Psychological walking simulator thrillers are becoming a fairly common concept for developers looking at getting under the skin and inside the heads of players. Gray Dawn is the latest title to throw its hat into the psychological walking simulator thriller ring, offering players a more religious and spiritual take on the sub-genre, and despite its rather generic foundations it does provide an interesting and unique narrative-driven experience, even if it does commit a few sins along the way.
Set on Christmas Eve 1920, Gray Dawn’s premise centres around a priest, Father Abraham, and a young altar boy named David (no it’s not what you’re thinking). Father Abraham is in charge of a local orphanage located in a remote village in England when David goes missing. Reports on the radio are quick to blame Father Abraham for David’s disappearance, as well the deaths of other children who were staying at the orphanage. However things aren’t what they seem, with Father Abraham experiencing the presence of a demonic force, which is reminding him of his past wrongdoings. With the help of David’s divine apparition, Father Abraham must face his demons and discover the truth about David’s disappearance.
Throughout his search for answers, Father Abraham will be transported to remote areas of Romania, which will help him form a link between the events that have unfolded. These areas form part of David’s world and range between snow-capped cemeteries to lush woodland areas, and here Father Abraham must explore his surroundings to find the pieces of the puzzle. Each area has a meaning, and whether it’s a church in the middle of nowhere or a hidden crypt in remote Romania, you’ve been brought there for a reason – answers. Your journey will also take place inside your church and its neighbouring areas, with remnants of your past refusing to let you go however far you may roam.
Despite some B-grade voice acting, Gray Dawn’s story is well-written and quite compelling at times. There’s a nice little twist at the end that some sharper minds may see coming, and for the most part the story unfolds at a steady pace up until the end of the 7-8 hour campaign when it starts to drag on like a Sunday mass and becomes a bit convoluted.
Is this the house of the Lord?
Developers Interactive Stone have done an excellent job of nailing the game’s atmosphere thanks to some super impressive photorealistic visuals. Whether it’s blood-soaked bedroom walls, the snow-laden grounds of the church or the Romanian wilderness, the level of detail brings the game’s world to life and takes the game’s immersion to another level. For an indie game it’s crazy how good this game looks, managing to even outshine many AAA titles in this regard. The game’s soundtrack further enhances the atmosphere’s immersion thanks its dark and poignant string and piano compositions.
The gameplay is pretty bog standard for a game of this ilk. You’ll explore your surroundings, come across items to interact with and solve puzzles to progress. It’s all rather simple and none of the puzzles are particularly challenging, despite the varying nature of them. Some require items to be found and used in particular order, while others are literal puzzles that need to be pieced together. Occasionally these sequences feel like they’ve been inserted to simply give the player something to do, and while the puzzles and objectives start off somewhat stimulating, by the end of it can feel more like chore.
I never knew Romania was so beautiful
Gray Dawn’s religious-heavy premise certainly does give it point of difference compared to the plethora of similar titles available on Steam, and it is one that largely delivers an interesting enough narrative despite dragging its feet at the end. If you can sit through the lacklustre voice acting and gameplay, you’ll find a story that is both confronting and intriguing, and a world that is rich with detail and striking visuals.
Reviewed on PC / Review code supplied by publisher