Games Review: Gris is a beautiful, wordless ode to overcoming trauma

Gris is pretty special experience. It’s a game with a lot to say, but never actually says a word out loud. Instead, Gris uses its strident, beautiful art style to convey its every thought — linework, animation and colour all have a part to play in this story about finding your way back from a significant personal trauma.

In terms of its presentation, pacing and design, Gris owes a debt to Journey. Your character has no central objective to chase, no guiding light atop a distant mountain to reach. She begins in a greyscale world, the blue of her hair the only spot of colour. She moves forward because she has no option but to do so. In doing this, your character begins to recover little parts of herself; the ability to become an unmovable stone manifests first, followed by the ability to double jump, to rise above.

Each new action allows her to progress a little further, the beginning and end of each level denoted by a large statue of a woman, hand outstretched, her head badly damaged. The discovery of these statues returns a single shade of colour to the game’s palette, and this colour becomes the theme for the next section. These colours stack over time, turning the game from a subdued, bleak landscape into a beautiful canvas.

Gris makes clever use of each new colour, creating biomes to navigate that from undulating forests to complex, angular lines that resemble building scaffolding. It’s not always obvious where you should go next, the level design sometimes asking you to spend a moment learning to read it. What looks like a ramp may not be a ramp at all. Some climbable areas have a visual cue to help the player. Some don’t. Sometimes what looks like a ramp isn’t a ramp at all.

Special praise must be given to the game’s score. Another area it has in common with Journey, Gris‘ soundtrack takes the game’s contemplative, slow-growth vibe and infuses it with a kind of grandeur. It starts small, only a few instruments peeking through, but grows in scope and complexity with each colour returned to the palette. It’s great work and composer Marco Albano is to be congratulated on their wonderful work. Honestly, give it a listen, you won’t regret it.

Gris is a masterclass in design restraint. Each mechanic feels as though it has been carefully chosen to amplify each element of the game’s wordless story. It’s beautiful work, and I’ve been thinking about it for weeks. Play Gris, you’ll regret it if you don’t.

FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Highlights: Beautiful visuals and score; Clever design
Lowlights:
Some players may become frustrated with the lack of direction
Developer:
Nomada Studio
Publisher:
Devolver Digital
Platforms:
Nintendo Switch, Windows PC, Mac OS X
Available:
Now

Review conducted on Nintendo Switch.

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David Smith

David Smith is the games and technology editor at The AU Review. He has previously worked as a freelance games journalist and critic, appearing on PC World Australia. He tweets at @RhunWords and plays the odd game at twitch.tv/RhunWords when the internet works.