GAME REVIEW: SUNLESS SEA / DEVELOPER: FAILBETTER GAMES / PUBLISHER: FAILBETTER GAMES / PLATFORM: PC / RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY 6TH
Proof of just what crowd funding is capable of in the right hands, Sunless Sea is a tie-in release to Failbetter’s Fallen London. Set away from the city itself and exploring the vast underground world London was dragged into when Queen Victoria made a Faustian pact with the devil, the focus here is on the distant lands. Your job is to run cargo between ports desperate for new supplies, seek out new land, and engage in the odd bit of piracy.
Having cited the likes of FTL: Faster Than Light as a major influence along with Sid Meier’s Pirates and Don’t Starve, you can guess the sort of game Failbetter was aiming for. Often you are left simply on your wits, skills and whatever upgrades you can afford to stay ahead of corsairs, keep your crew sane and buy enough fuel to keep your ship afloat. This is to say nothing of the potential curve balls thrown at you by your own history, chosen prior to starting, or those of the crew you build up. Everyone from the cook to the engineer harbours old secrets, physical and emotional scars, and stories which require closure.
The questing system and truly immersive writing are what can be attributed for so much of the game’s success. While the artistic direction offers Sunless Sea a fantastic visual motif, every line of dialogue and moment is written to be as memorable as possible. The style is akin to a far more twisted incarnation of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld prose, one which perfectly fits the macabre style of the underzee. While characters are often only spoken to a handful of times, the style and presentation of their personalities is enough to make them have significant impact upon whatever narrative the player is forging.
Of course, all this is not to mention the combat. Having undergone some notable changes during its beta, Failbetter abandoned a more traditional turn-based system in favour of more conventional combat. The main concern in battle is the amount of time it takes to secure an accurate shot at the enemy, keeping them within your main cannon’s firing arc while trying to avoid damage. While relatively simple, it remains engaging none the less thanks to the speed, precision and planning required to engage enemies. This proves to be especially true when you so often sail into far superior foes, such as a living carnivorous island.
Sunless Sea is easily one of the single greatest games of its genre, backed by some truly superlative writing. If you have any investment at all in rogue-like adventuring and exploration then buy this one for a truly unique experience.
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