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New games: Gris is one of the year’s most achingly beautiful games

Hand-drawn art combines with stirring music to come alive in Gris.

There’s a certain amount of beauty in games that’s a function of tech: sunlight diffusing through jungle mist and striking dew on the undergrowth is an effect that’s only been made possible as 3D rendering techniques have advanced, for instance, and it’s easy to be impressed by these increasingly high-fidelity marvels. But then there’s the kind of beauty you find in Gris.

There are no HD textures or ambient occlusion in Gris – it’s done in the style of pen-and-ink drawing, highlighted by splashes of watercolor. You play as eponymous Gris, a girl in a dreamworld whose voice is suddenly silenced, and your job is to travel through the ruined landscape to retrieve it. As you move through the world you’ll gain abilities that help you move forward, and each phase of your journey adds a new primary color tone to the world around you.

There’s tragedy at the heart of Gris, but it’s impossible not to be continuously awed by how amazing it looks on your screen. Any screenshot would serve as a full-page illustration in a darkly-themed children’s book, and together with the music and design, the effect is almost overwhelming.

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It isn’t a challenging game, at least not that I’ve seen in my hour or so with it so far. There are some light puzzles that involve using the abilities you’ve gained for your black, billowy dress during your journey. But these aren’t meant to stump you, only to give you a few moments to slow down a little and appreciate the gorgeous, tragic scenes in which you find yourself – ruined temples, underwater sanctuaries, and spindly scaffolding high above the desert.

Gris is the first game from Barcelona-based developer Nomada Studio, and it launched December 13 on Steam. If there’s still a question over whether videogames can be art, my feeling is that Gris provides a definitive answer.