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Dry Drowning’s Noir Stylings Make it a Must-Try Investigative Thriller

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Mordred Foley is a disgrace. Once a noted detective, he has been under investigation for the last two years for falsifying evidence that led to the execution of two innocent people. However, law enforcement could not prove his crime, so he walked free only to get involved almost immediately in a new case.


Dry Drowning is an upcoming visual novel, but gamers should not write it off because of any preconceived notions of the genre. Studio V’s effort feels foremost like an investigation game, often challenging players to work out how evidence fits together or can be used to Mordred’s advantage. The gameplay for doing so adheres to the traditional point-and-click formula, though it feels more meaningful than normal thanks to a gripping storyline with plenty of branches.

Mordred may be brilliant, but, as his past demonstrates, he has no qualms about manipulating people and situations to achieve his desired ends. With this being the kind of character that players embody in Dry Drowning, tricky moral decisions are a given, and the game features some crackers. Every choice is bathed in shades of grey because even the option that seems better can have untoward, unexpected consequences.

Those outcomes can affect the gameworld in some instances, but more impressive is the way that affect Mordred’s interactions with other characters. Trying to protect his partner, Hera, for example, can create a strain on their relationship. Importantly, the shifts in mood feel proportionate to the decisions made, which ensures that each character feels rounded and human, rather than just a peg designed to fill a certain role. The overall tone is one of measured maturity, which fits well with the noir stylings of the game.


‘Take a look at the crime scene,’ the client says.

When he arrives at Treasury Park, Mordred is confronted with an echo from the past. From the modus operandi, the murder here seems to have been committed by the same serial killer that he previously failed to catch. Sometimes, the most ambitious decisions pay off the least.


One of the novel elements of Dry Drowning is the Mask of Deception mechanic. Mordred has the curious ability to see disfiguring masks on people’s faces when they lie. At such moments, the game pushes the player into interrogations, charging them to use evidence and intuition to uncover the truth. While the mechanic telegraphs challenge sections to come, less impressive is the three-strikes obstacle that sometimes accompanies it. 

At certain points, Mordred has only three chances to see an interrogation through to its successful conclusion. The approach creates tension, though is undercut by the realisation that failure is impossible. If all three chances are used, a game over screen appears and the interrogation returns to its beginning. As a result, investigations feel on-rails and the agency in the storyline begins to seem a little hollow. Tying storyline changes to moral decisions but not to successes or failures within gameplay leaves those branches pruned, though the issue of complexity goes some way towards forgiving the problem.

Compounding the issue is the way the game harries often players on to the next scene when every clue or dialogue option is exhausted. Indicating completion in such an obvious way may keep the pace up and prevent frustration, but it also robs players of a sense of control over events. Nevertheless, some of the puzzles are true mind-benders, though blessedly not of the obscure kind often found in the point-and-click puzzlers of yore. 


The murder is ritualistic. Like the others committed by the serial killer, it attempts to recreate the myths of Ancient Greece—in this case, the tragic love of Apollo for Daphne. That image of a god in love with a lesser being reflects the interpersonal dynamics in play surrounding the killing. The victim is a woman, the prime suspect her lover and one of the pre-eminent politicians in the city.


To its credit, Dry Drowning refuses to shy away from politics. Although set in 2066 in a city-state that does not exist in the real world, the game engages with one of the most contentious issues of the modern day: immigration—among others. The rhetoric of immigrants being a drain on productive societies emerges in full force, and players can have a role in shaping the discourse through the decisions they make.

Nova Polemos is a dystopian city, the citizenry surveilled and downtrodden. That situation emerges from description and dialogue, as well as the stunning visual artwork. Mordred, Hera, and the myriad other characters are all rendered in fine detail, depicted in greyscale against moodily lit backdrops. The muted colour scheme is remarkable in the way it evokes a downbeat atmosphere, though to lay that solely at the feet of the visuals is to do the audio a disservice.

Players are assailed with some piano compositions, though most tracks pulse with an electronic authority that charges the scenery. The beats get the heart pumping, contributing to an overarching sense of unease that supplements the noir ethos baked into every moment of the game.

Dry Drowning could very well be the game to convince some people of the value of visual novels. The project drips with an atmosphere that many AAA games can only envy, and the story is frightfully compelling. Some fine tuning to the gameplay and the way it affects the branching of the narrative might make Dry Drowning more satisfying, but the development team still has several months to improve.

Currently, Dry Drowning is scheduled to launch in August for PC. 

For all the latest on the game and much more from the world of single-player gaming, be sure to bookmark OnlySP and follow us on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube. You can also join the discussion in our community Discord server.

