ReviewsReview: Dull Grey

Review: Dull Grey

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Is choice an illusion, or do you truly have the freedom to do as you wish? Can you imagine a life where everything is decided for you? What a depressing existence that would be if you had no control over the direction you get to take. Dull Grey tells the story of this problem, and how the people learn to live with it.

Developed by Provodnik Games and published by Sometimes You, this is a depressing and sombre tale of oppression and love. A short Visual Novel set in an industrial Soviet world, its melancholy theme is emphasised by the use of a mainly monochromatic colour scheme and striking imagery.

The surrounding cold wintery mountains that protect your home.

Dull Grey is a sad and touching tale.

Inspired by the worlds of the Strugatsky brothers, and Dostoevsky’s works, Dull Grey is a sad and touching tale that will make you consider your choices. You see life through the eyes of Kir; he is a young man with limited prospects. The government has created a system called the Progress-program. This is their version of “Big Brother” and the robots limit job opportunities. You are assigned a role, and only the strongest willed can break free and find happiness.

To emphasise this theme, a limited amount of dialogue choices is available to you throughout. You will tell your mother, which job you’ll take, and you’ll respond with yes or no. These limitations will frustrate you, but they represent the oppression the protagonist encounters perfectly. On the surface, this is a linear tale that leads you to its heart wrenching conclusion. But, if you take your time to think, and consider your options, you find things aren’t always what they seem. Perhaps there are other paths available to you if you look hard enough.

A slow-paced story.

The story unfolds slowly as every element is repeated. Each section goes full circle back to the question of how Kir sees his future. You may worry that this monotony will bore you. Strangely, it doesn’t, because the story develops even though it appears not to be progressing at all.

You are told of many areas that the characters visit, and the family that they interact with. These bonds add some humanity to what is otherwise an extremely cold and heartless tale. You will experience the people who agree with the system, and those that oppose it. It’s a sinister world where fear and an odd desire to appease overrides your own need for happiness.

Oppressive robots.

Simple art style, but beautifully atmospheric.

What I love about Visual Novels is how easily they convey their meaning through their art style. Some go for OTT sexualised Manga and Anime looks. And others lean towards a simpler approach. Dull Grey has taken the latter choice. The crisp lines, mainly monochromatic palette and silhouetted images sell the theme perfectly. Every scene is told using a still image. Unlike many other Visual Novels, this one doesn’t use simple animation to show each character’s emotions.

I adored the domineering buildings that towered over the landscape, and the robots that engulfed each scene. Every picture told the tale of an oppressive world, and you didn’t have to read the text to understand what this story was trying to say. As great as the imagery is, it would have not been as strong if it wasn’t for the fantastic audio.

Melancholy tunes play gently as the words form on the screen. The touching sounds demonstrate the sad existence that each character must live with. The gentle pace and minor toned songs capture the cold beauty of the world you observe, and enhance the emotion hidden in the text. When you read a book, you wish to be transported to that place, no matter how depressing. The audio and visual elements did just that in the most simple of ways.

What youngster listens to their parents.

The controls won’t surprise you.

If you are a veteran of the Visual Novel world, then you know they are easy to play. Minimal controller action is required to turn each page. This allows you to enjoy a hot beverage and snacks while playing. Dull Grey’s control system won’t surprise you, the left analogue stick and one button are all you need to get from start to finish. This makes it a relaxing experience, and one that you can play with minimal fuss.

As with most books, once you’ve got to the end you’re unlikely to read it again, unless you loved it of course. The beauty with this genre is the addition of a small achievement list to keep you coming back for more. If you are a completionist, you’ll need to complete many playthroughs, and discover some secrets that elude you the first time you read it.

Dull Grey is a short story that needs to be read.

When I first saw Dull Grey advertised, I didn’t know if I’d like it. The story seemed too depressing, and I didn’t know if I was ready for another “Big Brother” is watching type tale. I’m glad that I tried this short story as it is one that makes you richer for the experience. With a wonderful art style, touching audio, and brilliantly written plot, this is a Visual Novel you must read. Buy your copy here! In a dark world controlled by an oppressive government, freedom is considered a dirty word. Your fate has been decided for you, and there is nothing you can do. Or is there?

SUMMARY

Dull Grey is a depressing short Visual Novel that explores the idea of free will. The world is a dark place when freedom is taken away from you. What existence can you have when you have no ability to choose your path?

+ Striking graphics.
+ Touching audio.
+ A well-written story.
+ Not what it seems.
- I was left wanting more.

(Reviewed on Xbox Series X. Also available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation Vita and PlayStation.)
Daniel Waite
Former editor and reviewer for www.bonusstage.co.uk, I've now found a new home to write my reviews, and get my opinion out to the masses. Still the lead admin for Xboxseriesfans on Facebook and Instagram. I love the gaming world, and writing about it. I can be contacted at [email protected] for gaming reviews.

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