Wednesday, 18 March 2015

It is a Sunless Sea

Ordinarily I do not do many game reviews here as it s a log of club comings and goings really; when a game review crops up on this tome it will be because it we ended up playing it or someone has expressed it as being the best things since sliced waybread. Moreover I tend not to appreciate on line games as, for me, they subtract from the imagination for the most part and of course are heavily bounded by their mechanics, though I appreciate that there are roleplaying initiatives in an awful lot of the MMO's despite their genre. I have wiled away many man years I daresay on single player roleplaying and fantasy computer games from Gauntlet to Guild Wars.
But for every rule there is an exception and this is one to make...
Welcome to Sunless Sea..
Before anyone is totally hyped on the idea and forks out £15 on something they are not into, it falls into the formal category of a dungeon crawler or 'Rogue' like game, where a lot of time is spent moving around and staying alive by the skin of your teeth. In the case of Sunless Sea though its the back narrative in all its Victorian steampunk prose that delightfully compliments the nerve wracking exploration of the world and the tense music. I would refer to it as a Cthulu crawler.
On the surface the game mechanics are somewhat baffling and full of curious and confusing descriptors for your ship and crew that steam around in a dark and unforgiving world. But when you start to realise that 'fragments' are experience points 'irons' are strength 'pages' are wisdom etc one can start to get a handle on things. You pilot a steam ship across a subterranean lake discovering islands and communities from the surreal to the downright scary and in a story book way you are then offered various choices which come with various risks, rewards and consequences. Outcomes vary from gaining trust, trading, carrying out missions to being manipulated or outcast. As sanity is a component, knowing too much can also cause problems. But at each stage the rich story is successful in drawing you into an experience rather than a problem solving exercise.
On progressing through the game one makes money, 'echoes', in various ways and can accrue assets that are conceptual and abstract in in nature. For example you can gain one of a  'Move in the Great Game' or 'Memories of a distant Shore' along with the more physically obvious items. These conceptual tokens are to be accepted at face value and are not sub plots, but to be traded or exchanged as is to advance the plot.
As the world unfolds you very gradually gain stats, money and fight larger battles, both mechanically and narratively which, a bit like Minecraft, give you a sense of accomplishment based on considerable effort.
On the down side I would say the world is not that large eventually, although the islands are randomised between games to offer a different experience each time. But to be fair the world is easily large enough, so once the exploration phase is over then survival is still an issue and the plot phase keeps rolling. There is a lot of going back and forth but it is somewhat nail biting as you are often down to your last barrel of oil, ration of food or sliver of hull.
Don't ask what happens when your crew run out of food.
So here are some links to the trailers, purchase at your own risk.

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