Out now on Xbox One/Series S/X (version tested) & PC – Developed and published by Interactive Stone – 1 Player
It’s Christmas time at the turn of the 20th century. A priest sits alone in his chambers, haunted by his thoughts. The wireless plays haunting seasonal music and a murder of crows sit on the window ledge outside. The music stops as a voice from the wireless accuses the priest of murdering children, and things soon start to take a demonic turn. Gray Dawn is an intriguing adventure into the realms of heaven, hell, and purgatory. A first person puzzle adventure steeped in religious imagery and mythology. Assuming control of the priest, you set out to confront demons, both literal and figurative, as you uncover the truth of what happened to the children and clear your name. As the game progresses we are taken through the aforementioned ideas of the afterlife, in an attempt to save the souls of the children that were lost, as well as your own.
Normally when religious horror is depicted, it’s the usual western christian ideas, however Gray Dawn takes an eastern European influence giving us a different perspective on the ideals and beliefs we are used to. These are presented in a first person perspective, and the worlds are navigated by solving puzzles and finding items that will help you delve deeper into the mystery. It’s quite engaging for the most part, with some lovely scenery and architecture, coupled with visions of hell, miracles and flashbacks. The serene scenery is often counteracted by the bleak story and heavy subject matter, though. It doesn’t leave too much to the imagination, and sometimes it can feel a bit too much. Although that shouldn’t detract from what is quite an engaging puzzle game. It’s great seeing the mystery unravel as you progress through the game, with the wonderful depictions of heaven being a nice contrast to the bleak story and descent into the underworld. The Romanian influence on some of the games’ settings and structures makes for a bold and vivid look at eastern European Christianity, and its use of religious mythology can be wonderfully dark at times.
Unfortunately it’s not without its issues (although an update has been released since writing). The game does suffer with its functionality at times, such as the on screen reticle disappearing, meaning you can’t see if certain items can be picked up or collected, and textures taking a long time to load in, in each new environment you enter. Even something as simple as opening a door can be a cumbersome affair at times. Standing in the way of an opening door will cause it to stop its action, meaning it will only stay halfway open, forcing you to close and open it again, which does get a tad tiresome. Couple that with a voice over that sounds more like the VO is reading a book rather than a script, and things can feel quite wooden. These issues don’t impact too much on the overall gameplay, and some may have already been addressed.
While it only took a few hours to complete the first play through, multiple endings, collectibles and secret areas mean there is plenty of longevity to the game, and gives you a good reason to return. It also means you’re not devoting all of your free time to it either. In a time when games can take weeks to complete, it’s nice to be able to enjoy an intriguing mystery in just a few sittings. If you enjoyed the likes of Gone Home or What Remains of Edith Finch, and fancy something a little darker, then you can do a lot worse than give Gray Dawn a try.