There are times when Dredge feels like an idyllic little fishing game. Cresting the waves with a fish-finding telescope up to your eye, gulls wheeling overhead in the wide-open sky and quaint villages perched atop distant cliffs, it's easy, just for a moment, to lose yourself in some perfect coastal fantasy. But then you reel in a monstrosity from the depths, a mutated husk of what might once have been a fish, and you're reminded of the cosmic horror at the heart of this game.
Arriving at a remote island community as their new fisherman, you're immediately dashed on the rocks. Fortunately, you're dragged to safety, and put to providing food for the locals, selling your daily catch (and the occasional dredged-up trinket) to pay off the debt of your replacement boat. Fishing itself is a relatively simple activity – head to a patch of disturbed water, drop down a line, and reel in whatever bites until there's nothing left or you've run out of room in your hold. A simple QTE helps you draw your quarry in faster, and that opens up what makes Dredge so interesting.
This might start life as a game about paying off debts, but your most important resource isn't money. It's not even health, despite what the holes in your hull might suggest. In fact, it's time. Out on the water, the clock only progresses while you're moving or fishing, but with a beaten-up boat and hand-me-down gear, it's a struggle to fill your hold and get back to the safety of a dock before the sun goes down. Eventually, I took to waking my fisherman up a few minutes before dawn, desperate to snatch a few extra moments from the darkness.
Because once the lights go out, Dredge's second most important resource properly comes into play. Panic – represented by a frantic, all-seeing eye appearing on your HUD – ramps up steadily in the dark, and the dim light of the flickering bulb on your masthead does little to keep your anxiety at bay.
Once full-fledged terror descends, your boat and your catch are both likely to suffer: horrifying infectious somethings slither into your hold to corrupt the fish you're holding and tank their value; practised routes become dangerous slaloms as your paranoid mind throws up new obstacles to smash your hull against; and out in the deep, ghostly vessels hide a monstrous reality.
Fortunately, it's a while before you'll reach those depths. Your pathetic motor and fear of the dark initially keeps you penned in between twin islands, a set of natural harbours to keep you (relatively) safe, sheltered from the worst of what Dredge has to offer by the glow of a lighthouse. Eventually though, the shoals of cod and mackerel won't be enough to finance the growing demands of the villagers, and you'll be forced to push further afield, striking out into the darkness in a desperate attempt to make landfall somewhere, anywhere, before Lovecraftian chaos descends.
Eventually, you'll piece together enough upgrades that those dashes to outlying islands become more trivial, but the terror never truly leaves you. No matter where you go, you'll never shake the impression that something is wrong, a feature catapulted along by the quality of Dredge's sound design. Almost everything about the game is designed to be unsettling in some way or another, but the its ability to disrupt even its less-terrifying moments with the discordant 'plink' that denotes the discovery of a particularly disgusting denizen of the deep, or the distant rumbling of something lurking far beneath the surface, is particularly special.
Sometimes, when it's the middle of the day and you're out on the open sea searching for a particularly valuable catch, it can be easy to look past the visual clues that point to the broken nature of this world – the villagers' haggard faces, the decay that litters the islands around you. But when the noise of something disquieting emanates from the deep, it's almost impossible to shake.
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