We’re just past the spooky month, and unfortunately, it’s been a little bit of a disappointing month for me. Aside from the usual woe of the work grind, nothing in the indie space really spoke to me this month. I got a few leads for next month but if you’re itching to see a game get represented here, make sure to drop a comment down below!
What a gem. Dredge was suggested to me on last months article and I have to offer a heartfelt thanks for it ‘cus I’d have absolutely missed it otherwise.
I’ve got a thing for calm, almost mundane gameplay cycles, the type of back’n’forth rhythmic gameplay that somehow avoids feeling repetitive despite being repetitive.
Dredge comes at you with a simple premise as you wash up on the shore of the delightful town of Marrow after your ship smashes on the rocks as the Fog descends upon you. The last fishermen went absolutely bonkers and never came back, and so the Mayor offers you his old boat and a chance to pay off the debt by catching some fish.
There’s literally no hiding the games inspiration. They might as well have had Cthulhu on the box. It isn’t really the point of Dredge, the Eldritch mystery and all that, knowing what’s coming doesn’t really matter fittingly enough.
What matters is the atmosphere. It’s dripping in atmosphere, from the gloriously scribbled style of the characters you meet, to the delicate music that plays, always accompanied by the sounds of the ocean and docks. It’s relaxing despite… well, everything around you not inspiring calm.
You find out quickly something isn’t right. You trawl up fish that simply aren’t right. What’s written under their descriptions of these strange fish are amazing snippets of Lovecraft-inspired writing (without the absolutely extreme racism shoehorned in, natch) and they make you want to catch them all. The art that accompanies them is delightfully strange, alien and grotesque, but not obscenely so.
And when you’re not fishing, you’re dealing with the looming Otherness that comes in every night in the Fog. Strange events that get more and more frequent as you become more tired, more panicked. Ghostly ships that try to lure you in with fog-horn echoes, parasites worming their way into your hold, demonic creatures that leap from the water to try and take a bite of you.
And that’s really just the game. You have a story to do, and side-quests to complete, but they are all ultimately about one thing. Fishing up strange little critters, selling them, and upgrading your boat to avoid dying to the horrors you meet at late at night as you try to finish those weird little dudes.
I love it.
It’s hard to talk about the long-lasting enjoyment Project Zomboid has brought me. I know it might feel against the point to promote such long-standing games in an article focused solely on the indie, but I mean, what’s more indie than Project Zomboid?
Project Zomboid is a sandbox, zombie survival game, with RPG elements, crafting, base-building, resource-management, and all the other buzz-words that literally induce groan whenever you read them on a new release. But it isn’t a new release. It’s a game I’ve been following since I was 14, and has literally gone through evolutions, devolutions, changes-of-course, and has come out the other end a game I still go back in spurts and spend hours on with my friends.
I could spend a whole article talking about its patch history, but I’ll sum up for you what the game is like to play right now.
Zomboid is a game like no other, and I genuinely mean that. There’s so many unique elements. It’s an isometric survival game with a delightfully clunky UI that adds to the pressure of wandering around an open space filled with dead-heads. It’s Sims-esque, in that managing your Moodles is a massive part of the experience.
You’re sick, and now you can’t sleep, so you’re getting tired easier, but you can go out and find some sleeping pills (or booze) to help you get that much needed rest. You’re depressed from sitting inside your barricaded-hovel for a month-on-end, eating at your carefully prepped supplies, your booze and your books. You need to go outside. Get some excitement. Explore. It’s against your better judgement, but that’s being human for ya’.
Power has gone out. Winter is coming. There’s only so much canned food out there. You need to stockpile for winter, and you needed to do it in autumn. Summers nearly over.
Its moment-to-moment gameplay is honestly quite mundane. You’re managing your base. Cataloguing supplies. You’re slowly improving your skills to become more self-sufficient. Your tripping over in blind panic because a roaming helicopter flew over your location with a loudspeaker telling you where to find a safe zone, and now rotters are throwing themselves through windows to get to you.
There isn’t even a safe zone.
The little things in the game add up too. There’s wonderfully indepth systems to a lot of its mechanics that it flatly doesn’t feel the need to explain to you. Caloric intake and output. Weight gain and loss. Preserving foods. Building electronics to create gadgets and doodads. Then there’s the world-building things. You don’t, by default, start in the middle of the apocalypse. You’re at the very start. You can watch TV. You can hear the radio. Watch the news. See the world die.
It’s great fun, but not without its issues. Project Zomboid is probably always going to be stuck in Early Access hell. Its updates are always ‘right around the corner’ (read: months to years) but they are always huge. If you want a game that’s going to be finished one day, you shouldn’t invest much here. If you don’t need the game to be ‘finished’ (and trust me, there’s a whole game here and more) then this is for you, especially with friends, Zomboid is a great Game-of-the-Week/Month to waste your weekends on. It was a rare Steam Greenlight success story for a reason.