Games are made about so many things these days, and it takes more and more to stand out from the crowd. Even something as narrow as a game about fishing has been made countless times, but I’d venture to guess that a fishing game quite like Dredge has never been made before.
As much as the fish you catch, this game is also about the dark abyss of the human mind and the fear of whatever lies deep beneath the surface of the ocean. It’s extraordinarily strange and mysterious, and delivers a truly unique indie experience.
Like a shadow in the night
Good to know.
Dredge is kicked off in earnest when a fishing boat runs aground outside the modest island community of The Marrows. On board is only a solitary sea urchin, who wakes up on the quayside the next day – this is us, the player, and after a short meeting with the mayor it becomes clear that we have arrived in the area to take up the job of fisherman.
The fishing skate is quickly put back on its feet, and with line and rod you go to work. The game has a somewhat unique daily cycle: You are given a certain amount of time each day, but the time only goes forward when you sail, fish or install new parts on your boat.
And with that you drive out into the open sea to scout for fish accumulations near the surface. These can be interacted with to start harvesting fish – this is a semi-automatic process that can be accelerated by carrying out a series of unique “quick-time” sequences. The sequences are relatively easy to understand, but it is still extremely crucial that you are accurate if you are to get the most out of each day.
Time to get home.
Time goes by quickly when you are first active, and it turns out that it is very important to keep an eye on the clock. Large parts of the local community are of the opinion that the fog that sets in over the islands after dark hides more than just oxygen fish, and the fear of the unknown quickly becomes a central part of the game.
If, contrary to presumption, one finds oneself in the dark for too long at a time, this affects the psyche of our main character. If the load becomes too great, you may begin to experience both one and the other out at sea: Oncoming ships that suddenly disappear in the sea of fog, inhuman noises from the depths and eventually also more concrete threats.
Grab and go!
I myself mostly always managed to get home safely before it was too late, but thanks to the immersive nature of the game it is almost inevitable that you will have several days where you overestimate your own abilities.
Should have followed the rules of the sea.
It is terribly easy to think that you are only going to pick up one more piece of wreckage; suddenly you bump into a headland so that one engine breaks; or perhaps the spotlight suddenly stops working. And then you’re not quite so high in the hat anymore.
All in all, I should have seen that Dredge made more allowances for having to brave the fog and darkness on a rare occasion, so that it became even more scary to sail around. It is true that there are several species of fish that only appear at night, but unfortunately it is far too easy to stay close to any harbor while carefully casting out the net.
When you get back to a port, you are usually always safe, and then you can spend the night licking your wounds and taking a nap before a new day dawns.
The ports are also where you sell the fish you catch in the net. There are well over 100 different types of fish in Dredge. Here we find the usual rakers such as cod, mackerel, flounder and mackerel, but each type also comes in several strange, mutated forms that put extra emphasis on the game’s supernatural elements. An encyclopedia allows you to keep track of how many of each species you have caught, how much they are worth at the merchant and where the various species are found.
There is something out there.
Dredge has a relatively large sea area to explore, and there are a total of five distinct zones that all house different types of fish. Some are located further down in the depths, and before you can catch them you have to upgrade your boat.
It’s not quite normal, is it?
This is mainly where the money from fishing goes, and after a while you also unlock the ability to retrieve wreckage and treasure from the seabed. These in turn allow you to find new upgrades, such as faster engines, more resistant searchlights and larger hulls, which in turn allow you to explore new areas. The final goal of the stay in The Marrows only appears a little further into the experience, without my wanting to reveal anything about it here.
In any case, the cycle is well designed, and the game has such a good flow that it can often be difficult to put it down.
The game also has a completely unique atmosphere, and at times resembles a pure horror game more than anything else. Of course, this is partly about the fear of whatever lurks in the fog at night, but also comes a little from how the universe is designed and the many strange figures you meet.
As previously mentioned, the locals talk a lot about the unknown and how they think they have seen, heard or felt something strange connected to the great, dark sea. Sentences and retellings tend to hang in the air, and well-written dialogue and scene descriptions help to underpin the unique HP Lovecraft feel.
The audiovisuals also do a lot to sell the eccentric impression. The figures are beautifully drawn and have tons of character; the world is both dark, mysterious and colorful at the same time; and the small musical trude lutes that are played at irregular intervals are incredibly well composed. Especially the music in the cities fills me with a tiny dose of peace of mind, as if it says “you’re safe here”, and it actually reminds me quite a bit of the storage rooms from Resident Evil.
Is it safe here?
If anything, I think the remarkable characters and stories you stumble upon could have been given even more time in the limelight. I realize that it is often more effective to leave the details to the imagination, but it still feels a little strange that so many of the people you meet have nothing more to contribute to the game.
Towards unknown waters.
The mayor, for example, apparently gets no new dialogue after the first half hour; something mysterious happens to the fishmonger that is never mentioned again at a later date; and I would have liked to see something more happen with the dock worker that I delivered a package to early in the game.
The game is full of such unfinished stories, including the strange ending – which, by the way, comes incredibly quickly. This is clearly a deliberate choice on the part of the developers, but it still doesn’t make up for the fact that I miss something more in the otherwise fantastically atmospheric game.
Dredge is an immersive, small game that, thanks to its impeccable atmosphere and flow, really grabs the player. It’s not very advanced by any means, but has enough personality and idiosyncrasy baked in among the fish species and HP Lovecraft that this is well worth delving into.
The game could have spent more time exploring the many supporting characters and their relationship with the dark abyss, and I would have liked to see more reasons to explore the world at night, but otherwise this is an excellent piece of indie gaming.
Dredge is available on Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, Windows, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 (tested).