Dull Grey (PSV) - ReviewAdam Cartwright , posted on 02 May 2021 / 2,391 Views
The title of a videogame often gives away something about its content - Battlefield is about fighting in huge combat arenas, Minecraft is about mining and crafting, and SimCity is a city-building simulation. So with a name like Dull Grey I'd already formed a picture of what the latest visual novel from porting publisher Sometimes You and developer Provodnik Games was going to look like, and just as expected it uses a dull grey colour palette for its visuals. But the word 'dull' was also a precursor for what a boring slog it is to play through too.
In Dull Grey you follow the tale of a young man named Kir, who lives in what appears to be an oppressive Soviet-style state in the near future. Kir is raised by a single mother and his grandma, as his father was a Lamplighter who presumably passed away before the game begins. Throughout the course of the story Kir and his mother will travel from place to place, chatting with people who invariably ask Kir what profession he'll go into once he comes of age - and on each occasion his mother answers for him (the choices being either 'Lamplighter' or 'Tallyman', the latter of which isn't a term I'd heard before so I had to Google the word to understand what it meant).
You'll slowly be introduced to peripheral characters like Uncle Korney, Aunt Tamara, and a young girl named Yana, as you venture through the desolate landscape of this seemingly post-apocalyptic world, but none of them feel like real people - they're just there to hammer home Dull Grey's central theme, which is about choice; what a luxury it is to have options, and how different life can be as a result of the choices we make. Those are, of course, important messages, but that's literally all the game has to offer; an idea that it explores through a pair of narrative decisions (which eventually expand to become multiple options as Kir begins to rebel), without anything else substantial in terms of plot.
I suppose the area where Dull Grey exceeds most is its world, which is an interesting place that raised plenty of questions while I was playing. These included: why are there sentient robots that are asking Kir what he wants to do? Why are Lamplighters in such great demand? Where is the ‘dream city’ of Algova? And why is this place Kir finds himself in (called Thermal) run by such a totalitarian regime? While you’ll get some answers to these and more questions while playing, Dull Grey prefers to leave things up to your own interpretation in its narrow pursuit of its choice-based central message. Plus, with a run-time of about 15 minutes per playthrough, there just isn't time to explore any deeper.
The world-building probably isn’t helped by the fact that the art style is so uninteresting, which severely limits its appeal. I understand that in order to portray a downtrodden Soviet-inspired country properly you have to make some drab choices, but there’s just no excitement to anything in this title. Games like Papers, Please have managed to cover similar subject matter - with a monochromatic colour palette as well - but in so much more style. Even the rather disappointing Need a Packet? is better in this respect. All you’re presented with is text and some basic black & white imagery (which consists mostly of silhouettes of people and places), and I really wasn’t a fan of this approach.
There are also technical issues, at least with the Vita port I played. There are multiple endings (you can comply with the system and lead Kir into a life of misery, or make him happy by giving him some choice, or become a system-destroying rebel), but in chasing these the game glitched on me and stopped displaying text. I was even given some placeholder images that said things like “this is all the screen displays after rebooting”, which required me to restart from the beginning rather than reloading my save to fix the problem. And that really was a fitting way to conclude my experience with Dull Grey – on a note of frustration, convinced that my time would be better spent elsewhere.
This review is based on a digital copy of Dull Grey for the PSV, provided by the publisher.