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Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Team17
Developer: Black Salt Games
Release Date: March 30, 2023

About Andreas Salmen

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Switch Review - 'Dredge'

by Andreas Salmen on June 7, 2023 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Prepare for a fishing trip filled with hapless inhabitants, mysterious far-flung islands, and seas that are brimming with deep, dark secrets.

Dredge is not the first game rooted in Lovecraftian lore, but it is surely the most intriguing and the best rendition of the source material that I've experienced in a while. That includes Frogwares' recent Sherlock Holmes: The Awakening, which didn't dare to delve too deep into the tentacle-rich mysteries. Dredge delves deep in a literal sense, as players take on the role of an independent fisherman hauling increasingly strange monstrosities ashore to supply the locals, and the fisherman is slowly uncovering the most unsettling sea creatures in the process. Dredge is an odd and mysterious experience, all while being an incredibly solid fishing boat simulator at heart. The title will steal hours of your time as you improve your ship, get new equipment, and catch fish and oddities. If an open-world fishing boat adventure with a side of tentacles and night terrors sounds great to you, Dredge won't disappoint.

In Dredge, we control a fisherman and his little boat. After venturing into some of the thickest fog, we end up stranded in a group of islands, and our boat is wrecked beyond repair. Unsure of how we got here and how to find our way back, we stay and help the locals in exchange for a new vessel. Thus the core gameplay loop of Dredge begins. If we're not going out to sea to catch fresh fish, we're taking on side-quests from the locals. Fetch this and collect that — they're mostly simple setups to get you around the map to discover things like new towns, fishing spots, or some gnarly creatures.

The story of Dredge may be forgettable, but its atmosphere is not. Every weird island inhabitant you encounter seems to be somewhat unhinged. Everyone has something to hide or knows something that you don't. The fact that the last fisherman seems to have vanished without a trace doesn't seem very reassuring, either. There's a constant sense of mystery and discovery that Dredge maintains throughout its runtime. What starts out as a straightforward and tame fishing simulator slowly descends into something far more sinister. It kept surprising me, and that's the main reason I finished the 15-hour campaign of Dredge; it kept throwing me something new to chew on. Whether it's an interesting discovery or a new fishing tool, there's the constant urge to explore and improve my fishing efficiency. Tentacled monsters or not, we have a fishing business to run, and insanity is not going to distract us from it.

Your fishing boat starts out with minimal equipment and a few poles, enabling you to catch fish in the shallow shore regions. You'll have a crappy light that barely lights the way at night, a weak motor, and insufficient cargo space to take home enough fish to pay for the never-ending list of potential ship improvements, not to speak of your newly accumulated debt for the exchange vessel. If you like efficiency loops of working toward new upgrades and slowly improving your abilities over time, Dredge captures that perfectly. It has the same feel as Stardew Valley. Each day only has so many hours, and time runs down quickly. In what feels like minutes after leaving a safe haven, dusk paints the horizon in a beautiful orange that slowly fades into a dark and unforgiving night. There's never enough time to do half of what you want in a day, and once night sets in, there are plenty of reasons to panic and find your way back to a safe port — if you can find one among the faint lights in the distance.

As soon as the darkness sets in, we accumulate stress and start hallucinating. Anything beyond the reach of our dim light is shrouded in fog and hides treacherous obstacles. Overshooting your budgeted time and trying to make your way back at night can be punishing; you'll easily run into rocks and other obstacles, severely damage your hull, and lose part of the day's catch.

However, there are some fish (and very strange phenomena) that you can only catch at night, so it's your call about taking that risk. That's ultimately what makes Dredge so fun to play. On its own, it is a solid little fishing game. It provides plenty of options for players to catch fish, invest in improvements so you can catch even more fish, and achieve even higher profits. It's the combination with the Lovecraftian theme that nails down the risk-reward loop of going out during day or night and pushing your luck for greater results — all at the risk of incurring costly damage to cargo and your mind.

Dredge wouldn't work as well as it does if the fishing portion weren't as varied as it is. Each different fishing spot requires specific gear based on the depth that you may need to unlock, and once you do, every single type of catch usually has a slightly different minigame to reel them in. You can fish without engaging in the minigame, but it's necessary if you want to catch rare trophy fish or speed up the process (lest daylight runs out).

You also have passive fishing abilities, like nets that last for a certain amount of time, catching fish while you're busy with other tasks at sea, or crab pods that you can throw out and leave for a few days. The occasional shipwreck is also welcome to dredge resources like wood and scrap and recover items to sell or invest into further upgrades. It just works very well in tandem, encouraging you to explore every nook and cranny of the small, open world of solitary islands, and you get handsomely rewarded with a new character, task, object, or fishing spot no matter where you go.

A solid fishing foundation and a great theme mean that Dredge is a niche game that executes on both ideas well and brings them together to a cohesive whole. That wouldn't be half as valuable if the rest of the game didn't match these high standards. Dredge's low-poly look means that it runs quite well on the Switch; there are some minor stutters, but they're not distracting or constant. On the other hand, Dredge looks positively stunning at times, despite the simple presentation. Colourful hues throughout the sky during the day, the light breeze in the wind, the islands around you and the ominous underwater shadows are beautiful to explore and view, but they quickly turn into dark and fantastical phenomena at night.

Combined with a simple but effective soundtrack, Dredge toes the line between a beautiful, serene fishing experience and an unsettling body-horror mystery at sea, both in presentation and execution. It has its frustrating moments, and some minor repetition can set in toward the second half, but it never stretches its mechanics or story too thin to be an enjoyable and distinct fishing experience.

Dredge has no right to be as good as it is, but it effectively plays to its strengths and mixes solid systems with a strong theme. If you're not into fishing or Lovecraft, Dredge won't be your cup of tea. However, if either even slightly tickles your fancy, I can almost guarantee that you'll have a blast delving into the twisted mysteries of Dredge — and you'll even make a decent buck with mutant fish while you're at it.

Score: 8.5/10

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