I’ll never quite understand how two things that are seemingly at opposite ends of the spectrum can be brought together with such wonderful synergy. Sweet and salted popcorn. Waffles with bacon and syrup. Fishing and video games. Wait, what?
You’d think that fans of these two very different pastimes would be a Venn diagram resembling two entirely separated circles, but fishing games have been popular for literally as long as my old brain can remember. Not satisfied with amalgamating two dichotomous styles, Black Salt Games endeavoured to add a third… stirring a hefty dose of horror into the mix they whipped up their stellar fishing game, Dredge.
At A Glance
|Positives||+ Beautiful, impressionist visuals|
+ Gripping plotline, dripping with sinister mystery
+ Thoroughly addictive gameplay
|Negatives||– A few crashes broke the immersion|
– Perhaps a little too similar to the original
– Foreground/background can be tricky to discern
|Played On||Nintendo Switch|
|Also Available On||PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One|
The sedate intro opens in typical horror movie fashion; the call of a new job brings you to a small and remote town where the eccentric locals are rather frosty; you do your best to acclimate to your new surroundings, but it’s not long until everything takes an unexpected turn and the once idyllic setting is revealed to be a whole lot more creepy. Answering an ad to be the new fisherman and help feed the townsfolk of the island of Greater Marrow, your boat hits some rocks amidst some nasty fog, and you’re gratefully recovered by the town’s new mayor and some of the dock workers. Your ship is in pieces and you’re left paying a debt for a boat that the mayor loans you, but you’re assured that an experienced angler like yourself will have no problem catching enough to quickly earn your keep.
The folks of Greater Marrow are a strange bunch, and there’s definitely something sinister lurking beneath the surface of this once bustling fishing community that’s since fallen into disrepair. You’re treated as an outsider by most of the locals – viewed through the lens of thinly veiled suspicion and held in mild contempt, despite your best efforts. The last fisherman, you hear, upped and left one day with no word, and the last mayor disappeared under mysterious circumstances too, which the locals only mumble about in hushed tones.
Like a pike to a worm, I was lured into Dredge by the promise of a tasty morsel and then immediately hooked and totally unable to escape. The promise of a dark plot is wonderfully executed in the early stages and I couldn’t help but be drawn in by the characters and the writing. The various townsfolk are given wonderful impressionist depictions that are oozing with depth and intrigue. The style gives everyone a certain strangeness that fits the mood of the game beautifully, and I found myself looking forward to each new area and encounter, just to see who I would meet along the way.
The gameplay visuals are lovely to look at too – with a certain cell-shaded look mimicking the impressionist characters really nicely. The art direction massively helps to depict Dredge as a game with two very distinct two sides. In the daytime the clear skies are a soaring bright blue, and every colour of the world around is vibrant and inviting, but then, after the crescendo of the spectacular sunset, the archipelago is seemingly dipped in ink as nightfalls. Suddenly the clearest of visibility has dropped to almost zero; fog swirls around your boat and everything about you is daubed in sinister blacks, browns and blues. Often the only other colour you can see in the dark are the glowing red pin-pricks of maleficent eyes, stalking you as you try to safely navigate treacherous waters…
Dredge’s gameplay is wickedly simple, and frankly, has no right to be as successful as it is. Your little fishing boat is equipped with a rod which you can use to fish with at designated spots, highlighted by frothing waters and fish silhouettes beneath the surface. Once you initiate the fishing sequence, you’ll play a simple reaction-based mini-game: push the button to stop the cursor in the designated zone and you’ll hook yourself a whopper! Once you’ve hauled in the slippery devil, you have to store it; you’re then presented with an RPG-style inventory screen where you have to move and rotate your items around to make everything fit in the limited space you have. This means, of course, that you can only drag in so many fish per trip, at which point you’ll have to return to the nearest town to sell your catch.
As the game progresses you’ll uncover ways to haul scrap up from the deep which you can use to upgrade your vessel, and there’s a multitude of rods and nets that allow you to catch all manner of different fish in different waters. This ability to modify your boat really helps drive you through the game, requiring you to expand your storage and upgrade your rods in order to catch what the locals want and make each trip all the more profitable.
Each time I set sail, I would leave with just one agenda; whether it was to bring in a big catch to make some money, snare a specific type of fish for a quest, or haul up some salvage to upgrade my boat, and I would come close to achieving my goal each time. And it was that feeling of ‘almost but not quite’ that made me want to set sail again immediately after returning… “Oh, if I make one more trip then I’ll have enough money to finally buy that new rod!” “Awesome, I nearly have enough scrap to build that engine upgrade – might as well find that before I switch it off…” “I’ve only got one more fish to catch to finish that quest!” I found the whole thing entirely addictive and genuinely struggled to put the game down.
