PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, PC (tested)
Games are weird, man. That’s it. That’s the take. But I love them and I love writing about them because I get to type out bonkers sentences such as ‘Dredge is a Lovecraftian fishing sim-cum-survival-horror game’ and no one will blink an eye. On paper then, Dredge may sound like a Steam tag Mad Lib gone wrong, but it manages to conjure a peculiar yet cohesive world that is as compelling as it is unsettling.
Dredge wastes no time getting going either. Within the first few minutes, your boat crashes among the rocks of a small island called Greater Marrow. The island’s over-enthusiastic mayor greets you on the jetty; his unsettling profile filling up the corners of your screen. He tells you that your boat is a write-off, but being the top lad that he is, offers to loan you a new one which he suggests you pay off by fishing.
It seems like a fair, if not suspiciously serendipitous offer, but you agree to his terms and ready the boat for a relaxing spot of fishing in the bay. But as you undock from harbour, the mayor warns you to return before sunset, as that is when the fog rolls in…
Well, it wouldn’t be a survival horror without some good ol’ inventory management, now would it? Here, it’s no exception; your cargo has a limited number of slots in which you must move items around to fit them all in (think Resident Evil 4′s Tetris style inventory screen). At first, it seems like an unnecessary hindrance to contend with, but in doing so, the game forces you to balance the gear you need to catch expensive fish and the gear you need to make it back alive.
Interestingly, your cargo also doubles as your health. If you smash into a rock or take a beating from a deep-sea creature, one of your cargo slots disables. Lose 3 cargo slots and you’ll be sleeping with the fishes. Luckily, some islands are home to a Shipwright who can repair your hull for some sweet, sweet cash.
Anyway, back to fishing to pay off the creepy Mayor’s loan. As you pootle out to sea, you’ll see swirling circles of white, foamy water that indicate a fishing spot. With your boat over the area, you press F to pay respects fish, which opens up the fishing reel on the left side of the screen. When the dial moves over any of the green bars, you press F again to reel in your catch. Unlike other fishing games, a mis-hit won’t lose you your fish, but it will set the reel to the bottom of the bar, costing you precious time and edging you closer to sunset. The result makes for a tense battle between your greed for a bigger catch and your flight response telling you to get the hell out of there.
Panic! at the fish-co
After a few in-game days of catching and selling fish, I’m almost done paying off the Mayor’s loan. I take the boat out a little later than I usually dare to try and score the rest of the cash. On my return trip to harbour, the fog starts to descend. At first, there’s a beauty to the haunting lights on the horizon just peeking through the translucent mist. But as darkness falls, an eye icon appears at the top of my screen; closed and sleepy looking to begin with until it starts to grow wider and wider, darting around from each corner of its bloodshot lid.
This, I soon realise, is the panic meter. It functions in a similar way to the sanity meter in most of the Amnesia games in that malevolent objects and beings materialise the more panicked and exhausted you become. I start to panic IRL so I turn on my boat’s light which improves my visibility by a few measly yards. ‘Having a light on your boat helps you see in the dark’ the game tells me, ‘but it also makes you seen’. Seen by what Dredge? By what?!
From the get-go, Dredge does an impeccable job of creating an atmosphere of dread; tapping in to that fear of the unknown that overcomes you when you go for a swim in the sea and you can no longer feel the bottom. So much so, that I leg it back to the nearest dock I can find, stopping only to inspect the fish in my cabin that I’m told is now infected after ‘something’ slithered aboard my boat 🙁
Gonna need a bigger boat
Luckily, there are many tools at your disposal to ease your journey across the haunting archipelago. To upgrade your gear, you’ll first need to research the new technology via a simple tech tree, using research parts that are rewarded for completing quests. Once researched, you can purchase and install these items at a Shipwright. A faster outboard motor, for example, will get you back to base quicker, allowing you more time to fish and explore by daylight. Equally, an upgraded rod unlocks new types of fish for you to catch.
It’s all a careful balancing act when it comes to managing your cargo hold, though. Each upgrade type must fit into the designated slots on the hull, preventing you from stacking up an absolute OP trawler too early on. Fortunately, you can increase these slots at a Dry Dock, providing you have enough money and the right resources; the latter of which you can find by dredging the sea floor.
At first, it’s a satisfying, compulsive loop of resource gathering and upgrading your boat to eek out a little more performance from it. Although, after getting to the second or third tier hull upgrade, my boat felt more than capable of handling anything the game threw at me, so I had little incentive to keep grinding for scraps.
After paying off your loan, a stranger on a nearby island invites you to his derelict mansion and charges you with finding five lost relics across the world. He marks a simple, red cross on your map, but then it’s up to you to use your compass to get there. Having to navigate this way is a neat touch which compounds the sense of the unknown, especially when getting lost at dusk trying to chart your way through the numerous inlets of the archipelago.
Your search for the lost relics takes you across the whole map, which objectively is fairly small, but feels a lot bigger due to the unique biomes of each island chain. From a labyrinthine mangrove to a gorgeous bioluminescent atoll, Dredge’s abstract art-style is equal parts haunting and beautiful. Beautiful because you’ll spot a pack of dolphins bursting out of a churning sea as lightning strikes the horizon. Haunting because you’re constantly aware of the passage of time, as the sun moves across the sky, drawing out longer and longer shadows to warn of the impending danger.
As organic as these moments feel, the same can’t be said of the game’s main quests. By the time you set off in search of the third or fourth relic, you can expect to find a local NPC who needs you to collect a certain type of fish or material to proceed. While this gets a little repetitive, numerous quirky side quests and a boatload of secrets to discover mean you’ll never get bored of hitting the high seas.
Dredge is an engrossing adventure that is more than the sum of its parts. While the gameplay and story are solid enough, it possesses a unique vibe – at times both serene and disturbing – that sets it apart. Instilling in you a genuine fear of the unknown, it’s easy to understand how sailors thought they saw giant Kraken and unfathomable creatures in the half-light of dusk. It would be remiss of me, then, to get this far into the review without saying that Dredge will really get its hooks into you.