Dredge review – a clever fishing sim, but an underwhelming horror game

March 23, 2023
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Among the critters you’ll draw from the deepest depths of direful fishing sim Dredge is the snailfish, an unhappy sea sausage which, as the game’s encyclopaedia explains, starts to implode as it’s reeled up into a tortuously low-pressure world. It’s a fleeting reminder that being transported from abyss to surface is always a transformation. Beautiful aquatic creatures become abominations, crushed and deformed by the vicious operating parameters of a reality they aren’t built for.

In Dredge’s case, they acquire right angles, each lush 2D fish illustration the core of a clump of blocks, which must be slotted into a cargo hold represented as an expandable grid. It’s a bloodless short-cutting of real-world commercial fish processing, where creatures are hacked up into tradeable morsels on the deck before they’ve even finished suffocating. Smaller critters like the snailfish (which doesn’t in fact implode here, despite the description) fill a couple of squares, and are easily plugged into gaps between your ship’s engine or headlamps and the hull. Chunkier hauls like sharks form awkward, rectilinear Christmas trees of fins and jaws: cramming in more than one is always a challenge, but perhaps if you reshuffle your mackerels a bit, you’ll magically make room.

This touch of spatial puzzling lends Dredge’s fishing expeditions their difficulty curve as much as the threats that roam the game’s 19th century archipelago by night. Each voyage is sort of like deliberately filling up the board in Tetris, risking a game-over only to clear multiple lines in one fell swoop when you drop your catch off at the market. It’s the One Clever Mechanic at the heart of a 10-hour game of fishquests and upgrading, which is disquieting in many ways but seldom as actively, rewardingly horrific as it might seem at first.

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