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Gray Dawn (PC) artwork

Gray Dawn (PC) review


"Gray Dawn strikes a terrific balance between psychological terror and glorious wonder."


Gray Dawn (PC) image

Gray Dawn eases you into its madness. It starts you off in familiar territory, surrounded by standard horror game tropes. You play a priest named Abraham, moseying about his office while a murder of crows perches outside his window. Ghostly voices emanate from his radio, blood oozes from some of the room's decor and a dummy's gaze follows him while he walks. There's even an elaborate network of chains sealing the door, hearkening back to Silent Hill 4. Thankfully, you should be able to guide Father Abraham to a key in short order and exit the initial room. That's when everything goes to hell...

Frogs fall from the ceiling, rain somehow pours indoors and water inundates the lower floors. Monstrous imagery appears all around the corridor, including demonic idols and soiled religious vestments. Now and then our hero's vision blurs, sometimes stained with a bright red tint. You can almost feel Abraham's fatigue as he struggles to push through this overwhelming curse.

Overcoming the early hauntings grants you little respite. You might drain the main hall and exorcise the frogs, but further surreal spectacles threaten to wear down Abe's faith, mind and heart. This is commendable because the horror genre is full of games where you outrun ghastly character models. Your opponents are often tangible things, while Abraham's enemy is the world itself. His antagonist is part of the environment, appearing as anything from poltergeist activity to blood-stained mannequins engaged in an orgy upon his bed. At the same time, his foe is partly within himself. Demonic voices remind him of his sordid past and cast doubt upon not only his quest, but his very own nature. The villain here isn't something you evade; it's always around you and within you, and that's damn terrifying.

Gray Dawn (PC) image

However, Abraham's tale isn't just another haunted house simulator. He occasionally escapes his ghosted confines and slips into a Eden-like realm. Gorgeous meadows, majestic forests and quaint old houses replace blood-spattered walls and creepy depictions of children. Religious icons appear in every corner, from stunning paintings to grand monuments. These segments may dull the story's scare factor, but they provide such beauty and wonder that they're a welcome change of pace.

More impressive, though: Gray Dawn strikes a terrific balance between psychological terror and glorious wonder. The game does an excellent job of painting the internal struggle between good and evil.

Obviously, a first-person adventure needs more than symbolism and theme to keep it afloat, and this is where puzzles come in. Oh, don't roll your eyes! You had to have known puzzles were coming. Every haunting culminates in a task or challenge that involves either locating event items or tinkering with an object or bit of environment. The good news is that many of these puzzles don't entirely spoil their own solutions. They present you with a complex setup, like an altar covered in ritualistic instruments or an alchemist's table complete with beakers. The best examples of these missions require you to place items from your inventory and experiment. You twist a few knobs, pull a few switches and watch as more strangeness plays out. You pour a liquid here, heat another there and a miniature version of the sun materializes in front of you, pouring fiery liquid into a goblet. These puzzles aren't difficult, but they're nonetheless engaging and rewarding.

Gray Dawn (PC) image

However, sometimes the game beats you over the head with solutions or assigns no-brainer tasks that come off as filler. Early on, you receive a disembodied statue head. Two feet away from the head lies a headless statue. Okay, now you can roll your eyes. Around the same time, you meet a golden frog who demands "the body and blood of Christ." Admittedly, this one may not be so easy if you're not familiar with Christianity. However, anyone who's ever even heard the terms "holy communion" or "Eucharist" should know what how to solve this one.

Meanwhile, as you wander this maze of scares, beauty and riddles, you learn more about Father Abraham and why demonic forces plague him. You see, the public suspects Abraham of murder. One of his flock, a young boy named David, has gone missing and radio reports imply that Abe is to blame. Abraham denies these accusations, which sends him on the downward spiral we witness

At every turn, you uncover more info about Abraham, David and a few other characters. The dreamlike phases that comfort Abe deliver bits of David's backstory and his nuanced emotions towards Abraham. As you delve further into the mystery, you begin to see the priest in a new light. Additional intel paints him in some flawed, horrible ways, while other segments remind us that he is capable of good. The plot drip feeds you enough details to keep you wondering and pressing onward, hungry to figure out whether or not Abraham is guilty of the sins of which the locals accuse him...

Gray Dawn (PC) image

Voice acting prevents the storyline from crossing the bridge to brilliance, sadly. I wouldn't say it's entirely awful, though. The voice talent behind Abraham is good enough, but other characters sound stilted or wooden, as if they're reading aloud from a script and not organically speaking. This isn't a tremendous blow, thankfully. It's not as though every other line is horribly acted or inadvertently funny, as we've seen in many older games. However, Gray Dawn's acting is enough to dull its polish a little.

Once you add up all of these qualities, you get a terrific, albeit somewhat flawed piece of horror-adventure goodness. The yarn it weaves and its horrifying segments are enough to keep you playing, but its puzzles are hit or miss. Gray Dawn may not be the second coming of horror games, but it's a step in the right direction for a genre that's too fixated on products that involve running away from villains. Perhaps that's what Gray Dawn seeks to address in some ways; what do you do when you can't run away and you must face the music?

4/5

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (June 19, 2018)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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