The real question is…are three onions too many onions?
Developer: Green Willow Games, LLC
Publisher: Green Willow Games, LLC
Genre: Point and Click Adventure
Type: Single Player
Release date: June 9, 2017
As we grow up and connect to our family and friends, we can not see a version of ourselves without meeting and knowing them. If you, for any reason, fall away from each other it will be hard, but you still hold that growth and memories. You still know what was going on before you two fell apart and assume they are still living their lives. When they die it is worse, however, you know that with all your grief they do not have to deal with their hardships anymore. But what if they mysteriously disappear? Imagine them still leaving traces of their existence, but not what happened to them. You are left plagued with wondering why they disappeared. When even the police are baffled, what can you do other than try and find out yourself?
You play as Lina Garret during the one year anniversary of the disappearance of her mother, Vivian. Knowing that before this, all seemed fine and happy, so why did she suddenly leave? In need of answers, Lina ventures out and tries to piece together what little information is available to figure it out. It is not just for herself, though, but also for her father, Robert, and her siblings Violet, Gus, and Merle. The game goes about searching for answers by going into the Life is Strange- Gone Home inspiration of finding out the story through others and objects around the world.
You mostly go through the motions as you listen to Lina’s thoughts while more information about her family surfaces. Having great moments here and there, with one of my favorites being right at the start, the game is helped by some wonderful writing. While characters do give you information, you get to piece together how each family member is along with how they dealt with the loss of Vivian. Not everyone is in the same place, and you do need to venture out sometimes to perform given tasks. Whether it is something your family asked or something Lina wants to do, some tasks are necessary along with a few that are not. With a little over two hours that you will spend in this universe, they did a good job making all the characters stand out from one another.
There are choices scattered around the dialogue, mostly leading towards a new line added in and a specific family member who has a different opinion of you. I’m not entirely sure that these early choices matter other than how the family members think of you now, but the last few choices do matter a lot. There was a task where you had to find your father’s phone and return it. While it seems like you need to find it for some information, you can totally hold onto it and accidentally trigger the ending if you don’t talk to him before a certain task. I can almost imagine Lina forgetting that she had the phone the whole time and her father giving in and buying a new one. There are other choices that are triggered by whether or not you want to talk about certain things and this is driven by how curious you are. You will probably have a lot of speculation, as the game will even question you to see if Lina believes things or not. Curiosity certainly holds this game together considering that there are three different endings, with possible alternates to all of them.
Graphics and Sound
The art is absolutely amazing. The backgrounds and environment are all hand-drawn, resembling paintings. Each area has its own personality added in, showing that real people live in the house and live in the town Lina resides in. The artists expertly made the 2D environment look 3D and their hard work paid off. The only downside is that the character models which inhabit this area seem really awkward as they try to look like they are sitting on a couch that is totally not drawn and could have used more animation to make them less stiff. This makes me wish that either everything was hand drawn, with the style changed to make the models fit in more, or that everything was modeled. The character models certainly were a risk that did not pay off greatly.
Now, while the voice acting is good, the quality of the sound is not. The quality between dialogue lines varies as you can tell which lines were recorded on the same day or not as you go deeper into the game. Some will have an echo effect, most accompanying Lina, or have a loud noise in the background making it hard to hear what they are saying, and it is rarely with a nice, clear quality. This is even more noticeable when the quality switches in the middle of the conversation, leaving me wishing that the whole game had that clear tone.
Going into the game commentary, they did say what they looked for when they were looking for voices (some sound quality here suffered as well, with one voice being noticeably hard to hear). There was an explanation that they used different recording studios when the actors had time away from their active performances in plays. A later comment said that they had one hell of a time stabilizing all the recordings. Now, I don’t know if it was the different equipment that was used in each session they had, if it was intentional, or they just couldn’t exactly get the voices sounding great excluding a couple of them in post, but it does take away from the experience. Voice acting is one of the main focus points, and while I am happy they were able to actually get voice actors with the little funding they received, I wished they didn’t or at least went over it and found the problem before they couldn’t fix it.
In contrast, the soundtrack is great all throughout the game, having a nice melody as you walk through each scene and dimming as you talk with others. The end credit song was something I really loved. The soundtrack dlc was released on July 7th and I am sure others, along with myself, were eagerly awaiting its availability.
+/- Character models
+/- Voice quality, in terms of sound
Gray Skies, Dark Waters is really one of those games that does well, but aspects of it can take away from the experience for many. It becomes a maybe game as the story and writing are just as important as the voice acting and quality. It does a good job with anything relating to the story, the hand-drawn backgrounds, and soundtrack, but not so well because of the differences in the quality of sound for voice work and having character models that don’t quite mesh perfectly. However, I do recommend checking this out to see the story unfold in front of you, whether it be now or later.