Ambiguity has its place in art, no matter the medium. When we think of a visually beautiful indie game, whose purpose, story, and setting remains mostly a mystery throughout – just about everything plays into this sense of ambiguity. The art direction, colours used, music, animation, interactivity and so-on. Outside of platform mechanics and easily understood tropes like double jumps and using weight to shift platforms and solve puzzles, GRIS is mostly and predominantly an interactive visual splendour from start to finish.
The sort of experience where the description provided may or may not lead to your own personal investment in the journey of a young woman as she deals with, err, stuff. Heading into most titles of this nature, outside of looking at a trailer or image or two I tend to avoid descriptions. Not based on any sort of ability to decipher or interpret something with clarity, but the opposite of that. GRIS is the sort of game that I tend to feel out, in the literal sense of the word. Let the art, music, and presentation take over. Simple beauty and dream-like qualities appeal to me in and of themselves.
With that in mind it’s difficult to review an experience like GRIS in the traditional sense, without leading to or trying to imbue some form of interpretation into what exactly might be happening at any given moment. Drawing parallels to real-world events, places, faces, or even personal tragedy or challenges. As someone who rarely if ever uses the word I in an article or would even acknowledge themselves outside of a joke or two - this break from that norm isn’t a breakthrough either.
GRIS exists in a dream-like state. Where the sense of escape, hope, and feelings of overcoming some form of adversity can be felt in its warm and cool colours. Alongside the sense of tranquillity and triumph. Of course, these are surface level interpretations, but when coupled with the visual beauty of the world presented, the use of colour, the music – GRIS can become your very own dream-state.
At times the music and visuals and simple act of walking and jumping come together beautifully. And simply too, usually adhering to the most basic form of interactivity this side of, say, pressing a ‘play’ button. Although that may read like a somewhat dry and harsh bit of criticism, it’s in fact the opposite. By creating moments where the art, animation, and music coalesce in time with the simplest of input requirements from the player – it adds to GRIS’s audio-visual dream-like ambition. And it allows the wonderful music to complement the often-striking watercolour art in the way a transcendent music video might.
There’s a sense of space and conductor-like precision to this interplay, and the way that the shapes and colour and animation play off each other is as breathtaking as it is mesmerising.
Contemplative would be another word to describe GRIS, and in bringing up comparisons to say something like Journey or ABZU the 2D framework here allows for more interactivity and puzzles that progress in step or in time with the overall brief experience. But it should be made clear that GRIS isn’t pre-occupied with the game or puzzle-side of things. Often solutions are simple or self-evident, with exploration mostly kept in check outside of the larger, and truth be told, more memorable set pieces. Those times where you get to choose where to go next.
Even though there’s not much going on mechanically that we haven’t seen before, one look or glance at GRIS and you'll feel the opposite – it is something you haven’t seen before. Like a beautiful and minimal watercolour painting or an evocative piece of album art come to life - GRIS is short, sweet, and often inspiring.