Developed by New Zealand indie developer Black Salt Games and published by Team 17, Dredge is quite simply one of the best games you can play right now. At first glance, it might seem like your run of the mill fishing sim, but after a little while, it proves to be anything but a throwaway experience. It’s amazingly well thought out, mixing a host of elements besides fishing, main of which are the effects of a mysterious fog upon your sanity as you toil away working a boat at sea.
Without giving too much away, your main drive in Dredge is getting to the bottom of why the bizarre things that surround you are happening, but that trip might just consume your mind just like the denizens of the region who count on you to solve their problems in the form of subquests. These are also tied to helping you upgrade your boat, which you’ll sorely need as more requirements start popping up before you can catch rarer types of critters.
The actual gameplay of Dredge is extremely simple. You guide your boat by tilting the left analog stick, and whenever you approach a fishing spot you can cast your line in, you’ll enter a minigame where your timing will help speed up the process of catching your prey. It’s close to the active reload mechanic in Gears of War, and there are a handful of ways it’s used depending on the kind of fish you’re going after.
Living up to its name, you’ll also do a lot of dredging items in Dredge. Some will be treasures you can sell in town for quick cash, and others serve a greater purpose in moving the story along as you help a seemingly harmless researcher in acquiring special relics all around the game’s map. Upon delivering these, your man gives you a host of powers that are very useful in dispelling the many dangers you come across.
The sanity mechanic in the game is intrinsic to its gameplay. There’s only so many hours you can stay out in the sea before a bulging eye shows up at the top of the screen letting you know that the nightly fog is getting to you. Whenever that happens, weird things start to hamper your progress, such as a flock of dark birds who steal your cargo and ghostly sharks that ram your little ship.
You can get rid of that negative effect by sleeping it off at one of the many docks you come across, some of which you can use to sell your wares and upgrade your ship. The latter is done by researching them using a special item you run into every so often, and then buying it from the shipwright. These are divided up in categories such as new rods, nets, engines, and dredging lines.
Inventory also plays a vital role in the game. It works pretty much like the Tetris-ish management from post-Resident Evil 4 entries or even the extremely simple but fun Save Room I reviewed a while back. Different ship systems take up special slots and require upgrading as well in order to fit newer and better components. These use materials you’ll pick up from wreckages or buy off from stores, along with an amount of cash.
That progression is quick enough to get over and doesn’t require a whole lot of grinding, and all things considered, you’ll naturally unlock everything as they start being required during the course of gameplay. Plus, it’s damn fun to chug along and just explore, and even more exciting to discover secrets as you do so.
I’m ridiculously impressed with just how much Dredge was able to grab ahold of me for the ten or so hours I’ve spent with it so far. It’s been an amazing time slowly uncovering the underlying narrative to the game and piecing together my own head canon and getting proved wrong when even better story beat solutions are revealed.
Oh, and let’s not forget to talk about the art style of the game. A faux minimalist approach that looks sharp and helps amp up the dark atmosphere of the whole affair. Music-wise, there’s a similar step as well, it’s very moody, and comes into play every so often to help punctuate specific moments, such as surviving the night into the bright morning. It’s all married into a presentational package that works in favor of keeping an uneasy ambience at all times.
2023 has been an incredible year so far in gaming, and surprises like this make it even better. I couldn’t think of a better recommendation for anyone looking for a gripping game to get lost in. Dredge is an accomplishment in making such a simple starting premise turn into such an addictive experience that it evolves into the further you get in it. Just don’t eat any of those deformed fishes you pick up. You’ll thank me later!