I first encountered GRIS at the invitation of Devolver Digital in a little art gallery in New York City. This gorgeous game developed by Nomada Studio held my attention for the duration of its short demo and I was quite keen on being able to play the full thing. In this GRIS review, I'll be doing my best to wrap my head around what exactly this game is all about. It's best to go in blind and I've tried my best to preserve as much of the mystery as possible.
One of the first things you'll notice about GRIS is that it's utterly gorgeous. The game's visuals are undoubtedly its strongest asset. This unique artistic style evokes watercolor paintings and classic hand-drawn animation. Indeed, much of the game is hand-drawn animation, albeit done in a digital format. This is most evident when you notice the cutscenes run at a cinematic 24 frames per seconds, hearkening back to the days of film.
That's not to say that the game is devoid of gameplay. If you're reading this GRIS review to see how much of a walking simulator it might be, worry not - there is plenty of actual gameplay in this title from Nomada Studio. You'll face plenty of lightly-challenging platforming sections and the occasional puzzle that will take a moment or two to figure out.
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This is technically my second time playing through the game as I had already gone through it once for our preview. My first playthrough was positively full of wonder at the beautiful scenery and cinematics and I can say with confidence that it holds up just as well for the second go-round.
I was able to pick out all sorts of subtle details that had escaped my notice the first time. Various lamps, baubles, plants, and other objects will move and make a sound when you touch them. There's no reason they do this outside of making the world feel just a little more alive. The wildlife you encounter is equally enchanting and much of it wouldn't look out of place in a Tim Burton movie. Nomada Studio lovingly created a fantastical world.
GRIS builds momentum slowly, layering on new colors, movement abilities, and challenges to complete. Each level adds on new colors to the initially-bland world and brightens things up considerably, although "level" may not be the best choice of word - the entirety of this adventure is a seamless experience. It's sometimes difficult to tell where one chapter ends and another begins save for the handful of cutscenes that mark an obvious transition.
Movement throughout the game is exactly what you'd expect from any Metroidvania. You begin with the ability to run at a slow pace and jump. This is later supplemented with several powers. You gain the ability to transform into a cube. This makes you heavier, allows you to walk through high winds and lets you smash through certain floors. A double jump and glide give you another layer of mobility. You later get the ability to swim, and the game's last stage restores your ability to sing. This singing ability is mostly used to activate various boosters or platforms in the world. It also has the nice aesthetic effect of causing certain plants to bloom.
These abilities are critical for solving the game's various puzzles. I'm far from a puzzling expert and I'm not necessarily super fond of the genre. Even so, I found the puzzles in GRIS lacking in any meaningful challenge. You can't really fail them, at most you'll end up having to repeat a very short section to make another attempt. It is in these moments that I found the walking speed to be agonizingly slow.
This freedom from failure makes GRIS a relatively leisurely game - but it also makes it utterly devoid of any serious challenge. A later section sees you pursued by a terrifying ink creature underwater. I had done it once before and did my best to dodge in a panic. Come the time of my GRIS review, I had a thought - what would happen if I did nothing at all? I took my hands off the controls and found (much to my disappointment) that I escaped unscathed.
If you care about mechanics first, you'll find GRIS to be a barely serviceable experience in that respect. I usually talk mechanics first and graphics later. The fact that I felt the need to flip these things around should hint towards what the game does better.
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GRIS' gorgeous scenery occasionally presents problems. It was difficult to tell what is a platform and what is not in some areas (left). I occasionally lost track of our heroine in the more-cluttered areas of the game (right).
That's not to say that I didn't enjoy the game - far from it. What I can say is that I personally don't find much in the way of replay value with GRIS. I can see someone playing through it once to experience and a second time to get the collectibles, but you probably won't go through it again beyond that. It took me less than 3 hours to get through the game both times without attempting to explore every nook and cranny. It's certainly a short game, but every single minute was an astonishingly beautiful, high-quality experience.
There is certainly some sort of narrative in GRIS. You lose the ability to sing and the world falls apart around you. As you move through the world, you restore color to the scenery around you, gain new powers, and face terrifying foes. I could opine on what exactly it all means, but it would just be an interpretation of a relatively abstract, vague story. I think it could be interpreted a dozen different ways and all of them would be equally valid.
GRIS' music was crafted with expertise. It compliments each section well and perfectly compliments the mood of wherever you happen to be. I found GRIS to be an emotional experience that occasionally brought tears to my eyes. It certainly managed it the second time through, albeit not as strongly as when I had first encountered some of the more impactful scenes.
Now that the honeymoon phase is over, my opinion on GRIS has shifted slightly. I still think it's a lovely title and it's sure to be the darling of game journalists and gamers alike. I've certainly shown my fair share of criticism and I can still honestly say that I found it to be a moving story that's well worth playing. Even if you're a mechanics nerd like me who shies away from artsy games.
My only real sticking points in this GRIS review are the lack of replayability and its relative brevity. Still, it packs such a great experience into that short time that it's worth it. Besides, how many people really played Journey more than once?
TechRaptor covered GRIS on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developer.
What did you think of our GRIS review? Do you like the aesthetics of the game? Does the lack of challenge disappoint you or are you happy to enjoy a relaxing game of this sort? Let us know in the comments below!
GRIS features outstanding graphics, beautiful cinematics, and whimsical music. While it lacks in gameplay and replayability, it handily makes up for it in its presentation.
- Utterly Gorgeous
- Fantastic Music
- Emotionally Moving
- Practically No Challenge
- Relatively Short Gameplay
- Not Much Replayability