Sunless Sea: Review

To the ship’s crew members killed by that giant crab: we’re sorry. To the ones we ate when supplies ran out? Yeah, let’s not go there. The ones that found religion and had to be locked in their cabins? Look, survival in a cursed subterranean sea is hard at the best of times, and you just weren’t helping.

Sunless Sea is an odd beast: part nautical roguelike, part book that splits itself between roaming boat exploration and word-heavy exposition. at sea, or zee as the game calls it, you have to strike out to find new ports and locations, battling strange beasts and pirates along the way. On land there’s a different navigation system entirely, as you flip though text entries describing locations, options, potential missions and other elements. But be warned now: there’s a lot of reading here, and if the idea of a game that’s 50%+ words puts you off, then this might not be the one for you.
“A savagely unforgiving experience even after a few hours you Won’t feel safe”
However, if you don’t mind, there’s  a dark and interesting world here. an alternate history where London fell into a Lovecraftian cavern filled with strange creatures and new gods. It’s all a bit ‘The Lion, The Witch and Cthulhu’, given its mix of supernatural whimsy, chatty rat engineers, and unseen horrors slithering in the depths. almost everyone (and everything) you meet is a bit… off. But then who wouldn’t be, living in a submerged continent where gunning down crabs half the size of your ship for food is a normal Tuesday night.

Wave Concerns
As long as you don’t mind picking through an occasionally obtuse text system, there’s a great atmosphere that just oozes character. The interface could be smoother though. There are also occasional bugs such as missing numbers from your stats, or jumps in pages making you scroll back to where you were. The unwieldy and sometimes counterintuitive journal makes it almost impossible to keep track of objectives.missions can all but disappear, as icons have to be randomly moused over to find info once you take on a job. Its origins as a text-based adventure also means it has a weird way of cataloguing events, relationships and options. “You now have 1x ‘a Free Evening’ (new total 1)” is the game’s unnecessarily awkward way of saying that you can nip to the pub.

The text issues are something you can acclimatise to fairly easily. Something that might take a bit more getting used to is the difficulty of the actual gameplay. Think Dark Souls on a boat. Sailing requires fuel for your ship, food for the crew, and money to buy both. We guarantee now that your first captain will die at sea from a lack of one of the above. Your second, and likely third, aren’t looking too good either.

Exploring the zee is a savagely unforgiving experience, and even after  a few hours you won’t feel safe. The slightest miscalculation or poor decision, and what little security you’ve built up can be stripped away in seconds. Reach that point and it’s time to start eating the crew, or sacrificing them to a greasily benevolent god. But persevere and your reward is a macabre horror story with nautical battles and exploration wedged in between the story. It’ll never stop punishing you, but there’s a beguiling charm that’ll keep you enthralled.


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