Developer: Interactive Stone
Publisher: Interactive Stone
Rating: M for Mature
The Romanian three-man team at Interactive Stone have been working on Gray Dawn since 2015. Gray Dawn, like several indie games, began as a Kickstarter campaign which needed to raise $57,621, however, the game only received around $3,000 in support. For most developers, this would have shelved their game. Thankfully, game supporter Carbon Incubator stepped in and helped fund the remaining cost of game development. Personally speaking, I’m glad this game was able to be completed and published.
In full disclosure, I’m a conservative liturgy-loving Lutheran pastor, which means I appreciate the tone, the setting, and fine details that can be found in this game, such as iconography, incense, and Greek and Latin phrases. After watching the trailer and being asked to review Gray Dawn, I jumped on the opportunity. Not only would my love of the games be met, but my love of Christ’s Church would also be explored in rich detail.
Spiritual Content: In Gray Dawn, the plot revolves around a missing boy and a priest who is accused of murder. Therefore, we see the how the accusations begin to affect the protagonist’s mind. Gray Dawn is full of Christian iconography, crucifixes, sacramental wine and bread, rosaries, candelabras, temples, churches, Bibles, and so forth. These items are given the utmost respect and care by the development team. However, one major part of this story is a failed exorcism; this scene is spine-chillingly disturbing. During the game, Father Abraham, the protagonist, will experience dreamlike sequences and visions where the scenery will change and he will hear demonic voices. At one point the demon identifies itself as Legion (see Mark 5:1-20 and Luke 8:26-39). These moments are indeed frightening, if not also providing a sense of deep immersion, despair, and fear.
During these visions, the protagonist will see frightening images such as upside-down crucifixes, ghosts of dead children, a creepy doll who follows you, a beheaded statue of Jesus with blood running down, pentagrams, demons, images of David (the missing child) dressed like Jesus with a crown of thorns, who is beaten and even crucified. These are the moments that make me cringe as a pastor. I know these images are for shock value and serve to give the player a moment of dread, but as a Christian gamer, it makes me want to shut off the game and not look back.
However, Gray Dawn also addresses the idea of a person losing his/her faith. This aspect continues to grow throughout the game, especially as we see Father Abraham descend further into darkness. At one point Father Abraham asks the question, “How could God allow this to happen?” This question raises the idea of “theodicy” or simply put, God allowing bad things to happen to people. As a Lutheran pastor, this isn’t the case at all, God isn’t the author of sin or evil; bad things happen because of sin and the fact we live in a fallen world after the sin of Adam and Eve. Jesus also tells us we will suffer and bear a cross daily. (Luke 9:23) So while Father Abraham’s question I’m sure relates to our life experiences, it doesn’t give a proper understanding of who God is.
Other spiritual issues include the idea of universalism (all paths/religions are equal and the person goes to heaven no matter their belief.) There are times when Father Abraham will enter a peaceful or heavenly space to talk with David and solve a minor puzzle. In this area, there is usually an altar holding icons, candles, crosses, and there are statues of Buddha, Egyptian gods, and other pagan-like imagery which to me suggests universalism.
Violence: Gray Dawn isn’t violent in a way like a first-person shooter, but it does contain violent imagery. In one part of the game, Father Abraham must exhume bodies from a crypt to perform a ceremony, so the player will be exposed to corpses. Gray Dawn also contains large amounts of blood on the floors, walls, and bedding. It’s never shown how these items become stained, but it is unsettling. Gray Dawn also explores suicide, fetuses in jars, as well as a car crash scene.
Sexual Content: During the plot, it is revealed Father Abraham had a relationship with a woman. Roman Catholic priests take a vow of celibacy, yet during one of the dreamlike sequences, he is reminded of a sexual encounter he held with this woman. There is also a scene where Father Abraham encounters a naked demon who takes on the form of a woman and this scene takes place in a brothel.
Drug/alcohol use: The game contains a reference to sacrament wine. The protagonist will drink a mixed beverage towards the end of the game.
Other Negative Themes: Other negative themes include suicide, murder, a priest breaking his vows, and the death of children.
Positive Content: Gray Dawn includes inspirational moments as well, especially when Father Abraham enters the peaceful or heavenly sequences of the game. Here the player can meditate, observe the light of God, and experience peace. During these scenes, the music changes, and the birds are white doves instead of cawing crows. As mentioned above the idea of losing one’s faith is addressed and despite Father Abraham’s challenges, he remains faithful and prays during the demonic scenes. Gray Dawn is a horror game, but it does have moments which far outshine the darkness contained therein.
Gray Dawn lives up to its intentions to give the player an immersive experience. The story, the imagery, the music—all of these things are great. I found myself genuinely frightened when the game wanted me to be frightened, and at peace when the game wanted me to be at peace.
The story of Gray Dawn focuses on a priest named Father Abraham Markus. As he listens to a special news report on the radio during the opening scene, he discovers that he is accused of murdering David, one of the parish’s altar boys. From that point forward, the story focuses on the protagonist solving the mystery of the missing boy. The game also features several plot twists involving exorcism, traveling to a cemetery, and shrines in Romania, as well as several sequences when Father Abraham seems to be in hell itself. The story has excellent pacing and the journey never lets up.
In these types of games, the story is the focus, which means gameplay mechanics may suffer. That is the case for Gray Dawn as the gameplay is quite simple. For lack of better terms, Gray Dawn is a walking simulator with an occasional point and click puzzle to solve. The puzzles themselves are remarkably simple sometimes with pieces of the puzzle in laying in plain sight or hand motion away.
However, don’t let the gameplay mechanics shy you away from Gray Dawn, because it is a beautiful game to look at, explore, and listen to. Interactive Stone used the Unreal 4 engine to build this game and it looks wonderful. The audio effects and soundtrack are excellent as well. This is especially true when Father Abraham enters the hell-like and the dream-like sequences. As a player, you feel what Father Abraham experiences during these times either joy or terror depending on the sequence.
Overall, Gray Dawn is a good experience. The story is intriguing, the horror and psychological elements are appropriate, and the soundtrack kept me engaged in the moment. However, as a pastor, I would not recommend this game for people who are currently struggling with depression, in mourning, or those whose faith is in question. Gray Dawn excels at exploring religion, faith, and loss.
The Bottom Line