Damien Lawardorn is an aspiring novelist, journalist, and essayist. His goal in writing is to inspire readers to engage and think, rather than simply consume and enjoy. With broad interests ranging from literature and video games to fringe science and social movements, his work tends to touch on the unexpected. Damien is the former Editor-in-Chief of OnlySP. More of his work can be found at https://open.abc.net.au/people/21767

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Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King is a Baffling Combination of Journey and Dark Souls

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Mixing genres is a fairly common practice in video games. For some titles, the combination works well, such as Crypt of the Necrodancer‘s rhythmic dungeon crawling or Double Cross‘s use of light detective work between 2D platforming sections. Others do not fare so well, such as the out-of-place stealth sections in the Zelda-like Beyond Good and Evil, or the infamous jack-of-all-trades, master of none that Spore turned out to be. Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King, unfortunately, falls into the latter category. Trying to combine the floaty exploration of Journey with the brutal combat of Dark Souls, the resulting mixture is a frustrating mess that will not please fans of either game. The first title by French independent developer Redlock Studio, this Early Access game requires a lot of work before it reaches the compelling gameplay experience it is aiming for.

The game begins with the protagonist waking up in Limbo, with no memory of who they are or how they got there. A tiny creature named Yaak takes pity on the player, suggesting that maybe the king Hypnos can help. The problem, however, is that Hypnos is the titular Forgotten King—a godlike figure, who mysteriously disappeared after creating the world. In his absence, demons have taken over the realms. On a journey to reclaim their identity, the protagonist just might be able to save the world along the way to finding the forgotten king.

The frustration begins as soon as the player gains control of the protagonist. Movement in  Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King is floaty and imprecise. This annoyance might be minor in a platformer, but the inclusion of the punishing combat of a Souls-like makes it beyond frustrating. Enemy encounters are dangerous in this style of game, with the need to dodge, parry, and circle around combatants to avoid death. However, the controls simply do not have the precision needed for the task. When the game requires frame-perfect timing to parry an enemy’s attack but features a character that moves like molasses, more often than not the player will take a hit. Apart from the initial listless humanoids of Limbo, enemies are much faster and stronger than the protagonist, quickly taking down an unprepared player. The balance is so uneven that the first boss, a hulking creature with an enormous greatsword, feels like a fairer fight than the rooms full of small enemies since his attacks are slower and more clearly telegraphed. Often, the better choice is just to run past the enemies all together.

Should the player manage to defeat some enemies, they will gain essence, which is used in levelling up. Levelling up can only be done in Limbo, often requiring a fair bit of backtracking. Players can improve their vitality, stamina, strength, or mystic, but no explanation is given on what those statistics actually do. Putting one point into strength will result in the character doing one point of extra damage, but since even the smallest enemies have hundreds of health points, a lot of level ups would be required before the player would see any real benefit. 

The platforming aspect of the game fares little better. The player is given no indication of where they have to go or what they have to do, just the general imperative of finding the king. The Frontier D’Imbolt, the first real level in the game, has plains spread out in all directions, encouraging exploration. However, the map is also full of instant death; lava, spiky plants, ledges to be avoided, and, of course, aggressive enemies, making exploration much less inviting. The floaty controls cause problems here, too, with over-shooting a target platform a constant issue. This annoyance could be resolved somewhat with giving the character a shadow to see where they will land. The viewpoint will also randomly change from 3D to 2D, with no real change in gameplay. The change seems to be purely for aesthetics, which does not seem reason enough for including annoying running-towards-the-camera gameplay.

Aesthetics, in general, is a strong point for Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King, with interesting character design and a muted colour palette. The enemies have a cool ghostly appearance, all transparent with hard planes. The blockiness of the world has an appealing look but sometimes presents gameplay issues, with a lack of clarity on which blocks can be stood upon and which cannot. Music is a highlight throughout the experience, soft and atmospheric throughout the levels but clashing into something harsh and unfamiliar for the boss fights.

As an Early Access title, bugs are to be expected at this stage of development, and Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King has plenty to offer. Despite being set to English, Yaak would occasionally slip into French, along with tooltips and the occasional item description. The English translation in general needs some more work, with quite a few typos and some weird wording, like ‘Strenght’ in the character status screen and ‘Slained’ when defeating the boss Hob. Enemies have buggy AI, sometimes freezing in place if the player wanders slightly too far away. Some instant death obstacles seem misplaced, with death spikes jutting out of a random wall. Most devastating was the game failing to acknowledge that the boss was defeated, with the gate he was guarding refusing to open. Perhaps defeating him again would make the gate work, but few players would be inclined to do so after a tough battle. 

Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King has the potential to become an interesting game but is simply not fun to play in its current state. The incompatibility of Journey and Dark Souls is the core of the game’s problem: it needs to lean more heavily on one concept or the other—make the levels more peaceful playgrounds for exploration, or tighten up the combat experience to reach that satisfying balance of hard but fair. Trying to have both leaves the game in this strange middle ground where no one is satisfied.

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