fri 18/09/2020

Sunless Sea | reviews, news & interviews

Sunless Sea

Sunless Sea

Nautical misadventures abound in this cruel strategy game

'Sunless Sea': Where lots of good seafaring captains go to die…

The gloom of Victorian London might be shared with The Order: 1886, also reviewed this week, but the games couldn't be further apart. In Sunless Sea, you play a nautical captain, navigating the "Unterzee" of the waters surrounding a fallen, underground London. Or rather, you play lots of captains – because if this cruel game is about anything, it's about repeated death.

The gloom of Victorian London might be shared with The Order: 1886, also reviewed this week, but the games couldn't be further apart. In Sunless Sea, you play a nautical captain, navigating the "Unterzee" of the waters surrounding a fallen, underground London. Or rather, you play lots of captains – because if this cruel game is about anything, it's about repeated death.

Death comes from being eaten by a crew turned cannibal from a lack of supplies, from drowning after pirates hole your hull, or from your ship being swallowed whole by one of many foul monsters prowling the blacked-out waters. This "roguelike" game demands a fine balance of ship steering and cannon fire, brave exploration, strategic thought and luck to navigate its waters. And failure is a constant.

Sunless Sea roguelike like FTL but in Victorian Steampunk LondonYour first captain barely makes it out of dock before you're sunk by pirates. The second or third perhaps establishes a small trade route, grinding out a few coins in return for a risky run between ports – but it only takes a couple of errors and suddenly you can't cover repair costs and feed the crew and upgrade your guns, because your route now seems infested with giant crabs. And before you know it, your eked-out existence crumbles.

At that point, all of your useful information is lost as the map "shuffles" and you're almost back to square one. This will be the big problem for many with Sunless Sea – it's a very cruel (but fair) game. And that can be very dispiriting.

For many gamers it'll be too demanding a title to even get past the first 10 or 20 captains. It would, with future updates, be nice to see more work done to enable those who can't or won't put the grind in some way to face the challenges, unlock the mysteries and become a worthy captain without quite so many fails first.

Sunless Sea roguelike like FTL but in Victorian Steampunk LondonEven at present, though, if you persevere, it's clear that Sunless Sea is something rather special. Atmospheric and rich with a brilliantly written story, it creates a unique world that is also uniquely yours to shape. What motivates you to be a captain and sail the Unterzee – the "win" conditions for the game – are down to you to fix. And how you get there is very much your choice. The game actually bewilders with the range of choice you have: how you make your money, what your hunting grounds are, how far you travel from home, and what stories you pick up and interact with along the way are all very malleable. The result can swing from oversupply of consumer choice – too many variables – to moments where it all comes together perfectly.

However you choose to sail, stick with it and there's some brilliant stuff to discover in Sunless Sea.

Your first captain barely makes it out of dock before you're sunk by pirates

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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