate the world in different ways, like bending this antenna. Later on, the ice caverns will flash freeze an after-image of your character, allowing you to create a temporary platform.
That's not to say I don't have my complaints. They're few in number and almost comically petty compared to the grand scheme of things, but I feel the need to address them nonetheless.
There was a single point in the entire experience where the animation felt a little rough. I played it with my keyboard and there is indeed the ability to rebind keys, but you can only access the options menu once you're actually in the game. I lost track of my character on one particularly-large screen and I got a bit lost at one of the world's larger sections towards the end. Finally, there's only a solitary save slot.
Aside from some occasional frustration at puzzles (which is frankly par for the course with that kind of gameplay), GRIS was a near-perfect experience that was thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish.
GRIS's planned release will hit in December of 2018. It's well worth playing if you're the sort who can appreciate a Journey-esque experience: short with moderately challenging gameplay but a masterfully crafted world and narrative that can bring tears to your eyes. It certainly did to mine.
TechRaptor covered GRIS on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developer.
What do you think of GRIS? Do you enjoy short, well-crafted experiences or do you prefer games where you can spend hundreds of hours playing? Let us know in the comments below!