Thassalophobia. The fear of deep, dark water, the unimaginable unknown beneath you. Some will never venture into the ocean due to this universally understood existential terror. For fishermen, however, this is all just part of the job. Sure, there may be ancient Lovecraftian beasts beneath the waves but there’s also tasty grub, so what are you going to do? Who has time to deal with Cthulu’s nonsense when you have bills to pay? Balancing terror with the satisfaction of a good working day is the incredible achievement of Dredge – a game that need not fish for compliments.
In Dredge you take control of a small fishing vessel, venturing between several islands in hopes of catching fish to sell to pay off your initial debts and to further upgrade your boat. It’s reminiscent of Phantom Hourglass but with all on-foot exploration removed from the equation for a purer sailing experience. The fishing itself may be slightly simplistic, usually a fairly easy-to-win minigame. Yet, the variety of these for the different types of bounty makes for a surprisingly relaxing time.
However, the game’s inner clock is always whizzing by and before you know it, you’re trapped in the middle of the ocean in pitch-black, only a tiny crap light barely illuminating in front of you. Here, the Lovecraftian influences come out to play. As you’re out in the darkness your mind will play tricks on you, rocks suddenly appearing in front of your eyes to damage your boat, threats of creatures sneaking on board, turning the pleasant simulation of being a rustic fisherman into a truly damn’d voyage.
Make no mistake: the first time you’re trapped in the dark is a true gauntlet. Your boat is so slow, the lights so dim and the horrible realisation that bashing into an obstacle can cause you to lose your captured fish. The fruits of your labour, gone! As you become a successful fisherman however you can upgrade your boat to better stand the trials of the night. Journeys being halved thanks to new, sexy engines is an incredibly satisfying progression, one that makes the game hard to put down.
As you progress and can salvage junk from the ocean more storylines and quests open up. The characters you meet are memorably odd, all presented with beautiful artwork and fun, nautical dialogue. Combined with the gorgeous cartoon-style rendering of the ocean makes Dredge one handsome game.
Dredge is a terrific, tight taste of ocean life beautifully mixed with horror elements. If this sounds up your alley, you don’t need to wait for a sale to set sail.
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