It’s the end of January and the dust has settled on last Christmas, with UK supermarkets currently clearing out leftover stock at rock bottom prices. If you’re eager to extend the yuletide season a little longer, Gray Drawn presents a unique proposition – it’s a horror adventure with a prominent biblical theme, taking place during a Victorian Christmas. This means there are plenty old-timely festive sights and sounds to take in, from sleighs pulled by reindeer to a Christmas banquet with figgy pudding. We all want some figgy pudding, but will horror fans want to try Gray Dawn?
We’re cast into the role of a softly spoken priest who tunes into the radio expecting Christmas carols, only to discover that they’re being accused of murdering alter boys – with the radio host being surprisingly chirpy and upbeat considering the early 1900s setting. And so begins a three hour quest to clear their name by discovering the truth behind the children’s deaths. All the while, demonic forces torment our man of the cloth, including trickery at the hands of the children’s restless souls.
Viewed in first person, the UI and interface are both pleasingly minimalistic. The inventory is always on screen, while the cursor alters when hovering over objects to indicate whether it can be carried, interacted with, or if a vital puzzle component is missing. Environments – which range from the priest’s humble mansion to an orphanage surrounded by woodland – must often be scoured high and low to locate items. Often there’s a short list to tick off, such as the ingredients to brew an elixir or the religious paraphernalia required to perform a funeral.
For the most part, the adventure is linear. There’s no quest log or even a reminder of the current objective. While this may have been helpful in some instances, it’s usually easy to work out what’s required to progress. Larger outdoor locations often have glowing trails to follow, while smaller locations fence you into a handful of rooms to prevent aimless wandering. Examine the environments long enough, and you’ll eventually find an item with a question mark icon, meaning something must be gathered and brought to this location.
Around halfway through, the priest is gifted a device that can alter seasons on the fly. It’s used in the manner you’d expect, freezing lakes so they can be walked across, and clearing piles of snow to open paths. It’s neat to see this idea implemented in what was likely a low budget affair, even if it’s faded out quite early on. Understandable, as there are only so many temporary obstructions it could be used for. I would say though that the experience peaks around this point. It becomes darker afterward, certainly, but never as clever or as bold with its puzzle solving.
While there’s no combat, evil often lurks, enforcing a sense of dread and despair. Biblical themes are rampant, ranging from a plague of locusts and manifestations of sins, such as gluttony and lust. All of this is handled well, never intended to shock, merely playing into the core theme. Voice acting is a little wooden, however, with the protag mostly conversing in short, truncated, sentences. Visually, it presents a good mix of realism and fantasy, with the Unreal 4 Engine used well to generate realistic looking forests and lakes. Smudgy textures and texture pop-in do mar the experience, though.
Carried solely by its story, Gray Dawn provides an intriguing tale and a mildly captivating world to spend a few hours in, and with two different endings to discover, there’s reason to return. It never entirely captivates, but regardless, it’s put together competently, with many of its storyline beats coming full circle. While not quite a rich experience akin to a Christmas pudding with a lashing of brandy butter, it’s still far more fulfilling than a mince pie.
Interactive Stone’s Gray Dawn launched Dec 22nd on Xbox One and Xbox Series It first launched on PC.