Dry Drowning Review – A Macabre and Murderous Visual Novel
Dry Drowning2nd August, 2019
When I previewed Dry Drowning three months ago I had a big issue, an almost game-breaking issue, the game simply wouldn't do as it expects people without means to do - stick to its place. Aspects of the game weren't showing on-screen, I was struggling to get things to simply work. Fortunately, developers Studio V have fixed any technical issues, allowing me to plough through a futuristic, dystopian, noir detective story where it's time to solve some crimes.
Only, these crimes are gruesome and within the horrible city of Nova Polemos, a place under the tyrannical rule of the upper class, where elections are rigged and the usefulness of a person is determined by a test. Fail that test and, well, things aren't looking good for you. If it weren't for the time difference, this being set in 2066, I imagine Andrew Ryan would have very much liked to visit.
Every Sunday, I’ll be reviewing an older game, one we weren’t able to cover on release or one that simply interests me. If there's any particular title you want to see reviewed, let me know in the comments and if there's one particularly well requested (or that intrigues me), I'll review it.
So, Nova Polemos is a fascist, city-state, where the government is watching everything you say and do through surveillance using the ever-permeating holo-system called AquaOS. Dissenters are murdered, as are immigrants and other undesirables, due to the leading party - known as The Black Hands - being a bunch of far-right racist gits (Donny, is that you?). Also, anybody who is found to have outgrown their use, for whatever reason, are sent to jail. You'll know if you're useful by having you take the Pattinson test.
I suppose you wouldn't be surprised to hear that big-business has a lot of power too. Also, there is a lot of corruption. In other words, if there's anything that has ever really been found in a noir story, futuristic or not, you're likely to find it here. The problem then comes with the fact that Dry Drowning certainly takes on a lot of issues. Or, at least it mentions a lot. It's enough to draw you in and make you want to keep playing, but it simply doesn't tackle them as well as it could do.
Primarily this is due to the developers taking on too many aspects than the games length or the writing could feasibly manage. All of the noir tropes are then joined by questions of life, consciousness and the rights of artificial lifeforms. You also have a serial killer to catch, one who has a history with protagonist Mordred Foley. Of course, they have a history because why not?
You know, it wouldn't be too bad if the game could fit it all in and also if the writing just wasn't as literal, for lack of a better word. Originally developed in Italian, there are some nuances that have been lost in translation. That and due to the translation, there are times where the game has a few spelling, grammar and structural issues. It's not a game-breaker by any means, but it certainly could have done with a native English-speaking proof-reader.
Why so much focus on the story and world, I hear you ask? Well, that's because Dry Drowning is a visual novel. This is the only game type that really lives and dies based on the story, characters and world. The gameplay hasn't exactly got a lot of scope for carrying a game when it's a visual novel, though this isn't to say that Dry Drowning doesn't like to mix it up a little, taking a reasonable amount of inspiration from adventure games or puzzle games.
Indeed, you'll find yourself going through a lot of adventure-game logic in the crime scenes, matching that one piece of evidence to the right area - especially in an interrogation down the line - to get the one correct outcome. It's not skewed logic, the things make sense, but it actually requires a little too much reading into the minutiae. It also requires a memory that's a little better than mine, though I'm thinking I could have been like a real gumshoe and wrote down little things in a notebook, it would have saved me when I was questioning people and trying to catch them out.
Do you remember the interrogation mechanic in L.A. Noire, where people would make facial twitches to indicate they were lying, letting you know to get that crucial piece of evidence out? Well, this doesn't have that in. These are still images, you fool, facial twitches can't happen! What can happen, however, is the supernatural power of a horrific monster mask appearing on somebody who is lying to Mordred Foley.
Naturally, you see this mask and you get to choose the precise bit of evidence, the correct witness or whatever other bits of information you have lying about, letting you catch them in their deception. Sometimes you don't have the information you need, then you have to head back to find it, armed with new knowledge to let you get this new info. Yeah, there's a bit of backtracking. I suppose the one interesting aspect of the interrogations is the fact that you have the three eyes, or chances, floating above your head. Fail in one of your uses of evidence and the eye is bloodied and shut. Fortunately, you get to try again.
One thing I said I enjoyed back when I previewed the game were "surprisingly thought-provoking and game-changing decisions". I'm not sure I stand by the second part of that now, with the game-changing aspect being similar to that you find in any other game. A few lines may change here or there, there may even be small references down the line, but I can't honestly say anything I've noticed actually feels game-changing, with only the ending really reflecting much of what you've chosen.
If there's one thing I really want to praise Dry Drowning for, it's the aesthetic and audio design. If there's one thing that really sets Dry Drowning aside from any visual novel I've played before, it's the actual dedication to what is essential 'noir'. It's dark, muted, gritty and grimy. The crime scenes are gory, even those you're seeing through a holographic interpretation. The imagery within the game, the design, all of it is very fitting.
It also helps that the soundtrack is top-notch as well, working perfectly with the game, always feeling in-tune with the location or events at the time. As a matter of fact, it's one of the few times I've actively gone and bought a soundtrack, with the tracks being genuinely good, live, music pieces. From simple piano pieces to the almost strange, there's something about it that keeps me coming back. It's not just the superb piece that is Chissà se pensi.
Dry Drowning is... interesting. I'm not sure if I could say more about the game than that. It's got a genuinely compelling set of characters set in an interesting world, albeit one that overuses every trope in the book. It also has a few stumbles due to a few issues in translation, but all in all there's certainly something engaging about it - even if when playing the game, you'll be finding yourself doing the usual adventure game thing of wafting the cursor everywhere, just to find the thing you need, or having to trial and error everything just to get the outcome you need.
Copy provided by the publisher.
Dry Drowning is an intriguing, engaging, if flawed visual novel. While it's more expansive than traditional visual novels, it still lives and dies on the story, character and writing, which are strong and interesting, though let down by a rough localisation. However, even with this, it's well worth checking out, looking and sounding both fantastic, with an outstanding soundtrack that really adds to the game.
- Great art style
- Outstanding audio design and a soundtrack which more than makes up for a lack of voice acting
- Compelling story, offering an engaging world with interesting characters
- However, the localisation is rough, losing some aspects of the story and script
- Adventure-game-logic prevails at times, requiring a lot of trial and error for the correct outcome