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By Thomas Froehlicher 18th Dec 2019 | 2,982 views
Praised by the critic at launch, Nomada Studio's artistic game GRIS has finally come to the best-selling current-gen console, the PlayStation 4. GRIS won the prize for "Impact" at The Game Awards, so this is a good occasion to see if there's substance behind its flattering reputation. Is it all about its wonderful art style, or does GRIS offer something more?
A modest 2D platformer at first sight, GRIS is first and foremost a splendid visual achievement. Its artistic endeavors make it comparable to former hits like Journey, The Unfinished Swan or Child of Light, which also all had unique identities. The first appeal of Nomada Studio's work lies in its forms, because GRIS heavily uses geometrical forms and simple outlines in the display, as well as in its level architecture. In the landscapes, you can also notice effects close to hand-drawing or watercolor painting. The strong sense of symmetry is another key element in GRIS's very peculiar and refined pictorial identity.
Visual dynamics is another genius stroke from Nomada Studio. As the young girl you control progresses through the level, the camera often zooms and unzooms to reveal gigantic and breathtaking landscapes, or simply focusses on the heroine and her torments. Sometimes, the game also suddenly accelerates the pace to startle the player and offer different sensations. The music does exactly the same thing - discreet most of time, it becomes livelier and adopts heavier tones when danger comes close or certain milestones are reached. This is very much similar to how Disney's famous movie Fantasia mixes music and storytelling.
Despite its title, GRIS is actually quite colorful (it was developed in Barcelona, where "gris" means grey). The name refers to the young girl's quest for primary colors that have been lost in her world. This means that, at first, the game is made up of various shades of grey, but soon the red is added to transform the scenery, and other colors are also eventually unlocked. The red zone alone is fairly impressive, but all four colors together are an incredible sight to behold. The colors are placed very harmoniously, so much so that GRIS feels like a long collection of works of modern art.
GRIS is beautiful, but it's also a videogame, so there's something to do beyond simply looking at it. It's a platform, but Nomada Studio has created gameplay that doesn't rely on platforming alone, but which also includes dense puzzles to be solved. In order to clear a level, you need to find hidden light spheres which are scattered in difficult-to-reach places. The girl also eventually acquires various powers, like a heavy armor that can break floors or be used as counterweight in some mechanisms. Each of these abilities is used in very different and clever ways to renew the puzzle elements, which makes GRIS quite well paced in terms of gameplay.
It's also fairly unique in the gaming world as it doesn't display a single line of text. And yet even without deploying a single letter or word Nomada Studio's title still manages to convey strong feelings throughout its short run time (it takes less than 10 hours to clear). The main subject matter is sadness, represented very clearly by the numerous statues showing women in despair. The world of GRIS is also bleak and desolate; the girl's journey is poetic but she's all alone and faces a crucial truth at the end.
GRIS is exactly what gaming needs more of. It's a poetic adventure that doesn't rely on violence to hold the players' attention and it boasts an original concept, but above all it represents beauty more than any other game in recent years. Available for a low price, and now with trophy support on PS4, you're likely to enjoy it from the first to the last second for its lyricism and its sensitiveness. GRIS did indeed have a strong "impact" on my heart and mind.