Ultra-Indie Spotlight Sunday: Dredge
In Dredge, you play as a mariner who has just arrived at a remote archipelago known as The Marrows, answering a call for a new fisherman. With your humble boat and fishing rod, you set off to catch a few minnows and small frys. Each catch helps pay off your debt, and before long, you’re able to hook bigger and more valuable fish. However, you soon find yourself catching stranger and more unnatural fish. And perhaps the attention of something otherworldly, too.
The ocean is, of course, terrifying. Games like Subnautica have been some of the most unnerving I have ever played. It is a horrible and horrifying prospect to be deep in the drink and hear some noise somewhere, only able to imagine what and where it is coming from. But what about an oceanic horror game where you stay on the surface the whole time? Dredge proves it can be just as unnerving.
Dredge does not have you exploring the depths. All you have to do is find a good fishing spot and cast your rod. But of course, it’s never so simple as that. The unseen eyes are more apt to see you if your vessel is out past dark, and strange visions can have deadly consequences. Hull-destroying rocks can appear seemingly out of nowhere, and what may appear a friendly ship approaching quickly might be a fishing lure designed to catch you. Doubly so does the ocean madness set in once you meet a character who can reward you with powers from the other side, but those powers may save your life when your sanity begins to take on water.
Non-Wanky Game Recap:
The gameplay loop of Dredge is straightforward. You set sail in the morn and look for a splash in the water to indicate a good fishing spot. Cast rod and play a quick minigame and you’ve got yourself a fish to sell. Fill up your hull and head back before nighttime, or stay out late and see if you can find some lucrative late-night fish, always aware that you may be forced to flee. Once you’re done, return to shore, sell your haul, upgrade your ship, and start again in the morning.
Everything here works great, but I’d like to especially focus on the game’s pacing. The pacing of the danger is done perfectly. Early on, the simple daytime gameplay of Dredge feels like it’s not even a horror game. Indeed, it almost feels analogous to a farming simulator. But once the sun begins to set, you begin to notice horrors that before were just out of the corner of your eyes. Doubly so, once you leave the safety of the shallows. Much like Subnautica, where the starting area is a peaceful place to gather basic resources, Dredge begins to pick up very quickly outside the starting island, and before long, nowhere in the game truly feels safe.
The final island area of Dredge felt a bit out of place. Not, bad of course, but could have been done better. In an effort not to spoil, I will just say that there are some particularly aggressive fish that require you to shift how you play the game. Even in the other areas’ terrifying places, you rarely encountered enemies that required dodging, and when you did, it was at most one at a time which made the impact much more suspenseful. The final zone required almost constant bobbing and weaving and using abilities and the environment to stay safe, which made it feel more like an action game rather than a horror game.
How To Fix It:
I think the right parts are there, as the final area is still enjoyable. Perhaps Dredge could change up the way you interact with the fish to make it more fun. I think if there were indications of the fish approaching, rather than being able to see them directly as it is currently, would be much more suspenseful. Instead of watching these fish approach, why not make it so that you just see shadows or murky outlines of them approaching the vessel? Of course, this would require a significant amount of unnecessary changes to the final area, which truthfully, is fine as is. Perhaps it would be good to keep in mind for Dredge 2: Fires of Rubicon.
When one thinks of the horror of the ocean, typically, the otherworldly deep landscapes and bottomless voids come to mind. Rarely do we consider the terror of having to simply sit atop that unknown world. Dredge puts you in a boat that very quickly begins to feel like a dinghy about to be consumed by the maws of something unfathomable. In so, this may be the greatest horror fishing game of all.