Dredge PS5 Review. Black Salt Games invites you to a sleepy seaside town to earn a living as a fisherman. Discover why this will be a grimly unforgettable vocation in PlayStation Universe’s Dredge review for PS5.
Dredge Review (PS5): Delightful Disenchantment Under the Sea
Fishing has become a mechanic almost as popular in modern games as bow and arrows and battle passes. And just as those can be dreary and eye-rollingly glib in their implementation, fishing often feels like a checklist feature. Dredge, however, goes the other way and builds around fishing as a tentpole feature to create a game that manages to shift from unsettling and tranquil with ease.
In Dredge, you play as a fisherman who has relocated to the remote archipelago of ‘The Marrows’ after an accident left him stranded there. He’s forced to pay off a debt to the Mayor for his rescue and use of a new boat, and the best way to do that? Fishing.
This starts off quaintly enough. Off you pootle in your little fishing boat to fish the nearby waters. Fishing is performed by a button-tapping mini-game that varies depending on the fish or item you’re trying to haul in. They all boil down to avoiding/hitting specific points on a wheel to ensure you fish as quickly as possible. You see, time only moves when your boat does or when you’re fishing. So if you fumble the fishing mini-game, more time will elapse. A couple of mistakes can be the difference between making it home before dark.
The townsfolk warn you that staying out late is a bad idea without elaborating on exactly why that is. But as the sun sets and the gloom of darkness creeps in, an unsettling atmosphere creeps in alongside it. It’s quickly clear something lurks out there, but for now, getting on with the job is all that matters.
In It For The Long Haul
As the debt is paid off, the rest of the town is introduced. Of course, there’s a local fish seller. He’s way too keen to pay a high price for the abnormal catches you occasionally find. The woman in charge of the shipyard can fix your boat and help upgrade it with the salvage you find in the ocean. Then there’s the lighthouse keeper whose ominous mumblings should really be setting off alarm bells. Or foghorns, I suppose.
Before long, it becomes more than about fishing. Someone wants you to recover artifacts that point to the greater mystery of these waters. If that is to happen, you’re going to need a bigger, better boat. Try starting too far too early and you’ll quickly discover just how slow and fragile the boat is. So much as a bump against rocks can do serious damage. Never mind what might wait in the water.
The boat has an inventory-style layout a la Resident Evil 4’s attache case. Some slots are needed for engines, fishing equipment, and lights, but the space between them is where you must store fish you catch. There’s very little room to begin with, so the pattern is to catch a few, sail back to town, and sell them before they lose freshness and value. But to open up Dredge’s story, the boat needs more space, and better equipment. The tradeoff here is that the salvage you need for upgrades takes up the same space as the fish you catch. So each day in Dredge you’ll need to have a plan of action. Fishing makes the money to pay for the upgrades, but you need the materials to upgrade as well.
The risk here either way is in the time you have and the fragility of the boat. Progress means heading far beyond the relative safety of The Marrows. Other islands are out there, but can take an entire day to travel to. In the early hours of Dredge there’s almost no reason to be out late. Visibility is low and the encroaching darkness clearly unsettles our fisherman. Just looking at it from a place of logic shows you it’s a bad idea, but there’s also that other feeling. A feeling I know I always associate with the ocean. What’s down there?
And Dredge truly has some nasty things lurking in the deep. As you upgrade the boat and are able to venture further and for longer, the relative normalcy of The Marrows dissolves like sea foam. Goliath monsters, super-aggressive mutations, and signs of an ancient order open up Dredge’s world to the cosmically horrifying. Loads of games do ‘Lovecraft’ and very few use it in the manner it should be. Yes, there are unthinkable monsters, but there’s also paranoia to the place that comes from being an outsider. Before long, even the average citizen of this archipelago begins to seem like they’re hiding something dreadful.
Naturally, this means Dredge does lose a little of its horrid sparkle as it opens up. Finding that sweet spot between not knowing anything and knowing all too much is difficult, and Black Salt Games does a damn fine job eking out an existence in that spot for as long as it can. Unfortunately, there are occasional dips in interest as you get caught in a cycle of survival and foraging that doesn’t progress you all that much. The reward for breaking these cycles is always some disgusting and mad new discovery though. So it’s just about worth enduring the repetition.
Nautical or Nice?
I’m trying not to go too deep into details on Dredge because I believe its journey is one that has to be experienced firsthand. All I can do is push your boat of interest into Dredge’s current in the hope it drags it down. It’s a pretty good fishing game, but it’s a very good horror game. Filled with dread, and unease, that is an absolute nightmare for anyone who has a fear of the deep.
Dredge is due out on PS5, PC, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox Series X/S on March 29, 2023.
Review code kindly provided by publisher.