There are a lot of outlandish sea superstitions that have been echoed through the ages. These vary from deathly lullabies sung by sirens, to the bizarre belief that a banana on board a ship will spell disaster for everyone. And yes, that’s a real thing.
The oceans have sparked not only our imaginations but also our fears. Zen Studios has taken these supernatural superstitions about the sea to the next level with Dread Nautical, having players scavenge and explore an array of randomly generated decks on a stricken cruise ship in a survival-horror turn-based rogue-like.
Dread Nautical starts with you choosing your player character, of which there are a few to choose from. Each character has their own diverse range of abilities, and you can utilise them depending on your preferred play-style. These characters range from a swordsman trying to escape the Yakuza life of crime, to an investigator with an outfit to boot. The character I chose to rock out with was Miraje, who thought that a cruise gig would be an easy ride – literally! I didn’t regret this choice at all; Miraje is a kickass character with some hilarious anecdotes.
You start your voyage on the cruise ship called the Hope where ferocious rumblings of a thunderstorm are brewing at sea. You awaken from your slumber in the lobby to find a chap named Jed standing over you. Because that isn’t weird at all. He then informs you that there has been a commotion on the decks and that he wouldn’t be surprised if people had died. But Jed doesn’t seem the soundest of geezers, so you check out the commotion for yourself and head to the elevator to investigate further.
From here, you’ll encounter grotesque creatures that wander the rooms throughout the wreckage of the liner that look like they were snatched out of a menacing seafaring tale that Lovecraft himself would be proud of. Maybe Jed was onto something after all.
Fortunately, the depiction of theses Lovecraftian-inspired ocean dwellers does not eclipse the atmosphere and tone of the narrative. The cartoony graphics are eye-catching. The colours and textures help soften and relax the horror elements of the experience, giving it a more light-hearted touch and outlook rather than anything too gory and menacing, which I massively approve of.
The combat in this game is turn-based. You’ll manoeuvre your character across a grid and at the beginning of each turn, and you’ll have action points (AP) that you can use to move or attack with either your bare-knuckle fists or preferably a weapon. Dread Nautical draws from a vast variety of weapons in its arsenal for you to tackle theses ghastly foes in a skirmish. Weapons can be found scattered across the environments amongst randomly generated deck floors.
These weapons can range from the totally rad such as wielding a pirate sword to the mundane, like a pool cue. My personal favourite is the delightfully humours golf balls. Nothing quite beats that demonic ass kicking itch like flinging golf balls towards these ghoulish critters.
Luckily, enemies won’t always notice your presence when you enter a room. However, the sneaky buggers are sensitive to loud noises. Getting a cheeky sneak attack from behind is the best approach when these situations occur. Who doesn’t like sneakily clubbing a monster from behind?
The combat is very entertaining, especially with the outrageous weapons on offer. Utilising the mechanics to your favour is highly gratifying, even if a minor drawback is the camera controls felt very stiff at times.
As mentioned before, weapons will not be the only knick-knacks found lurking within the game’s many decks. There’s the loot that comes in the form of healing items, food, scraps, runes and pages to decipher. The deck levels are vibrant and distinctive enough, although some may find the art design a bit repetitive. Not me – I’m always looking forward to the next time I come across a casino room as they look so snazzy. All on black!
After working your way across the deck, you’ll inevitably stumble across a foghorn. After the horn is activated an almighty echo fills the air that makes your character fall to the ground. This marks the beginning cycle of a Groundhog Day-style scenario where your character ventures the decks and pulls the foghorn to progress onto another deck.
Throughout the cycle, you’ll encounter survivors on different deck-levels. You’ll have to gain reputation with the survivors you stumble upon, which takes the form of multiple-choice dialogue options. If you gain their favour, they’ll join you back in the lobby. Finding survivors around the decks and conversing with them is where the game excels. It was gripping and exciting to find another survivor and even more rewarding to see their reactions from my personal decisions. I would usually try to butter up to them, however, this wouldn’t always be received in a good manner.
Just like in any good horror movie, investigating solo is not the best approach for survival. This is why it’s so important to recruit survivors back into the lobby. Not only can you enlist them to accompany you with your fights on deck but some will offer more stations. Be wary, though, as you’ll have to use scraps collected to upgrade the sleeping quarters so you can hold more survivors in the lobby. Not only that but more people means food will have to be distributed evenly to ensure the mobility and survival of the saved souls. This adds a new level of strategic planning as you have to carefully allocate resources that will yield the best results. This extends the feeling of a sense of progression after completing each deck.
Will Dread Nautical make you want to batten down the hatches and anchor you’re mast to its maritime horror show? Some may find the randomly generated deck levels repetitive, nevertheless, this didn’t affect my enjoyment whatsoever. I rather liked the fact I never knew where you’d find fellow survivors or goodies scattered in the environments. Even though at its core – it’s still a horror turn-based game it almost impossible for your mood not to be uplifted with its light-hearted characters, weapons and superb cartoon aesthetics.
Now, off to practice my swing with them golf balls…
Dread Nautical PS4 Review
Overall - Fantastic - 8/10
Dread Nautical is a worthwhile voyage if you want to beat down some Lovecraftian-inspired creatures in a carefree turn-based game. If you’re looking for something to switch off and play for a few hours, then jump aboard!
- Stylish characters
- Survivors have a multiple-choice dialogue
- Fun weapons
- Colourful and cartoon aesthetics
- Some may find the randomly generated deck levels repetitive
- Stiff camera control on occasions.
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Reviewed using PS4 Slim.