Monday 27 March 2023

DREDGE Review (Switch)


Originality is pretty much a  thing of the past in the video game industry, but I don’t think we’ve ever come across a boat based Adventure RPG before. So it’s a good thing that DREDGE has come along to try and fill that nautical niche for those out there wanting to spend their time floating through the mirk and sea mist of a collection of mysterious islands.

DREDGE puts players in the wellies of the captain of a beaten up trawler who finds himself docked at a run down old fishing village. While here you’ll soon hear tales of curses and mysteries that most are too scared to explore.

The first thing to say is that the game looks amazing, and the art style perfectly sets the foreboding loveocraftian-esque vibe that the developers were clearly going for. It’s remarkable how as the sun begins to fall the dread quickly sets in as you find yourself edging through the dark and mist hoping to avoid horrors and rocks. It is definitely spooky, and this is backed up by some great sound and music.

The towns also help to keep the mysterious vibe going with the locals you meet being weird enough to keep you on edge while you go about sorting out their various requests for fish, materials and other investigations. There’s also a decent amount of environments to chug around – even if the constants of open sea and rocks can make the game look a little familiar at times.

The bulk of your time will be spent out on the ocean fishing or dredging up materials. When you try to bring something up from the deep different mini games have to be completed with each fish and material having it’s own variation of what is a spinning circle with obstacles you have to avoid or sweet spots you have to hit. It’s a sort of quick time event/puzzle hybrid that does that the job effectively enough. One you have brought your catch on board you have to try and fit it on deck amongst all the rods, nets, engines and anything else you might be carrying in something reminiscent of the Resident Evil inventory system.

Once your boat is full the best thing to do is head back to one of the ports to unload. While here you can sell fish and anything else you have found and store important materials safely. You can also upgrade your boat (once you have found enough wood, metal etc), research new items, fix your boat or talk to the locals for information and quests. Of course, the more you upgrade the further you can sail and the more hardy you boat becomes and this forms the basic gameplay loop of the title.

It’s not as simple as looking for different fish though. Stay out until dark and various horrors start to stalk your ship. Giant ghost fish, tentacles and other creatures start to appear and damage your vessel. It also becomes very difficult to see rocks and other objects. Getting hit means you not only take damage but also lose things off the deck. Damage needs to be repaired and losing fish means loss of income so you can get into a nasty spiral of getting stuck without money to fix your ship while it moves at a snails pace after having taken damage. Take enough hits and you’ll sink which brings about a straight game over screen.

Unfortunately, the gameplay loop doesn’t quite work to hold your attention. It’s a really nice concept but your boat is slow through the water and you can go long stretches of time without making much progress. This in the end makes it just a bit too uninteresting to keep hold of players. As strange as it sounds, the destruction of your boat also doesn’t really add anything to the experience except annoying you. There aren’t levels, so dying generally means just losing your catch, meaning you have to just go out and do it again and this can become frustrating when all you want is a piece of wood for an upgrade.

Overall, DREDGE is a good concept that isn’t quite as compelling as it should be. The adventure elements are interesting but you can have long stretches between them while you grind away to upgrade and this just isn’t fun enough to warrant the time. It’s certainly one for adventure fans who want something rich with atmosphere. But be prepared to be very patient to get the most out of it.

Overall 7/10

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