Gris took my breath away.
All of the crowds, the noise, the competing video screens in my peripheral vision at the crowded expo hall faded away into the background as I sat transfixed at the game in front of me. The people behind me watching may have been annoyed, as I would often just pause and soak in the scene in front of me. I can say without reservation that Gris was the most beautiful game I played at PAX West 2018.
Gris is essentially Conrad Roset‘s vision translated to the screen. An accomplished watercolor artist from Barcelona, Spain, Roset had always wanted to see his work in video games. When he met ex-Square Enix and Ubisoft developers, Adrian Cuevas and Roger Mendoza, a natural union formed and Nomada Studio was born. Cuevas and Mendoza had worked on games such as Hitman and Assassin’s Creed that focus on killing, and they were looking for a change.
Through their collaboration, the idea for Gris (Spanish for gray) was born. Gris is a hopeful young girl lost in her own world, dealing with a painful experience in her life. Her journey through sorrow is manifested in her dress, which grants new abilities to better navigate her faded reality. As the story unfolds, Gris will grow emotionally and see her world in a different way, revealing new paths to explore using her new abilities.
Conrad Roset’s art gives the game its sense of loss in subtle ways, using empty spaces and towering spindly otherworldly crumbling architecture to evoke a once vibrant world now lonely and quiet. The haunting ephemeral mood is complemented by the soundtrack by Berlinist, giving the already dreamlike landscapes an added layer of airy melancholy mixed with hope.
Though ample credit must be given to the artists for the feel and mood of the game, the game design is intricately woven into the experience. Gris jumps through the world in a floaty but controlled manner that gives her character the feeling of being delicate without being fragile. This is a woman who will bend but not break, who will ride the fierce wind like a hawk’s feather to land unscathed at her destination.
There was no direct confrontation in the demo I played. When a giant bird pursued Gris she did not fight it but instead harnessed the wind from its wings to push her further to her goal. Death and frustration are not a part of this game, you are free to soar with Gris through impossibly beautiful castles, hills and caves. In the slice I played, simple puzzles were solved by collecting light orbs that trailed behind me. These orbs would form light bridges where the structures had crumbled away, and the puzzles never felt too “videogamey” or took me out of the serene experience.
Playing Gris was an evocative sorrowful yet uplifting dream I did not want to wake up from, and I can’t wait to experience more of it.