The “walking simulator” is one I’ve come to appreciate over the years and one that took several excellent games to turn me around. It’s main focus is telling a narrative through a 3D environment that you walk around in, and usually, there is no interactivity besides that. Some may have puzzles or different objectives. Some simply want to sweep you up in a story that they are telling. I find the common components of these kind of games, at least the good ones, is that they have a compelling tale and gorgeous environments. Drowning is found to be in the vein of this genre, but unfortunately it fails on both fronts. This is a shame because it has a good message and is clearly a work of passion, but it just falls short of much of what it is trying to achieve.
The basic gameplay found within Drowning sees you walking down the mostly linear paths, with words that will appear in front of you, telling the story. That’s all the player does, there is no environmental storytelling, it’s just a road you walk down. There are some secret endings the player can find but it’s hard to want to go off the beaten path when you move at a snail’s pace the whole time. It feels unnecessarily sluggish and makes it seem like an eternity between the next sentence of text telling the story. It feels as though the speed is just to extend the game’s playthrough length.
The story follows a teenager as he deals with depression through his high school years. It’s a sensitive topic and the game does a good job at showing the gravity of the issue of mental health. However the story it tells feels incredibly generic; nothing surprised me or really hit me at all. It almost feels like you are reading someone’s diary… the writing feels repetitive, like someone who is rambling. It does not help that it is only delivered by floating words. Drowning would have benefited greatly with some voice acting, to add to the emotional punch. By the end of the game, which is not long, I felt unsatisfied, left like I didn’t really know the person I was supposed to be sympathizing with. It’s clearly the focus of the game, nothing is more important to the game then it’s story. Drowning makes a gamble that it will grip you, pushing you forward through the otherwise pretty mundane gameplay. But it left me disinterested the whole time.
Drowning is not very pretty to look at either, it goes for this polygonal look to the areas, but ends up looking amateurish and stagnant. Waterfalls stay still, trees don’t move in the wind, and the same grass texture is used a million times. Frankly the game just does not look good. The gorgeous natural environments the developers have tried to create just end up being very flat and plain. Also the whole outdoor setting is never connected to the story at all, there’s really no good reason why the player is even walking through it. In fact, the game tells most of its narrative in the main character’s high school so it would make more sense to be there. Perhaps the woodlands represent the inner workings of the teenager, it’s never clear.
One strong positive that Drowning has is the fitting musical backdrop that accompanies the player throughout the journey. It is the most engaging aspect of the whole experience, and rises above the rest of its features. It’s a beautiful piano melody that changes as you go through the game, matching the emotion of what is going on. I found it nice to listen to and the adaptive changes it makes are impressive, so much so that I really enjoyed every piece of high quality new music..
Drowning on Nintendo Switch is cheap, but it’s hard to find the value of buying it. The short running time is of just around 40 minutes and honestly that is only because the walking speed is so slow. Drowning is a game that tries to be something powerful but just never seems to reach it. The message it has is an important one that more games should tackle, but despite it clearly being an earnest effort, Drowning fumbles it.
Release date: January 2019
Formats: Nintendo Switch (Review)
Massive thanks to: Sometimes You