You are a zee-captain currently moored in London, and this is your story of your adventures in the under zee, an expansive and perilous subterranean sea set in the universe of Fallen London. Watch out for pirates, zee-monsters, and other dangers, and keep an eye on your fuel and supplies, all while making sure you and your crew don’t go mad in the dark…
In a game where every decision you make matters—from how far into the unknown you delve, to whether you keep that stray cat that has been following you around—Sunless Sea will have you tense from start to finish. So come down and join us. You’ll find yourself in for an epic adventure.
You’ll also probably end up dead. But hey, that’s all part of the fun, right?
Sunless Sea is a top-down 2D roguelike game that was successfully crowdfunded back in 2013, and released earlier this year. It is a very story-driven game, involving a lot of reading and choices. Who you talk to, what you talk about, where you go and what risks you take are all important decisions to deliberate. While all this reading can, at times, be a little overwhelming (and perhaps occasionally mind-numbing), this is more than made up for with the absolutely fantastic setting and characters. Each character has a very defined and unique personality and interacting with them is both enjoyable and interesting. Some are mysterious while others are amusing. All are entertaining, interesting and three-dimensional—quite a feat for a 2D game.
The story is what makes this game so good, in my opinion. Maybe I’m just a sucker for games that allow you to explore your own story, rather than hemming you into a preset story. The setting of Fallen London is the perfect place to explore. It is a little confusing at first without prior knowledge of the world of Fallen London. The gist is that Queen Victoria (henceforth known as Her Enduring Majesty, the Traitor Empress) sold off the city of London to spare the life of her husband, Prince Albert. Subsequently, the entire city was taken a mile underground by a swarm of bats, and that’s the way things have been for decades.
Which leads up to the point you begin playing. You can customize your own story somewhat, but generally speaking you are the captain of a very humble boat with a very humble crew. You’ve got to put in quite a lot of effort to assemble a ship and crew capable of venturing the beyond into the unknown. Beware, though; exploring the under zee can come at a great price. The more hopelessness and evils you witness in this subterranean madland, the higher your Terror rises. And as your in-game Terror rises, so too does your own apprehension to return to the seas. But each time, the little voice of curiosity inside your head reminds you of the even greater treasure and rewards that are out there if you take just a few more risks. Terror can be reduced by resting in London, so it’s a good idea to relax every now and then.
But there’s more to the game than just reading a story. Failbetter Games proudly declare their inspirations over on their site, and you can really see where such titles as FTL, Don’t Starve and Sid Meier’s Pirates have influenced their game. The exploration portion of the game is in a top-down format, and you can choose your ship’s direction. You can choose to stay near London and visit somewhat local ports. Alternatively, you can set sail for more distant shores, the greater risks meaning greater rewards. You’re limited by your fuel and supplies, which are consumed while you’re out at sea to power your ship and feed your crew. Run out of either, and you’re in trouble.
In true roguelike fashion, the map is randomly generated each time you start a new game. As such, exploration is the key to success. Learning where to go, and where not to go until you get a good ship, is a handy skill that is best picked up quickly. My first captain died within about five minutes of leaving London. Don’t make that mistake. Don’t shoot at giant sea monsters five times the size of your boat with five times the health of your boat.
Indeed, the combat’s good, too. If I hadn’t already made it clear that the unexplored seas are very dangerous, then allow me to do so now: you will die. Probably quite a few times. Each time you do so, you can choose someone to carry on your legacy (Maybe it’s a good time to start thinking about having children, eh?), and you can carry forward your experience from your past endeavours. In other words, don’t shoot at giant sea monsters until you get a bigger ship. The combat is quite difficult to truly master. It’s not a simple point and click or button-smasher. Instead, you must wait until your gunner can get a good shot on your target before firing. You can fire early, of course, but that runs the risk of, well, missing your target.
Combat is quite fun when you’re the hunter, though. I quite enjoyed turning off my ship’s light and attacking small ships, all the while they were unable to find me. Looting more powerful ships can only yield better rewards. The whole game stays very true to the risk and reward proportionality. As such, the game can feel quite difficult at first. But after becoming familiar with the way the game works, Sunless Sea becomes a lot of fun.
AUDIO AND GRAPHICS
The music is quality. It is memorable and appropriate. However, the music appears to be set on triggers, so you can go long amounts of time in total silence, and then suddenly the music starts when you take a certain action or sail to a certain point. It’s good music, so it’s not unwelcome, it’s just that it’s a little surprising when you realize you’ve been sat in silence for the past ten minutes. And since I was playing at the early hours of the morning, it was a pretty eery feeling. I’d have rather there been more subtle music as opposed to total silence during the periods of general inactivity.
For a 2D game, the graphics are pretty awesome. It’s not demanding on the hardware at all. Most computers should be able to run the game with relatively smooth frames per second. It has a very strong aesthetic presence, and that varies vastly from area to area. The general tone is that of the dark and hopeless world of Fallen London, and the game has captured this perfectly. And the more you explore, the more you realize how inescapable this truly is. Everywhere you go, you find mysteries and enemies. Every place is different, but they all share the same grim tone. There is little happiness to be had in the world of Fallen London.
Should you get this game? Yes, put simply. This game is totally worth it. It is clever, well-written and charming. And at only £13.99 on Steam, I strongly recommend adding it to your collection. The story really makes it worthwhile. Fallen London is a rich and unusual setting, and you really need to play the game to fully understand everything that I’ve talked about in this review. The only drawback is that the game requires considerable amounts of reading, but really that’s just part of the storytelling and is something you slowly come to realize is a crucial and enjoyable part of the gameplay. And as such, there’s no real reason you shouldn’t grab this game.
- With such an excellent story and price tag, you'd be crazy to not even consider trying this game.
- If you're not a big fan of reading and find yourself skimming over text absentmindedly, then this game is probably not for you. (Wait, you did read this review, right?)