Drowning is a ‘game’ (and believe me, I use that in the loosest possible way) that has been available on Steam for a couple of months, but now developer Polygonal Wolf and publisher Sometimes You are bringing it to consoles.
Now believe me; no one will hate me more than I will hate myself for what I am about to write in this review and I will explain why. The idea behind drowning is the tale of a boy who quickly discovers he has depression in his earlier years at high school. You basically walk through a few maps in first person whilst you read about the kids experiences shown as text on screen.
So the developer is obviously tackling some very personal issues which I am guessing he has lived with himself as have I. Believe me when I write this review, I am not speaking from someone who has viewed someone with depression, I have lived with it myself for over 10 years and have nearly ended it all myself.
So from a personal level, dealing with depression is no easy task, let alone finding a release if you are lucky enough to be able to do that. I took to writing and used personal experiences within my published stories and for me it was a great way to get some stuff out in the open when some people probably didn’t realise just how bad things had become at one point. I don’t think that the place for something like that is through the media of gaming. Games are meant to be a fun experience on the whole, but not only did this game send me to sleep but it didn’t work on any level whatsoever.
You start the experience (I will start to call it that rather than a game because it can’t be classed as a game) and you find yourself in a low-poly world with a path that stretches ahead of you. There is no inclination of anything telling you what to do so I just started to move forward. Ahead of me some text popped up and I started to walk toward it and then through it. A second or so later some more text appeared in the distance and I headed for that. Read it as I walked through it and then more appeared ahead of me. So you get the idea.. the entire experience is just that. Walk forward, read a line or two of text and on to the next. There is music playing over the top, but I found it sending me to sleep. There really is nothing to do. No buttons do anything other than the X button which very slightly increases your pace.
So that brings me on to the story that you are reading as you walk along your path of discovery. There are typos galore not to mention some really bad grammer. Normally I wouldn’t really be too bothered about things like this, but when your whole game hinges around the idea of text then it needs to be spot on and it is far from that.
The graphics are terrible. Someone has obviously found Unity and thought they’d have a play with the very basic set up. It felt like I was back to my PS1 days; if you looked down at the floor you could see all the rendering work and that’s before you look at the environments as a whole. The trees in the distance just jump out of nowhere and the shading is awful. Even when you are trying to look at the path ahead you can see them flickering just out of your eyes line of sight as they appear and is really distracting but when you do concentrate on the distant areas a whole chunk of trees will just magically appear rather than fade in to vision. Then you get to the ‘End of level’ which is basically a transition to the next year of your life. Its far too abrupt. It just stops, turns to a black screen and you find yourself at the start of the next map. It should fade out along with the music fading to at least try and add to some emotion you should feel for the person you are playing as.
Eventually after walking through the most boring of environments and getting a headache from the terrible narrative on screen for about half an hour I actually found a random cabin within the woods which I entered and found a gun. Great, I thought, something at last to do. But no, it just moved you on to the next part of the experience obviously signifying that the gun represented taking your own life. Not long after that I finished my journey finding myself saying out loud ‘Seriously, is that it? Thats an hour of my life I’ve wasted and will never get back’. I was then informed that I had achieved a certain ending.
The game is supposed to be under the genre of Adventure, but it certainly isn’t. Nothing at all within what I had experienced made me want to go back to play through again to see if I could get a different ending. It was painful and as there is very little to actually do and zero to interact with I cant see how there would be different endings except maybe not picking up the gun. That, in my mind, would only leave one other possible ending option, but there was no way that I was going to spend another 30 minutes or so just getting to that part to be able to change my decision. There is no replay value to Drowning at all.
So now, I’m torn. Whilst I do fully sympathise with what the developer was trying to achieve and their own story within the experience, I hated Drowning. For me it has no place on a gaming machine and could have possibly been portrayed better in a short story where so much more detail and depth could have been achieved. Believe me, mental health issues do need to be brought to light more in the world we live in but the only way that anyone will play through this is either by accident and not knowing just what they are buying or by some seriously clever marketing which I can’t see happening.
I’m going to give this game a 2/10 and the only reason I have stayed away from giving it a 1/10 is due to the fact that someone has had the balls to try and bring the voices inside their heads and their experiences of depression to the forefront but have unfortunately failed. As a tip to the developer if they read this; don’t give up! The graphics need work, but that comes with experience which I don’t feel they have at the moment and if you do need help with English writing (I didn’t feel it was an English person telling the story) then give me a shout. I will be happy to work with you for something like that.