Dredge is a fishing horror game. If that sounds like two things that could never go together, just let me explain. Your character, a nameless fisherman, washes up in a remote archipelago. Loaned a boat and some gear by the Mayor of Greater Marrow Island, you’re told to get out there and start fishing. But you’re given a warning before you cast off into the wide blue yonder: be back by sundown, or face a thick, encroaching fog, and the horrors that reside within it… It’s not long before you’re given a bigger mission, too: to travel around the 4 zones of the game world, collecting mysterious artifacts for a stranger sequestered away in a forgotten manor. So far, so mysterious.
Fishing is what you’ll be spending most of your time doing, and the mechanic in Dredge is pretty easy to get the hang of. You sail to a patch of disturbed water, then drop in a line to see what bites. Succeed at a quick minigame and hey, presto! You’ve caught a fish. By selling fish to merchants you can make money to upgrade your boat, repair damage, and purchase resources, which then allows you to explore new areas and find more artifacts. A dredging crane also gives you the ability to find lumber and machine parts at the bottom of the ocean, as well as shiny treasures. It’s a simple gameplay loop that can be oddly hypnotic. But be warned — time passes as you fish or sail around, so you’ll need to keep track of daylight and try to be back at safe harbour before the nightly fog sets in.
This is where both the main challenge and the unique angle of Dredge come into play. Stay too long in the thick and soupy fog that advances in the dark and your character will start to panic, and you’ll begin losing parts of your latest catch. The visuals here are excellent, with the game conjuring strange and ominous shapes out of thin air to psych you out and run you aground. To say too much would ruin the tension, but as an example, at one point I thought I saw the welcome glow of another ship’s cabin in the distance only to get closer and realise it was the lamp of some monstrous anglerfish, trying to lure me into its toothed maw.
Dredge’s story reveals itself through the NPCs you’ll meet at different locations, as well as the occasional discovered note or floating message in a bottle. Sometimes you’ll only get the briefest glimpse into what might have transpired on a certain island or wreck, leaving you to fill in the blanks. Dredge is a game that knows when less is more, and I love that it doesn’t try to wave the horror in your face with a big neon sign telling you when to be spooked. It lets the unsettling atmosphere do most of the heavy lifting.
Special mention also has to be made of the excellent sound design. Your ship creaks and groans as it rolls across the waves, and passing close-by islands will let you hear the distant noises of their wildlife — including some recognisable native New Zealand species, which I thought was a nice nod from the Kiwi developers. As evening falls, the ominous score will pick up, and the deep gurgling of shipwrecks lying in the yawning void of the abyssal deep makes goosebumps rise on your skin.
My critiques of Dredge are few and far between. I purchased the Deluxe Edition for the Switch, which came with a DLC code that didn’t work. A quick email to customer service sorted this out. Occasionally I felt that some missions weren’t explained very well, and every now and then I’d get audio cues that were out of place for what was happening on screen. Really the only major quibble I have is that I wish it was a little more challenging — with relatively little effort you can easily amass a fishing fortune and blast your way through every boat or equipment upgrade extremely quickly. I’ve deliberately been trying to pace myself in the game in order to prolong the enjoyable experience.
Dredge is a highly-polished, fantastically-realised vision of a game. Whether you’re merrily sailing across the map and watching dolphins play in your wake, or tensely navigating past hallucinations and horrors in the dead of night, you can’t help but be impressed by what the small team at Black Salt Games has accomplished.
Dredge is a stunning example of an indie debut. Jump aboard this eerie, Lovecraftian mix of resource farming and horror and let it take you away on a stranger tide.
Ruby reviewed Dredge using a Nintendo Switch copy purchased at retail.