Gris could be the most unique game we’ve played in 2018, and it has easily made it to the top of our favorite experiences of the year. This is an amazing feat considering Gris takes less than three hours to complete, you can’t die, and there is zero dialogue. It is the most minimum of video games, being little more than an interactive experience with a few small puzzles.
What makes the game some memorable is its combination of environmental storytelling, art design, and audio expression. Without giving us a single word of dialogue, we understand that Gris is a game about loss, pain, and learning to cope and overcome those sensations.
The art style of the game is the most immediately striking thing about it. It’s hand animated water color art with varying levels of parallax movement in the shading and interaction that is unlike anything else we’ve ever seen. Even more amazingly, this art style is actually used in various ways to tell the story. When the game starts, there is only one color for the world, gray. But as you progress and unlock new levels, you unlock new colors that slowly alter and adjust the game, both from a visual and gameplay perspective. For example, when you reach blue, it begins to rain and floods certain areas of the game.
The animation is incredibly fluid, and the hand-drawn look lends a certain vulnerability to the whole game. It’s less “perfect” than something completely digital, and the marks of human hands greatly enhance the overall look and feel.
Along with the art style, the sound direction of the game is unbelievable. The music is cued to the action on screen and it ebbs and flows from somber and haunting to panicked and explosive, and it weaves between these points with flair and flourish that very few games ever manage. Then as you progress through the story you realize, that just like the colors of the world, your audio experience has slowly been fleshed out and expanded. You hear animal noises, wind, rain and more when at first you heard nothing but sad footsteps in the sand.
This is where all the magic culminates. Despite the lack of a defining spoken or written narrative, the look and the sound of the game comes together in a way that is cohesive and brilliant, and through a few major set piece design elements, it perfectly and succinctly conveys the narrative arc. This narrative is further enforced by the way the game progresses with it’s mechanics. When you begin the game, you can barely walk. From there you learn to run and jump, then you gain an ability to turn into a block and stand your ground.
After that you learn to swim and leap from the water.
It’s this collection of growing skills that make you feel a sense of growth, of progression. When blended with the rapidly expanding visual and audio changes, it almost feels like a sped-up growth through life. You start with no abilities and no information, but then towards the final moments of the game you are fully enveloped in aural and visual splendor, equipped with skills, knowledge and understanding.
After just a few moments, Gris made us excited and intrigued. A few hours later, it left us sad, awed, bemused and satisfied. It is a short experience, but it is also an all-encompassing look at the power of the medium of video games as it relates to artistic storytelling and expression.
We wish we could say more about the story and the experience, but we would hate to rob anyone of the magic of watching, hearing, and understanding for themselves. This game carries a cost of less than $20, making it about the same price as heading to see a movie. Rather fitting when you consider the length and story rollercoaster Gris provides. So, we suggest you consider skipping a trip to a theater, and instead gift yourself a trip through the magnificent adventure that is Gris.
Gris was reviewed on the Project ZR1 PC using a Steam code provided to us.