Not Everything is as it Seems / First Impressions May be Misleading
Dredge is a delightfully chilled-out fishing simulator and we’ve gone hands on with Dredge, releasing March 30th for GeForce Now. Read on for our Dredge review. You are a fisherman in a small boat, navigating around a beautiful and relaxing landscape. As you putter around, catching fish for the locals of Greater Marrow – the island that you woke up on after losing your ship – you hear the water gently lapping at the side of your boat and the seagulls playfully calling out to one another in the distance. It is simply beautiful; tranquil even. Then night falls.
Your visibility is reduced immensely by thick clouds of quick-forming fog. You try to head back to the dock as quickly as you can, but rocks appear to jump out at you from nowhere, instantly damaging your boat’s hull. As you navigate the now-very-choppy sea, red eyes pop up all over the water, glaring at you as you try to get back. Enormous creatures appear from nowhere, almost knocking your boat over entirely, and causing even more damage. From above, red-eyed crows swarm over your vessel and steal as much of your catch as they can get their beaks on.
A place to take a breather
Then you get back to the safety of the main island, Greater Marrow. Here, you are safe and have the option to sleep, repair your boat, sell your catches to the fishmonger or even speak to the locals. The locals are all nice people, although something isn’t quite right with them – everyone and everything just seems a little…odd. The locals often speak of the “last fisherman” who mysteriously disappeared and also of the previous mayor who went insane, apparently angry at the sea of all things.
The premise is really simple: you sail out to sea, catch fish, return to the island and sell those fish. You then use the money you get to upgrade your boat and equipment in order to go out, catch and sell more fish. Rinse and repeat. What makes Dredge so much more than its simple premise, however, is a combination of the atmosphere and story. The story gradually reveals that all is not as it seems and that something fishy is going on (no pun intended). The atmosphere also sets Dredge aside from other similar games as it switches from calm and relaxing to nightmare-inducing in a matter of seconds – once-calm waters turn into violent death traps full of all sorts of monsters.
Time to get a move on
Time only progresses in Dredge when your boat is moving. If you sit still, then time stands still – this is very important. As night falls, the environment changes almost completely. The beautiful, calm waters turn into Nightmare Soup: a choppy concoction full of truly terrifying aberrations and monstrous leviathans of the deep. Each hit from any night-beast and you can be sure to receive some serious damage. Damage comes in the form of three-strikes-and-you’re-dead, meaning that you really must have your wits about you at all times.
Sometimes it is essential to go fishing at night to capture nocturnal fish, and the difference between fishing in the night compared to in the day is…well, night and day! The nocturnal fish tend to be more valuable than their diurnal counterparts, and even more so whenever a mutation is present, but the added danger is what makes fishing in Dredge so much fun. The constant danger means that you can’t just focus on catching the fish – you have to be aware of any intruders or predators whilst making sure that you don’t run out of time!
Fishing is a great catch
Fishing makes up the majority of the activities in Dredge. Finding, catching and selling fish is how you earn money to upgrade your boat and equipment. Dredging items up from the depths of the ocean is how you satisfy others’ requests in exchange for rewards aplenty. All of these activities take the form of simple yet genuinely entertaining minigames, depending on the activity in question. Fishing requires precision as you must click when the spinning arrow is within the highlighted green segments of the circle in most cases. More difficult, rare catches require two separate arrows to be alternatingly stopped in the correct areas. Dredging requires you to click out of the paths of rapidly spinning blockers in both an inner and outer wheel over a certain time. Failure to do this will result in failure of the task – simple!
To fish, simply locate an area of the water where there is a disturbance in the form of bubbles, head over to it and drop a line. Next, complete the minigame successfully and then store your catch in an area of your grid inventory. You can rotate catches to slot in as best as they can, like in Tetris, but be careful – any damage to your boat will put a red X through random slots, thus reducing your capacity, so be sure to store your catches wisely.
Also, be sure not to hold onto your catches for too long as they degrade as time goes on. If you do keep hold of it for too long, your fish will transition from Fresh to Rotting before you know it. The sooner you are able to sell your catch, the more you will receive in remuneration.
There are 128 species of fish and sea creatures to catch in Dredge. After more than seven hours of playing, I have only managed to catch just 15 of them but that somehow feels right based on the story thus far. As the game progresses, requirements for more unique and exotic species will come up, some requiring special equipment to catch certain species, such as volcanic or coastal dwellers.
The largest fish I was able to catch was a hammerhead shark (yes, really). En route to sell it, however, night fell. I got attacked, lost the engine and had to literally drift through vast open waters at night extremely slowly. Moments before reaching the dock, however, something slammed into my boat and knocked the shark out altogether! That’s what this game does to you – it stresses you out with all of the horrors that it literally throws at you…but it also lures you right back in again because of those very elements. You are keen to find out what it was that slammed into your boat. Where did it come from? Are there more? These are just some of the mysteries that Dredge holds.
Sounds and sights
The art style of Dredge is simple yet stunning, using basic, blocky elements in such a way as to create a truly beautiful world around you. Fish beneath the water can be seen as rough outlines, yet it is clear to see what species they are from the moment you first see them.
Cutscenes contain polygon-rich images of inhabitants which look incredible, along with vocal sounds to accompany the written dialogue. When speaking to somebody, if they are happy, they will often emit a satisfied “oh!”. If they are concerned, you will hear a “hmm” as the written dialogue appears at the bottom of the screen. The balance between audible mood-setting sounds and written-only dialogue is executed perfectly.
There is plenty of land-based wildlife in Dredge, yet you never see them – you hear them. Whilst navigating the environment, you hear all manner of things from birds to monkeys and even hyenas (at least I could’ve sworn it was a hyena!).
Background music only begins to play when night falls, and it is intense, almost frantic. There is an element of urgency the moment the nighttime fog descends upon the water. In addition to that, once night falls, your vision becomes almost 3D-without-the-glasses and your compass adopts a single red eyeball, representing your sanity level, which frantically scans all around as you attempt to navigate to safety. The edges of the screen blur and the camera moves around almost unnaturally. It all makes for a true audiovisual experience like few other games can muster.
Dredge’s story is immediately gripping – mysterious and full of tense yet fascinating moments throughout. The gameplay is engaging from the very onset and despite essentially only involving sailing from one place to another, it never becomes tiresome. The variety of tasks, fish, inhabitants and literal monsters that you encounter are all memorable and add a huge element of enjoyment to the overall experience. That was it for our Dredge review.
- Highly memorable story and characters
- Fishing is so much fun
- Inventory management is also fun
- Catching mutated fish somehow feels invigorating
- The suspenseful atmosphere is expertly-crafted
- There are monster-fish
- You have a compass, but a minimap would be really useful
- No fast travel: navigating long distances becomes tedious
Dredge releases on March 30th and will be playable through GeForce Now. This review was made by Mus from PapaBear Gaming. You can check out his channel right here. You can follow him on Twitter by going here.