Drowning is a first-person, narrative-driven walking simulator developed by Polygonal Wolf and published by the folks at Sometimes You. We are put in the shoes of an unnamed protagonist that seems to be lost in a world of his own thoughts. Confused, alone, and definitely troubled are the key elements that are afflicting our young man as he begins high school and we can see that nothing seems to make him happy. Friends come and go and with that betrayal and depression slowly creep into his life, it just keeps getting worse. With nowhere to turn, our hero embarks on a journey to confront his demons, but will he be able to truly escape what has been festering inside him all along?
Like most games in the walking simulator genre, they usually like to skimp on the mechanics. Now, that is not always a bad thing, I mean we don’t need to reinvent the wheel people. However, Drowning is really limited in this aspect, being able to be completed by performing one input, moving the analog stick. You do not interact with anything in the environment and you cannot jump, run, or swim. You just walk in a straight line, until you hit a turn, and then you do it all over again. Rinse and repeat until you beat the game. This aspect perplexed me as I usually really enjoy walking simulators, I find that the exploration and story make up for the limited interactions made throughout the experience. However, completely abandoning interactions and walking headfirst into magical floating text, just didn’t fit the bill, even for this simplistic genre. I hate to write this game off, in such a downtrodden manner, but it honestly felt like I was doing nothing important at all.
Visual aesthetics usually shine when playing walking simulators. Vast environments filled to brim with color, ready for the next person to come along and explore every nook and cranny. It’s the realistic beauty crammed with secrets that bring out the best about this otherwise mundane experience and most games are able to provide this. Give the player something to take their mind off, relax a little bit, and just go at their own pace and explore the story you are trying to tell. Building an amazing world can make a huge difference and suck the player into more than they ever imagined. Unfortunately, Drowning does not meet these expectations. I will state that the landscape, for a colorful, cartoon-style world, is beautiful and this is marginally the best feature. However, for me at least, ruining this by placing you on a path that is basically on-rails. The route has barriers that do not make sense and prevent any sorts of surveying the land. You are forced to walk where they want you to walk, nothing more is available.
The soundtrack and dialogue didn’t provide much more either. The entire story is told through floating text boxes that appear in front of you as you meander throughout the game. Normally, I wouldn’t have a problem with this, it is a great way to get your story across without needing someone to professionally read the lines. However, the text is filled with typos, incorrect grammar, and other mistakes that should have been addressed before the game was released. I am not aware of whether it was a translation issue or simply overlooked, but I could not understand why a game would ship with spelling mistakes in a game that is one-hundred percent text. The soundtrack was well-produced and that is the best thing I can say about it. I didn’t feel that it fit the game’s tone in a way that it should. Yeah, it is somber at the beginning, but it doesn’t really deviate from that. It’s a game about sadness and depression, the music is key to make me feel those emotions. I do not want to hear the wind rustling around a barren wasteland while I am walking around trying to feel sad for this man. Like most of the game, I just could not connect the correlation between the design choices and the message they were trying to spread.
*SPOILER ALERT TO ONE OF THE ENDINGS AFTER THIS POINT*
Drowning claims to have multiple endings and playing through it two times and I can attest to their being slight differences. This is an interesting feature for a game of this caliber and does allow you to interact with different stages that were unavailable on previous endeavors. I would like to discuss one of the endings that I received during my time with this title, so again spoilers ahead! On my first playthrough, I progressed normally, reading about how this young man was dealing with depression and honestly having a losing battle. Now, I personally do not have depression, but I know people that have lived with it, so I was intrigued by how they would express someone dealing with the illness. Apart from the issues with the writing, I felt that they were doing a fine job at explaining the person’s issues and what they were going through. This is until I reached the end of the game! At the end of the second to the last level, you reach a house with a loaded gun on the table and grabbing the gun is how you progress. You are then transported to a heaven-like stage, where the protagonist has an argument with his inner demons about how they made him do it. This colorful game, that is rated E10 in the United States I might add, ends with your player taking a f***ing gun and killing himself. HE F***ING KILLS HIMSELF! Then in his final moments, argues that they made him do it and the ‘demons’ rebuttal by stating that he was hurting others by doing it. I get having a shock ending, I get that it really happens to people with the disease, but how on Earth do you set an example for people to get help when you express that he couldn’t do it, so he just shot himself. I was at awe and couldn’t believe the shit that was happening in front of me. I know that other games have done this too, for example, Spec Ops: The Line deals with PTSD and can end in a similar fashion, but that game is for Mature audiences. I just could not get over that this game could be purchased by children or young teenagers that could be going through the same thing. Then they are met with someone, they can relate to taking a gun and, while they do not show it, they infer that he commits suicide. I will say, I am not faulting the game because of this aspect, it is just severely messed up and adds to the list of things that baffled me about this average title.
In the end, Drowning is a mediocre game that trying to express some good ideas but fails doing so. Priced at $3 USD, it is on the cheaper side, but I would not recommend picking it up. I just felt that everything the game did was lackluster and could have done better. I am sure you can find something else to spend your $3 on and if you are really in the mood for a walking simulator, there are tons out there that are vastly superior to this one.
*Note: A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 2/10
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