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Saturday, July 15, 2023 4:51:51 PM

Dredge Review (Supermarine)

A short adventure game full of mysteries. Immerse yourself in a fishing tale of exploration in which things are not what they seem. Explore the seas, dredge the depths, uncover your background and play Tetris with the monstrous catch of the day.
You play an amnesiac fisherman that sells whatever he is able to pull from the water for a living. Sometimes it’s useful parts that you can use to upgrade your boat. Sometimes it’s valuable relics that can be traded for cash. Sometimes it’s fragments of a terrible secret. Fish on and discover the truth.
The gameplay cycle is simple, easy and casual: traverse the seas and explore, fish for creatures and stuff, upgrade your fishing tools and boat, sell for a profit, and repeat. Interspersed come little missions that can be solved with a combination of the above: dredge the seas for trinkets and deliver them to someone. Upgrade to catch better things, more efficiently. Minigames for each activity keep things simple but engaging. Docks serve as saving points, and they are conveniently distributed around the map. You are never too far from any of them, so this game can be played in short bouts of a few minutes, if that is your wish. You cannot hop out of the boat, and your actions are permanently ocean-locked. Interactions with NPCs are also severely limited.
I have seen it compared to Sunless Sea, but this game is not as mythologically deep, and is much more approachable. While the former is terrifically specific—even to the point of information overload—Dredge is abstract and simple. This does not make either game any less poetic; they're each good in their own way. One with long novelesque winding prose, the other with short snippets of flavor text.
People call it Lovecraftian, but actual, direct relation is minimal. They refer to the tone and the setting of the story, rather than connections to the lore and work of H.P. A psychologically tormented protagonist in a small rural setting around the 1930’s, isolated from the rest of the world, where strange events start happening that seem to lead to a supernatural disaster, possibly involving undisclosed extraplanar entities. Such is the layout for every Lovecraft story, and also for this game. There's no blood and no gore and the few monsters you'll encounter are not really terrifying. We could classify the experience as a very mild psychological dread tale—a notch below actual horror.
The story is there, handed to you by means of messages and NPC dialogue, but you must piece it together yourself. In terms of lore, it gives you very little information and leaves the rest for you to imagine and complete the picture. Like Lovecraft himself, this is where both game and writer triumph. Unlike many other games lately, which force-feed you with mostly useless and abstruse lore, this game succeeds at being mysterious but also getting to the point quickly.
Mechanics-wise, the game has a clever way to highlight important concepts and ideas with colored text, but you must still pay attention. It is not, however, a hard game by any means, either cognitively or in terms of psychomotor abilities. No hand-holding, but very easy and logical puzzles. This is an extremely good point in an age of obscure puzzling, content bloat and game padding.
A big chunk of the gameplay experience seems to depend on luck—it's a fishing game, after all—and there's lots of species and varieties to collect. But still, it feels fair. I never sensed it forced me to waste my time. Even after setting up a voyage to deliberately fish a specific species, after a few minutes, usually less than five, I was able to catch it. Of course, you need to know what you're doing, but the game helps you a lot with that. The encyclopedia is very useful for this. Be sure to use your acquired skills constantly. They are real time-savers, and also help you get out of tight situations safely.
Physics are solid, and the controls do not feel floaty or unresponsive at all. I played with an XBox One wireless controller without issues. Movement while in spyglass mode, however, is terrible. It should have been adjusted for a finer control.
The graphics are weird at first, but you'll get used to them. Not ugly, by any means. Dredge captures correctly the sense of dread at night, of fear, and also the loneliness of the high seas. The water is beautifully rendered, and the sense of depth you get from the unfathomable ocean is fantastic. You can almost feel the cold of the sea breeze. The aberrant creatures are interesting and creative, and their otherworldly pictures perfectly convey their strangeness, complemented by delightful descriptions. Sounds are great and the ambience is excellent, but the music can get tiring, especially in its repetitiveness while resupplying at the Traveler's Pontoon.
Dredge has two possible endings, but if you play it right—especially the exploring part—you'll immediately detect the correct path. I found them a bit anticlimactic and simplistic—both of them. Perhaps a bit more production in the effects and music department could have done the trick. Still, it provides a closure even if poorly explained and quickly executed.
Despite the "mystery", objectives are clear, most of the time. The big red Xs on the map provide adequate guidance, and you can customize it with markers, too. For the rest of the riddles and puzzles, pay attention to the colored texts and you're good to go. It’s all very logical. Go in blind and avoid walkthroughs or guides. You can do this on your own.
It is a relatively short game that can be possibly finished in less than 8-10 hours. At a relaxed pace, I explored and admired everything, collecting all achievements in ~15 hours. The price seems fine for the experience. This is a game that respects your time, and that's commendable in an age of bloating and padding just for the sake of a hefty price tag.
Supernaturally recommended.