If you sit on the riverbank for a long time, you can see the games you were going to buy at some point being released on Game Pass. Sometimes this happens quite quickly, as happened, for example, with the interactive story of Return to Grace, released in the spring of 2023. The game hasn’t gathered a large audience on Steam, EGS, and PlayStation, where it has only a few thousand sales, but it seems to have a chance to become a hit on Xbox/PC Game Pass, especially after it was advertised by Phil Spencer himself.

Game Return to Grace
Genre interactive story
Platforms Windows, PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One / Series X|S
Languages English
Developer Creative Bytes Studios
Publisher Creative Bytes Studios

Phil, who still plays games

In fact, I was going to play Return to Grace right after the project was announced, but something prevented me from buying the game on release. As soon as it was released on Game Pass on February 20, 2024, I installed the game and… forgot about it again. It was only last weekend, when I had some time, that I finally finished Return to Grace, and when I went to look up something about the project’s developers, I found a tweet from Phil Spencer praising the game.

“Finished Return to Grace. Nice setting and well written story, really enjoyed the game,” the head of Microsoft Gaming wrote.

I completely agree with Phil’s words. But just imagine, the CEO of one of the largest, if not the largest game companies in the world, still plays games that are released on his platform, even indie ones. That’s what I call dedication to gaming!

Let’s take a look at what impressed Phil Spencer himself in Return to Grace.

People who study the past

Return to Grace is a sci-fi interactive first-person story, walking simulator that has a lot in common with games like The Invincible, Deliver Us The Moon and Deliver Us Mars. It’s pure science fiction, no aliens or any other bullshit again.

In addition, Return to Grace has another feature in common with The Invincible. In both games, the authors use the style of retrofuturism. In The Invincible, it is the style of illustrations of science fiction books from the 1960s and 1970s, and in Return to Grace, it is the retro-modern style used in interior and appliance design in the 1960s. There are also computers with a lot of light bulbs, magnetic tape drives, pneumatic mail, and all this stuff.

Once again we have a hostile planet, this time Jupiter’s largest moon, Ganymede; once again we have an abandoned station whose mystery must be solved; and once again a lone explorer must do it alone after a bad landing. The year is 3820 and space archaeologist Edi Ito has arrived on Ganymede to find humanity’s greatest treasure – a powerful AI named Grace, once abandoned here.

In the past, Grace controlled almost everything in the solar system, determining the path of humanity’s development. But one day, the godlike AI turned off. It is not known why this happened – whether people were afraid of Grace’s power, whether someone tried to use her powers alone, or whether there was an accident. After Grace’s shutdown, humanity plunged into the New Dark Ages, and only years of research allowed Edi to find the place of either the godlike AI’s burial or imprisonment. Where are you, Grace?

Люди, які чують голоси

Return to Grace is a walking simulator, all the additional gameplay, button presses and lever movements are almost rudimentary. Yes, sometimes you’ll need to keep your balance, sometimes repeat a combination of presses or play password symbols, but it’s really hard to call it gameplay. Most of the time, you’ll be walking around the Spire station and studying old records to figure out what happened here.

And a lot of listening. Grace herself doesn’t respond, but some of her subsystems that keep the Spire running, such as Control, Logic, and Empathy, still work separately to help you explore the station. In fact, the arguments and interactions between the subsystems, and there will be even more of them in the future, are the most interesting part of the game.

And here we have to pay tribute to the voice actors who gave their voices to Edi, Control, Logic, Empathy, and other personal assistants. They did a great job. Return to Grace is literally the best voice acting game of recent times: for Logic and Empathy’s arguments or Control’s possessiveness alone, you can forgive it a lot.

Games created for Game Pass

Return to Grace is a short game, you can complete it in just two hours. It’s like watching a movie in which you are a character. In fact, this is almost the perfect format for Game Pass. It’s unlikely that you would buy such a short game separately, but getting it on Game Pass and spending two hours in the evening or on the weekend is exactly what you need. No complicated rules, no complicated mechanics. Just a story where you can choose your own path.

In fact, Return to Grace has three different endings, plus several branching paths in the middle part. You can listen to one or another AI assistant and do as they suggest. And, of course, you will have to determine the fate of humanity. And what about it?

At the end of this short review, I can only echo the words of Phil Spencer. I finished Return to Grace. Nice setting and a very well written story, I really enjoyed the game.