I am terrified of water. More specifically, I’m terrified of being in water. I can swim, but the more I learn about the ocean, the more it scares me. There’s just so much weird shit lurking below the surface of the ocean, and it has the advantage if we’re both in the water.

That’s the primary fear that recently released indie darling Dredge plays off. It’s a fishing game that starts off bright and briny, but slowly devolves into eldritch horror. Dredge’s opening has a way of hooking the player’s curiosity, while slowly reeling them in. Unfortunately, I didn’t find the eventual release of all the tension it had built to be very effective. Worse yet, Dredge continually fumbles any future attempts at the same thing, which ultimately resulted in my having a subpar experience. It definitely shows promise, but Dredge suffers greatly at its own hands.

Overlooking a bay at sunset in Dredge.

This should go without saying, but I will be spoiling pretty significant portions of Dredge. Spoilers will be marked – you have been warned.

Originally, I’d written several paragraphs that explained Dredge’s core gameplay loop in laborious detail. That was far too much for such a simple concept. Dredge is a game about fishing: you catch fish, sell them, and spend the money improving your boat. It’s not unlike the loop you’d find in something like Stardew Valley, and is driven by much of the same mechanisms.

The one major wrinkle in the core loop of Dredge comes from inventory management. Similar to games like Resident Evil, players need to organize the contents of their inventory. There is a delicate balance to maximizing your haul, which adds a much needed layer of decision making to each trip out to sea. Do I grab these large sailfish that are worth a sizeable payout, but incredibly awkward to transport? Maybe I’d be better off sticking to the more manageable cod, and mackerel even if they’re worth far less. These sorts of wrinkles provide just enough friction to keep the player from going on autopilot, effectively sleeping with their eyes wide open.

Fishing and inventory management in Dredge.

The inventory management also has minor risk-reward element to it. Crashing your boat opens up holes in the haul. This also creates a random hole somewhere in your inventory, which further complicates maximizing your cargo capacity. Worse yet, if a hole appears under some of your cargo, then it’ll be thrown overboard, lost to the bowels of the ocean. Thus, there’s an extra element of risk whenever you’re transporting a particularly full load.

Losing your precious cargo isn’t the only way that Dredge tries to ratchet up the tension, and this is about as far as I can go without spoiling things. If you have any desire to play Dredge, please do so before reading the remainder of the review. I promise that what I talk about in the remaining sections will absolutely ruin the game for you.

Spoilers ahead warning.

As I was saying before I rudely interrupted myself: it isn’t just the loss of cargo that Dredge uses to try to freak the player out – there’s also mutant fish. These disfigured bastards sell for more money, and are far easier to find at night. This will naturally toy with the player’s greed, and lure them out when there’s worse visibility.

This is where Dredge really comes into its own.

Slowly going insane while sailing around the ocean at night.

Staying out after dark slowly starts to drive you insane. This causes illusions to start appearing in the surrounding waters. Rocks manifest where the waters were previously clear. You’ll also start to run into other boats that weave in odd patterns along the horizon. Combined with the low visibility, these different illusions will start terrorizing the player putting them further, and further on edge. And you really don’t want to get caught off guard because that’ll cost you your valuable cargo, which is worth far more than what you could catch during the daytime hours.

That’s when Dredge hits you with its final trick: giant eldritch monsters. At several points, you’ll be hunted by enormous sea abomination that are as fast as they are violent. Or at least that’s what Dredge wants you to think.

Unfortunately, these massive sea creatures are actually fairly docile. I thought for certain I was going to pay for my greed the first time I ran into one. I didn’t though. I mean – I lost some of my cargo, but after the thing bumped into my ship it ran off. That’s was it. A light smack on the ass, and I was sent on my merry way.

A seaside village in the tropical biome of Dredge.

These gentle giants become even less threatening thanks to the sheer volume of times you’re exposed to them. Seeing them once, or twice would have kept me looking over my shoulder whenever I was out fishing at night. However, you’ll continually run into them with such regularity that they become as annoying as a dude who won’t take no for an answer. Seriously – every time I turned around I’d see one of these goblins tailing my boat. They weren’t even all that threatening after I’d accumulated a couple upgrades as I could outrun them, and could live through a few hits. Not that it mattered since none of them ever put forward an honest effort to try and kill me anyway.

It’s unfortunate to say, but the monsters of the deep aren’t all that scary in Dredge, and that ultimately results in its horror elements falling flat. The initial setup with the disfigured fish, and insanity spawned illusions does wonders to pull players along. However, once the monster is finally revealed I couldn’t help but feel that Dredge felt toothless. The core gameplay loop is solid enough, but I don’t think it can stand on its own, and the horror side of things just didn’t do anything for me.