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About the Story
An interactive drama in the traditions of Soviet fiction about choosing a profession.
Nominee, Best Story; Nominee, Best Setting; Nominee - Finding the good ending, Best Individual Puzzle; Nominee, Best Implementation; Nominee, Best Use of Innovation; Winner - Tie, Best Use of Multimedia - 2019 XYZZY Awards
12th Place - 25th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2019)
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Number of Reviews: 3
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This review is based on the current version, not the IFComp version.
Dull Grey is a coming of age story in a mechanised, stark landscape with the aesthetic of Soviet fiction. The story universe is dominated by the Progress-program, but it seems to have little sway in the towns we venture through. To them, the Progress-program is a distant mandates and forms flashpoints for ideology; the decision-making power does not lie with them.
The game itself is visually gorgeous, with just enough descriptive writing to sketch out a deserted depot here; a village house there.
Handling the choices was simply and very well done. You technically only ever have a binary choice between two professions. Neither seems good. The lack of choice is by design - and to good effect. There is a bit at the end which reveals the true scope of the game(Spoiler - click to show), rather like Caleb Wilson's The Northnorth Passage (I hope this isn't too revealing!). It also divulges the percentages of players who found certain endings, and looking at contemporaneous reviews, I'm starting to wonder how true this is.
This game piqued my curiosity in many ways, and was surprising in the best ways.
I think I would give this 4.5 stars, but I am rounding up.
Provodnik Games made their debut last year with Railways of Love, a sci-fi game set in a future Russia where you were locked into one path which later opened.
This game is somewhat similar. It is set in the same future (both feature 'spikeheads', robot transmitters). Both games are illustrated, the former in 8-bit pixel art, and this one in gorgeous, smoothly animated black and white art.
The writing is good, with some English hiccups here and there. A son in a lonely outpost needs to enter the real world by choosing a job. There are two job choices, and the choice gets made over and over.
Near the end, you finally break free, but it's tricky to find. The final screen, interestingly enough, shows a breakdown of what final choices people made. Only 15% of people made my choice, which was a partially hidden ending, but apparently there's an even better ending that 1% of people found.
I'm not afraid of choice-deficient games (I loved last year's very linear Polish the Glass), but I feel a bit odd giving this 5 stars when it's more of a computerized book. However, the constrained interactivity does serve a purpose, and reflects the constrained options of the protagonist. On the other hand, this kind of constraint-as-story as been done many times before. On the other hand, just because something isn't new doesn't mean it's bad. So I go back and forth between 4 stars and 5, which is why I've given it a score of 4.5. I'd love to see more from Provodnik!
Dull Grey is an intriguing piece featuring a main character who seems unable to control his own destiny. Itís also a beautifully designed experience in terms of presentation, with a gray-scale palette illustrating a bleak landscape in what appears to be a post-apocalyptic world.
In terms of interactivity, it uses an interesting mechanic wherein the same binary choice is presented at each decision point. The repetitiveness fits well with the theme and setting, and the progression also builds in a powerful way as we follow a map and travel from scene to scene toward a momentous decision in the protagonistís life, in a way that feels inevitably hopeless.
Different paths through the story presumably depend on the characters present at each decision point being more amenable to one option or another (lamplighter vs. tallyman). While I like this idea in theory, in the couple of replays I tried it felt like the sequence of scenes remained very linear regardless of choice, and I didnít feel a connection to the decisions or any real sense of where they were leading me.
However, this is ultimately a piece that resonates in terms of mood, setting, writing, and art design, and it stands out as a unique and memorable take on IF.
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