Platform: PlayStation 4
Review Date: 3/5/20
"Gris" is an artsy, metaphorical journey through the various psychological stages of grief. If you enjoy emotionally contemplative games like "Journey" (2012), "Abzû" (2016), "Bound" (2016), and "Vane" (2019), then this is right up your alley. The game opens with a young woman who has lost her voice as well as her agency. She barely has the energy or motivation to walk, and sometimes just collapses into a sad and helpless heap. Her environment is barren and completely colorless. As she moves through the various stages of grief, she gains more power and abilities, and starts bringing color and life back into her dead world.
It's a simple 2D platforming game that knowingly owes a lot to "Journey." Even the main character design is similar. The artwork is stunning and I was constantly moved by the juxtaposition of beauty and despair. The beautifully sad music is also reminiscent of Austin Wintory's work in "Journey" and "Abzû." The pacing is methodically and intentionally slow, which allows you to reflect on your situation and the effect that you have on the environment. The gameplay is gentle and there's no way to get hurt or fail, so mistimed jumps can simply be repeated until you get them right. The toughest part is actually determining what surfaces you can interact with. The journey is very linear and there's no way to backtrack, so trying to collect anything that you missed requires multiple playthroughs. That's not a big deal, since you can finish the game in 3-5 hours and a convenient chapter select feature becomes available after your first playthrough.
Games like this are open to a wide range of interpretation. I'm a very literal and analytical person, so symbolic and metaphorical games like this tend to go way over my head. But critical interpretive analysis isn't required to enjoy the game, since it works perfectly well as just a pretty looking platformer with some nice emotional hooks. Initially, I thought the game was about trauma or a traumatic experience. I thought the recurring statues in the game were manifestations of the character's emotional state, and how she's finally able to leave those feelings behind. But if you track down all of the mementos and enter a secret room at the end of the game, the statues are revealed to be someone intimately close to her. That made me reconsider the game as a journey of crippling loss, and how the character moves through her grief to finally be able to make peace with that person, let her go, and move on with her own life. Obviously, everyone will get something different out of a game that's as purposely vague as this is. I enjoyed it quite a bit, and the relaxed pace was a welcomed break from the relentless intensity of other games I'd recently played.