GRIS has been on my wishlist for a long time, now. I only had to see a few screenshots of the game and a brief clip of it in motion to know I needed to play it. When GRIS suddenly came to Xbox Game Pass earlier this year, it made a sudden surge up the backlog and found its way into my hands immediately after finishing my review of Forza Motorsport (2023).
What followed was one of the most unforgettable gaming experiences of my life. GRIS is brief, and it lacks a concrete narrative. There is no spoken dialogue or written text. Instead, it is a heartbreaking tale of grief, sorrow, and hope, told through an impossibly gorgeous world of graceful lines and splotches of watercolor, punctuated by a breathtaking and emotional musical score and some of the loveliest animation work I've ever seen in a video game.
Strangely enough, it shares several of these traits with the game I played immediately after it, most notably in that I consider both titles to be utter masterpieces. In other ways, though, the games couldn't be more different. (In case you were curious, that other game is the puzzle-adventure title COCOON, and I reviewed it).
Returning color to a breathing world
GRIS opens like moving art, introducing you to its world through emotion-laden melodies and a vibrant liquid color palette barely contained within softly drawn lines. The emotional stakes are wrought by graceful animations, translated through beautifully designed symbolism and metaphors. You are Gris, and you have lost someone dear to you, someone who cared for you, someone to whom you looked up. You are Gris, and all the color and sound in your world has been replaced by grief.
The game begins in a grey, desolate world only grounded by the destruction surrounding you. It takes time to move, it takes time to walk, and it takes time to run, but you do eventually. From then, you begin a journey through diverse biomes full of life and mystery, marked by the ruins and machinery of an enigmatic civilization, to return color to your world and recover your voice and strength. Each area symbolizes one of the five stages of grief (this game was made before two more stages were acknowledged), and by progressing through each area you will learn more about the world, gain a new ability to help you navigate it, and rediscover a missing color.
Every moment, every scene, and every movement is punctuated by the unbelievably beautiful art design that GRIS fully embraces and embodies. Things don't have color — they bleed color, spreading throughout the world in mesmerizing splotches. Things don't move — they dance, transforming and swirling with such grace it leaves you stunned. Music doesn't play — it feels, swelling and subsiding in perfect rhythm with the events of the world, bringing audible emotion to each moment (seriously, you'll want one of the best Xbox headsets for this one). GRIS may be the most visually stunning video games I've ever played; GRIS is art.
Absolutely every element of this game's visual and audible experience is curated to elevate its story, one of loss, grief, the slow and painful journey of healing (but never being healed), and hope. You'll constantly find new meaning in what would be mundane in other games, and discover more signs that tell you just how much Gris lost, and how much she is hurting because of it.
The world of GRIS is not real; it doesn't even look very much like our own. GRIS plays with our rules of reality, of gravity, even of light itself. You'll even forget what it means to breathe. Again, it's because everything in this world is telling a story, while also being a video game that players can enjoy. The platforming is laid back and relaxed, but the game's mechanics and puzzles are surprisingly engaging. Most impressive, however, is how essentially anyone can experience GRIS.
A journey that anyone can take
GRIS is a highly approachable game, even if it does lack some in accessibility. Still, no meaningful user interface or any dialogue and text means language matters little here, especially when the simple control scheme dynamically appears when needed using easy-to-understand symbols and animations. There are many platforming segments, but they're rarely technically advanced. There are no fail states in GRIS, either, nor is there combat.
It's a relaxing game that focuses on the story it's telling, but the core experience is still fun to play. It can be difficult to understand how to progress at times, but for the most part simply moving forward is all that's needed. GRIS is not a game for those that require skill-based challenge, but it is a game for everyone else, and I greatly enjoyed playing it.
GRIS is also readily available on basically every modern gaming platform, including Xbox, Windows PC, PlayStation, and Nintendo Switch, for a very reasonable price of just $16.99. Also, it's available through Xbox and PC Game Pass, and can be streamed through Xbox Cloud Gaming. It couldn't be easier to play, and I can't recommend it enough.
Emotionally devastating at times, but full of hope
GRIS made me very emotional. A few times. The conclusion of GRIS brought me to tears, as well as the person who was watching me play a lot of the game. The hidden ending found by collecting every secret (known as Mementos) succeeded in bringing me to tears again, despite its brevity. If GRIS had come out this year, it'd join my shockingly packed list of the best Xbox games of 2023. Instead, it'll join Citizen Sleeper as being one my favorite gaming experiences this year that released in the past.
I may have played GRIS thanks to Xbox Game Pass, but I will absolutely be purchasing this game to permanently join my library. Yes, even though I finished it, even though I found every secret and 100% the achievements. GRIS is too good not to buy — so good I felt compelled to write this article on it during one of the busiest times of the year. I wrote this on one of the few days off I've had lately (I may have a problem with my work/life balance).
Seriously, go play GRIS. It's beautiful.
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Zachary Boddy (They / Them) is a Staff Writer for Windows Central, primarily focused on covering the latest news in tech and gaming, the best Xbox and PC games, and the most interesting Windows and Xbox hardware. They have been gaming and writing for most of their life starting with the original Xbox, and started out as a freelancer for Windows Central and its sister sites in 2019. Now a full-fledged Staff Writer, Zachary has expanded from only writing about all things Minecraft to covering practically everything on which Windows Central is an expert, especially when it comes to Microsoft. You can find Zachary on Twitter @BoddyZachary.