Dredge Review: A Lovecraftian Fishing Trip
After a long yet relaxing day of catching cod and tracking mackerel, you reel in the latest catch only to see that one gilled monstrosity has fanged teeth and three heads. It’s an otherwise normal catch, but this aquatic perversion sticks out. Although before this abnormality and the grim implications it might have can sink in, the moon rises and the peaceful ocean sights turn into a waking hallucinogenic nightmare. This half-calm, half-stressful scenario is what playing Dredge is like, as it mixes the tranquility of fishing with the tension of horror. And as strange as that mix is, it’s quite a great hook.
Dredge initially presents itself as little more than a calm fishing game where players are sent out to an open sea and tasked with catching fish. The fishing mini-games are all different types of quick-time events that are just engaging enough to fill the little time they take to complete. Fitting them in the ship is even a game in and of itself since it utilizes Resident Evil 4‘s puzzle-oriented inventory system to further involve the player.
Crab pots and trawl nets that passively scoop up fish offer even more ways to catch sea critters, and diversifying these approaches is key to maximizing income and changing up the gameplay. And since all of this equipment needs to be purchased and repaired, players are always pushed to engage with the economy in order to dig deeper into its systems; everything is thoughtfully interconnected.
Catching fish to buy more gear to become better at catching fish to buy even better gear is a simple loop that is simply rewarding. It’s not too grindy and each enhancement is pretty noticeable so no one upgrade is filler. Researching different parts and building out the ship gives players a welcome bit of agency, too, since resource scarcity forces players to prioritize what fishing methods work best for them. It’s not too difficult to buy everything eventually, but there are always choices to make and that process is paced out well to ensure a smooth and gratifying upgrade ramp.
And if that’s all Dredge was, it would be a smooth, if somewhat unremarkable, fishing game. But Dredge excels because of its horror elements that add stakes and an engrossing layer of intrigue. Some of this is teased out in the aforementioned intro where the local townsfolk are just a bit off, and their home seems to hold a dark secret no one speaks about in voices louder than a hushed whisper.
It’s all implied but becomes more explicit when nighttime comes and the world starts shifting. Random boats turn into terrifying fanged fishes when they get close and chase the player like Resident Evil 3‘s Nemesis. Rocks can appear out of nowhere and cause major hull damage. Mysterious beings can slither aboard and infect a catch. These supernatural happenings can increase as the night drags on and makes the end of every haul a mad dash to the dock where the nightmares are literally and metaphorically kept at bay. Adding this much tension to an experience that’s usually serene is novel and means that Dredge doesn’t get as stale as yesterday’s harvest. It’s not all nerves all the time, nor is it all vibes, and that balancing act is commendable, particularly in a typically soothing genre like this.
But Dredge doesn’t just mess with players under the veil of darkness since it consistently introduces new strange phenomena regardless of the sun’s position. Innocuous objects can transform suddenly, tentacles may appear out of nowhere, or huge beasts might rise from the depths and provoke a smidge of uncomfortable thalassophobia. All four areas also have their own special gimmick and means that players have to adapt to whatever horrors have infected that part of the map and worry about what might happen next. Grappling with these threats can be a little annoying in the beginning since the player’s ship is so slow and tanky, but upgrades and surprising supernatural abilities make these marine menaces more manageable and not an instant death sentence.
Characters also come across as creepy with their unsettling and well-written dialogue that succinctly gets across how disturbed they are in only a few quick sentences. So much is hidden from plain view, too, and that mystery is as intoxicating as it is scary. Speculating about what’s going on and never quite knowing is alluring and fits with its Lovecraftian influences where the fear of the unknown is the driving force. Its narrative also succeeds because of this because it slowly reveals itself to those who pay attention, which all culminates in an grand ending that finally clicks into place right before it’s too late.
Dredge is a remarkable blend of polar opposite genres that benefit greatly when mashed together like this. It’s not the deepest fishing game nor is it the scariest horror game, but it blends these two distinct halves well enough so that it doesn’t rely on one tone or style for too long. And because of this, much like the aberrational fish that plague its sea, Dredge is unique enough to be quite the catch.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 8.5 equates to “Great.” While there are a few minor issues, this score means that the art succeeds at its goal and leaves a memorable impact.
Disclosure: The publisher provided a PlayStation 5 copy for our Dredge review. Reviewed on version 1.002.000.