Also pivotal to Dredge’s gameplay is the day and night cycle – after being at sea all day, the light will begin to fade and the fog will start rolling in. The unsettling environment, alongside your lack of sleep, begins to take its toll on you, and an indicator at the top of the screen will warn you that madness is starting to befall our good captain. As the great eye icon opens and begins to radiate with flashing colours, you’ll begin to hallucinate – seeing strange and terrible things in the water or being plagued by swarms of awful creatures. Your vision is impeded too, with rocks seemingly springing from nowhere, causing you to crash and spew your precious cargo into the murky depths below.
If you need to take a break from the haunting main story (that I won’t spoil here), there’s a shoal of side-quests to keep you busy too. Whether it’s hauling in a specific catch for a picky local, collecting a lost heirloom or ferrying a few passengers around, there’s no lack of missions to complete in the archipelago. There’s nothing especially original about the types of quests you’ll be undertaking, but I think it’s fair to say that there’s already more than enough ‘out of the ordinary’ to go around with Dredge.
While the story pulls you along until the very end, the feeling of natural evolution begins to wane in the games later chapters, and things do become a little ‘gamey’. You’re entirely aware of the mechanics by this point in the story, and you can see the developers layering the elements one on top of the other in order to ramp up the jeopardy and make the final areas more difficult in a way that feels a little artificial in comparison to earlier portions of the game. That said, the otherworldliness also becomes more pronounced in these sections too, driving home the feeling that you’ve wholly left behind your sleepy life as a fisherman and have become embroiled in something entirely other. It’s a trade off that’s definitely worth making, but you can certainly start to ‘feel’ the design of the game the more you progress. Is that especially a problem? I guess that’s for each individual player to decide.
I played Dredge upon its initial release back in April and while I ran into a number of things that frustrated me, they have thankfully since been ironed out via some updates. The first were a collection of entirely random bugs that would require me to restart the game at least once every two hours or so, and secondly, and believe it or not, much more frustrating, was how primitive the map function was. The map would only show you only the locations of the various islands of the archipelago but did nothing to help you track the various mysteries you encounter as you explore, making it a pen and paper job in order to remember where you needed to return to, and with what.
Thankfully, Zelda-style map pins were added in Update 1 back in May, along with a lot of housekeeping to iron out the various bugs. The lower stress Passive and Photo Modes were also added in Update 2 , along with a slate of new wildlife, encouraging players to enjoy the beautifully crafted world of Dredge at a slower pace and with fewer Eldritch nightmares. Updates 1 and 2 were free, as will be Update 3, which will allow you to better customise your boat when is lands later this year, but then some paid DLC is coming downstream too, teasing a story of the Ironhaven Corporation and a drilling operation that promises yet more mystery in a world already overflowing with it.
No good horror story would be worth a lick without a good soundtrack, and from the title theme onwards, the music of Dredge goes hard. The game opens with a sombre piano and string piece and sails from strength to strength as you continue the game. Delicate piano pieces are played over long and emotive strings to give a melancholy atmosphere to much of the game, hinting at some old torment being suffered amongst the waves. But then disconcerting minor keys usher in an uncomfortable feeling that’s more traditional for horrors and thrillers, and the themes begin to seamlessly converge, like two rivers meeting on their way towards the ocean. The music of Dredge is paramount to the success of its storyline, acting as a wordless, yet incredibly expressive narrator.
Dredge is masterful in its execution. Black Salt Games takes the most simple gameplay elements and weaves them alongside a sinister storyline, stunning art direction and moving score to create a net that I couldn’t break free from. Like a swimmer carried out to sea by a riptide, I was powerless to resist the game’s pull. I became Captain Ahab; spending hour after hour on the deck of my vessel, hunting the all elusive catch with manic addiction. The story is wonderfully told and brings the human and the eldritch together in magnificent fashion – I urge anyone to give it a try; I guarantee you’ll be hooked.
In the interest of full disclosure, VGamingNews was provided with a copy of the game in order to conduct this review.
Note from the Reviewer
As a complete aside to the review, I’d like to thank Black Salt Games and Team17 for putting out Dredge, which I played in its entirety upon its release back in April, when I was hospitalised with a particularly dangerous stomach condition. Focusing on Dredge helped me drown out the beep-beeping machines, ignore the regular needles and keep me generally sane when I reason to be incredibly stressed and worried.
I think this review is so ‘after-the-fact’ as a result of it reminding of that difficult period, and I apologise to some incredibly talented teams for that, but I know for certain that I will never forget my experience playing Dredge.
I’d like to offer a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to the wonderful staff of Macclesfield District General Hospital for my care, and a tremendous thanks to my family and beautiful girlfriend, Natalie, who looked after me so selflessly while I was unwell. I love you loads.