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Return to Grace (XS)

By Evan Norris 07th Mar 2024 | 1,925 views 

Moon walk.

Reviewer's Note: Return to Grace was reviewed on an Xbox Series S.

Return to Grace couldn't be more topical. Focused on the responsibilities, limitations, opportunities, and drawbacks of artificial intelligence, it feels particularly relevant in a world abuzz with excitement and anxiety over fast-moving advancements in AI technology. Developed by Creative Bytes Studios and released originally on PC last year, the game asks intriguing, difficult questions about robotic intelligence, human nature, and the nexus between the two.

Set on Ganymede (the third moon of Jupiter) in the year 3820, Return to Grace follows archaeologist Adie Ito as she attempts to find "Grace", an artificial intelligence that presided over a golden age of humanity in the solar system hundreds of years prior. Knowledge of Grace's location, purpose, and fate was lost during a subsequent dark age, but Adie is hell-bent on finding answers. However, when she finds the superstructure that previously housed the AI, she discovers only more questions — along with a collection of AI sub-routines that broke away from Grace in the intervening years. Together with these fractured pieces, the intrepid archaeologist attempts to unravel a mystery centuries in the making.

As a science fiction story, Return to Grace is fairly good. The inhospitable, icy moon of Ganymede is a strong setting and the mystery of Grace's disappearance serves as a powerful engine for forward momentum. Some of the ideas and technologies introduced here could use more unpacking, and the game is typically more engaging on an emotional level than an intellectual one, but overall you should enjoy your brief time with the narrative.

You should certainly enjoy the cast of characters that accompanies Adie on her quest. While physically alone, Adie is joined virtually by several artificially intelligent pieces of Grace, each with a unique personality, purpose, and priority. Together, these AI characters represent the best part of the game. They're quirky, sympathetic constructs that display a surprising amount of humanity. They're also voiced convincingly by an impressive cast of voice actors, including Athena Karkanis and Alexandra Ordolis.

In terms of story and character, Return to Grace acquits itself well. On the gameplay front, though, it doesn't provide a lot of challenge or depth. This is a true "walking simulator" that's much more interested in mood, atmosphere, and immersion than anything else. As a result the mechanics are oriented around movement, exploration, and dialogue — not athletic or mental trials. There are a handful of "puzzles", but they're fleeting and uninteresting. At times, you must repeat a code based on flashing lights, or hack an audio log by moving an icon on your wrist display. It's all very unimaginative and far too easy. 

As a result, you'll fly through the game, unimpeded. Expect to see the end credits roll in just three hours. Creative Bytes Studios somewhat compensates for this brevity with several narrative junctures, at which point the player must make a choice that affects how the story branches, how Adie connects with different AIs, and, ultimately, which one of three possible endings you'll see. Still, a longer running time would help elevate the game, by providing more opportunities for problem-solving, philosophical musings, and world-building.

To be fair to the studio, it did manage to create a provocative far-future fictional world, even without the extra hours needed to fully elaborate upon its technological, political, and religious trajectories. Much of that successful world-building comes from the game's unique production design: a sort of retro-futuristic vibe that resembles what a futurologist living in the late 1960s thought the year 2800 might look like. There's a lot of brass and wood paneling, interspersed with space-age hardware.

The production design ends up doing a lot of heavy lifting because the graphics aren't overly impressive. Make no mistake: this isn't a bad-looking game. It just suffers at times from stark lighting and unconvincing textures.

As a commentary on artificial intelligence, and as a science-fiction mystery tale, Return to Grace is a thought-provoking experiment. The questions it asks are compelling, the virtual characters it introduces are endearing, and the retro-futuristic world it proposes is rich in potential. As a first-person adventure game, however, it's less successful, due to perfunctory puzzles, undemanding gameplay, and a short running time. As a result, it's primarily for folks who want to spend less time overcoming obstacles and more time vibing with a good story.

VGChartz Verdict


This review is based on a digital copy of Return to Grace for the XS

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