When Art imitates Life
The thing I love about coming of age stories is that they are always much more interesting and thought-provoking than actually coming of age. In these stories, lot’s of options are set before the protagonist with trials and tribulations aplenty as they strive to make the right decision that will affect not only the rest of their life but the lives of those around them. In real life you just leave school, do a bunch of crappy jobs until you eventually find something you don’t dislike quite as much as the others and hope for the best which just about wraps it up for most of us.
Needless to say, Dull Grey looks to put a bit more emphasis on the former by placing you in the shoes of a young lad who must make a decision about what kind of man he is going to be in a world where choices are not quite as black and white as they seem. This short but almost bittersweet visual novel comes to us from developers Provodnik Games who previously created Railways of Love and are proving themselves to be rather adept at creating thought-provoking narratives. Dull Grey originally released on PC but is now coming to Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo Switch, during its short life span it has already won some awards which include:
- Most Innovative Game of Games Cup 2019 (Russia)
- Best Use of Multimedia – XYZZY Awards 2019
- XYZZY Awards 2019 nominee in 5 other categories
The Drama of a Single Choice
So what is the experience of Dull Grey like in the palm of your hand? well coming from a gamer who is not usually a big fan of the visual novel genre, I found it to be pretty unique though extremely short. This is an experience that is designed to be played multiple times with the same simple premise, choose who or what you want to be when you are older. You have two choices that will constantly present themselves throughout the game, become a Lamplighter (not him from The Boys), which is deemed to be a dangerous profession and is also the profession your father had prior to his death. The second choice is to become a Tallyman, a stooge of the government that comes with safety and a good wage but as we all know will be like selling your soul to Hades.
To make this decision you will have multiple conversations throughout the game with various family and friends and at the end of each conversation you will make the choice, Lamplighter or Tallyman. The decision you make will ultimately determine the outcome of the game and this can differ depending on your choices. Though like with any choice, it’s worth taking a bit of time to consider them as you never know, something unexpected might present itself. I can’t really go into too much detail regarding the story here as I would be entering spoiler territory so here is the official list of key features as stated by the developers themselves.
- The drama of everyday life shown against the background of a retro-futuristic world controlled by the Progress-program
- An unusual mechanic of a single choice leading to different game endings
- A visual style tracing back to Soviet graphics of the 20s
- Inspired by the worlds of Strugatsky brothers, Dostoevsky’s works and Tarkovsky’s movies
Shades of Grey
Although Dull Grey is a short title it was interesting enough to keep me engaged throughout the twenty minutes or so it took for a full playthrough and even enough to make me play it a couple more times just to discover the various endings. Though to be perfectly honest, the endings were nothing earth-shattering. I have dabbled in visual novels before, Blind Men and A Winters Daydream spring to mind but they were throwaway experiences for me, Dull Grey kept me engaged as it was a more grounded story that didn’t overstay its welcome and I really enjoyed the haunting artwork that accompanied the story.
Performance-wise there is nothing to gripe about, the title is extremely minimalistic by design and loads very quickly. As mentioned a single playthrough should take you no more than around twenty minutes but if you want to see all that the game has to offer you will be spending roughly an hour with it. Controls are simple, RB will advance text with the left stick and A (Xbox) being used to select your answers.
For fans of visual novels, there is likely a good experience here and all for a friendly price of under £5/$5. If you are not a fan of the genre I can’t imagine this will do much to change your mind but that being said, the story is well-conceived and surprisingly engrossing despite being so short but there are a few secrets that present themselves along the way, if you take your time of course.
Review code provided
Format: PC, Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo
Genre: Adventure, Other
Developer: Provodnik Games
Publisher: Sometimes You
Download link: Microsoft Store