Space is often the location for the horror genre. We all know that infamous line about no one can hear you scream in space. But what about something a bit closer to home that more of us are likely to experience? A cruise liner. That restricts a lot of us already, but the idea of being stranded on a ship in the middle of nowhere makes Dread Nautical quite a fearsome title. Only it’s not scary.
That’s not a knock, but the story follows a group of four playable characters, each with their backstory on why they’re there when the passengers start getting wiped out, and spooky stuff goes down. Perhaps the scary element is muted by the graphical style as it’s quite ‘cute’ and the range of colours tend to be on the brighter side than that of a game like Silent Hill 2. But that’s not the design choice as it’s a turn-based strategy game that appeals to a broader audience outside of Baldur’s Gate or similar fantasy titles. The objective is simple: survive. Building on that concept includes fighting zombies and the like, rescuing and coaxing other survivors to join your party and find out why your memory keeps getting erased day in, day out.
There are four characters to choose from, and they’re all a little stereotypical sorts. There’s the ex-yakuza looking to get out of the game that just so happens to be good with a sword, a rising starlet out of her depth, a gamer girl who has the power to influence others to help her out and a private investigator who joins the cruise while on holiday, but looks like he’s raided the costume designers wardrobe from The Maltese Falcon. On top of that, the voice acting is a little… poor in places. The first survivor I met was a British war veteran who was all ‘rather’ and ‘what-not’, still in gear on the cruise. Some elements have to be compensated for as it’s a videogame, but it was a little annoying – the dialogue too.
However… the gameplay is cracking. After choosing your character, you navigate the rooms in the ship looking for loot and survivors, to reach the ship’s horn at the end of each level. The levels are represented by days, so once you find the ship’s horn you move on to the next day and start a new one, often where you take the ship’s lift to a new deck and repeat the same thing, only the areas are bigger, there are more threats and better loot. At the end of each day, your memory is reset, and you return to your base with a mentor named Jed guiding you what to do next. Without going on about the story (discover that for yourself!), your base is where you can repair and upgrade weapons or upgrade your sleeping quarters to recruit new members. The currency here is the parts you find located on the ship or from dismantling items.
At the start of each day, you create a loadout of weapons and items and tackle a new deck. There is an on-screen map available for when you get lost, but the deck layouts are easy to navigate. The design is an isometric one, and while you can use the right analogue stick to view ahead and plan your strategy if a door is closed, you have to open it before you can see what is behind the room; otherwise it’s blacked out. Movement is excellent as you have no set action points so can freely wander the ship without penalty by selecting a path through an invisible grid system. However, when you encounter enemies, it switches to combat, and your action points are then restricted. Hence, you need to pace yourself due to the turn-based element: waste your points by getting up close and personal, and when it’s the enemies turn, there’s nothing you can do if they attack.
While you can stealth attack for greater damage, a lot of the time, you can sneak past enemies without engaging with them. Depending on the difficulty you play, avoidance is often the best as with the Insane mode, you lose everything you’ve acquired, and it’s permadeath, my friend. If you play one of the other difficulties, however, and have the resources to fight, then combat is fun. You can either used a ranged of melee attack using items found around the ship – the yakuza character, for example, has a perk that allows him to do more damage close up, while the detective is better with ranged attacks. But, it’s turn-based so everything you use up your action points, be prepared to be hit back. There are health items you can carry, however, and scrolling with the d-pad and holding down X, you can heal yourself, or other party members is highlighted.
Throughout the game, you can recruit new members by befriending them. Most of the time it’s through a rescue – saving them from a beating, and you’ll see a gauge indicating whether they like you or not. From here you can also select from a range of dialogue answers that too can influence them and the likelihood that they’ll join you, meaning they will attack anything that attacks you, etc. However, first of all, you need to ensure that you have enough beds back at your base by upgrading with parts. Secondly, you have to have enough rations between the days to feed your group. Food is found throughout the ship, so again, more reason to explore and scavenge at the risk of combat.
Despite the shoddy dialogue and voice acting in some places, Dread Nautical is a great strategy game. While not as in-depth as an X-COM game, it does has the range to play based on your preferences and has a good range of strategies you can apply for a better experience, i.e. weapon upgrades, the recruitment of NPCs and individual character perks. The difficulty options are very balanced, but the insane mode is exactly that, but great to have there if you find the game easy (it’s not). The story, while a little cliche at times, is a good one and the atmosphere throughout and finding tomes to translate the pictograms you can decipher in the game adds to the mystery.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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Dread Nautical Review
Gameplay - 7/10
Graphics - 7/10
Sound - 7/10
Replay Value - 7/10
Though it paints a horror environment, Dread Nautical isn’t a scary game or in anyway gore-riddled or filled with profanities – if it wasn’t for the strategic approach, aesthetically it would appeal to a younger audience. However, the gameplay is there, and it’s engaging, and I’d wager that you’ll fulfil your time on the cruise ship Hope in search for answers to the unexplained.
- Not overcomplicated to play, but plenty of depth and variety.
- Multiple paths with four different characters.
- Engaging and enjoyable to explore the ship.
- Characters are a little stereotypical.
- Visual choice mutes the eerie/scary factor.
- There were a few performance issues, such as slowdown.