Interactive Stone is new to the video game industry, but you wouldn’t know that from their debut title, Gray Dawn. A psychological thriller with heavy religious elements and a fair bit of satanic happenings, the player is tasked with finding a missing altar boy. In between the ceilings raining toads and tentacles swallowing up the floors, you search for clues as to what set off the nightmare you are trapped in.
Is that You, David?
Gray Dawn mostly takes place in a house and the surrounding woods, with occasional trips to hell and back. You play Father Abraham, who is doing his best to solve several mysteries at once, starting with the disappearance of altar boy David. Set on Christmas Eve in the 1920s, you quickly find out that there have been several murders, and you are believed to be the murderer. In order to save yourself from wrongful persecution, you set off to uncover what really happened.
By solving puzzles and escaping demonic nightmares, you slowly uncover the truth. In first-person view, you witness all the terrible, horrific events Father Abraham has to go through in order to prove his innocence — if he is innocent.
The Beauty of Hell
As expected from a psychological thriller, Gray Dawn relies heavily on visuals to entrance the player. The surroundings you travel through are spectacularly designed. The graphics create a beautiful atmosphere, and the level of detail exceeds expectations. What you see isn’t always what you expect either. This title manages to surprise players more than once. Without giving too much of the gameplay away, performing an action won’t always get the reaction you will expect — this is a major part of the game’s appeal.
From individual engravings on gold washbasins to suspicious blood spatters on bedsheets, the textures and details of Gray Dawn are only second to the compelling use of lighting. This release isn’t without issues completely, as occasionally buggy animations can interfere with the immersion, but overall it is a solid thriller.
Echoes of Despair
The title benefits from superb voice acting and ambient sounds, without coming across as overbearing or unbelievable. The music fits well with the disturbing themes featured in the title and contribute to the suspenseful atmosphere that makes the game great.
For horror and psychological titles, the music and soundtrack can often make the difference between a good game and a spectacular one. While Gray Dawn has a few too many technical flaws to be called spectacular, it cannot be faulted for its musical choices.
Raining Toads and Floating Puddings
Father Abraham often finds himself in biblically-inspired catastrophes. Tentacles trying to swallow up a house, toads raining down and filling up the lower floors, statues bleeding, and exorcisms failing are just some of the many issues the poor man has to go through.
Throughout all of this, there are moments of unexpected hilarity as well — at one point, after you have just gained access to a new part of the house, tableware and decorations start floating away from a table, as does the food on it. A floating pudding gets trapped in a corner for Father Abraham to play football with it. This gives an unintentional break from the seriousness of the situation that actually makes the game better.
Not Quite Perfect
The title, despite all of its great aspects, does have some flaws. The story itself isn’t very long and won’t take more than a few hours to complete. The game frequently shifts from one area to another, transporting players through visions, doors, and even holes in the ground, often when you least expect it. This is effective in keeping things interesting, but could make it difficult to keep up with after a few days of not playing.
Another issue is the ending. It felt mildly unsatisfying and not as surprising as other parts of the game suggested it would be. In fact, quite a few of the twists felt predictable after a while, though this is not as big an issue as it could be — the amount of beautiful detail in the game distracts the player well.
Not for Everyone but for Anyone
Gray Dawn calls itself a horror title, a psychological thriller, and it certainly has elements of that, but it lacks the running, being hunted, and overall villain that many games in the same genre have. It occasionally feels like a walking simulator and Father Abraham spends a lot of time essentially tidying the house and putting things back in their rightful place to advance to a new area.This isn’t always obvious. While items need to be put back in their rightful place, the game occasionally misleads the player into wasting time on something that doesn’t actually help them progress.
The Verdict: Great
Gray Dawn has a broader appeal than might be expected, precisely because it isn’t your standard horror title. It creates an amazing atmosphere and gripping suspense without using (too many) clichés, and the slow, well-paced progression creates a unique feel with great appeal.