Review: Sunless Sea

Below is the Steam review I wrote for Failbetter’s Sunless Sea. The takeaway is this: The game is fun and awesome. I’m not sure I can say it is worth the current price of $20, but I got it for practically nothing on Humble Bundle and felt it was a really unique game experience. As a ghetto gamer, I *don’t* pay that much for a game. Twenty bucks? Might as well be 20,000 bucks. But for about $7.50, I got Sunless Sea and a clutch of other games. But it was definitely worth the price just for Sunless Sea. I recommend this game!

I have truly enjoyed this game. I’m not entirely sure I “get it,” but I have had tons of fun dying at sea and seeing how far I can push my luck.

Sunless Sea looks like a seafaring action game. It is not.

It has some elements of a trader-type game. It’s not that either.

At its core, Sunless Sea is a vast collection of choose-your-own-adventure stories. An assortment of little, text-based adventures where your stats determine the likelihood of your outcome. Many of the island stories have interesting and varied outcomes that can affect the future of the island to the point of killing its entire population, leaving behind a deserted waste. Some of the stories made me sad. A few made me laugh, but the overall feel of the stories – and all of Sunless Sea – is one of desperation.

This is a survival trader game. But the currency of trade is often nothing more than “zee stories,” “current news” or intangibles like that.

The islands mix up for each playthrough, and some of the stories have random elements, but the game is definitely (fortunately) not procedurally generated. No offense to roguelikes, but I feel that a well- constructed, scripted game usually has a much deeper and interesting plot than one which is random. However, it is hard to say that Sunless Sea has any great overarching meaning or ultimate story. It is more or less an open-world concept in which you can sail about and experience beautifully-written adventures.

That said, combat is plentiful if you choose to partake. Enemies range from squiddy sea creatures to pirates. Killing them can yield goodies.

You can also upgrade your ship. New engines, new guns and other items will make you all but untouchable out on the zee.

I have loved this game very much. Replay value is alright. The graphics are simple, appropriate and very moody. Some of the islands are really good looking and fun to discover. The musical score is a bit limited, but the songs are haunting and appropriate. I sometimes get them stuck in my head, even though they are not exactly catchy.

Without being a blatant ripoff or homage, this game is less Lovecraftian than Lovecraft-inspired. I have seen no Lovecraftian homages or Easter eggs of any kind. But the hopelesss sea-fear and archaic writing all contribute to a fantastic, subterranean world that Lovecraft would instantly appreciate.

This game is good. Try it.

Here’s its iOS version.


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