Drowning tells a short story through the medium we call video games. It’s not your typical game but it’s definitely worth checking out.
First things first, Drowning is not a proper game in the traditional sense. You take control of a character, sure, but you don’t have any goals to speak of, not unless you follow the challenges set by the game’s trophies, but even then, they don’t really add much interactivity to the experience.
Drowning tells a short story that takes no more than 45 minutes to see from start to finish. I say ‘see’ but really, there’s not much else to see, either, as the story is told through words that tap out in front of you as you move through the ever-darkening landscapes, reflective of the story’s darkening tone.
The story is told from the perspective of a child in Year 7 at school, at least to start off with. And if you’re not familiar with the British school system, Year 7 is high school, so around 11-12 years old. Each ‘level’ takes the story forward to the next year until finally reaching Year 12, the last year of school, or Sixth Form as I knew it. The chapters are no more than a few minutes long, but each packs a punch as the poor child’s heart is spilt onto the screen, with the inner thoughts and demons becoming increasingly desperate and dark.
Drowning’s story is one of self-conflict, turmoil, hate, anger, desperation, hopelessness, friendships and their complications, and depression. Things that every kid will have gone through at some point during their teenage years, and for that reason, Drowning struck a few chords. It’s not a stunning game to look at and the writing is definitely weak – though you could argue it’s in line with the young narrator – but most people – especially those who have long left school behind – will be able to relate to the tale in one way or another, I know I certainly did.
Drowning had me looking back to my own times as a young boy going through school. These are the formative years of any kid’s life; your first mates, fights, triumphs, failures, first loves and last goodbyes. They’re the best years and the worst years of your life, but you don’t really realise how valuable they are until you’re a 30-year old man being forced to look backwards and inwards because of a video game. Thankfully, I made it through the system and came out the other end as a fairly decent human being, at least by today’s standards. Some are not so lucky, and the inner conflict of fitting in with the crowd, aiming to please others, and doing whatever it takes to be your own person can be too much. Some don’t make it out alive, and that’s a message the game makes clear, even if it doesn’t explicitly show it – which I’m thankful for.
Drowning is an odd game. It’s barely a game but it’s something that’ll stick with me for a while. It took me on a brief stroll through somebody else’s memories, but it also pushed me back down my own version of memory lane – something I rarely do willingly, and for that, I’ll remember Drowning, even if I won’t sit through it again. I do recommend it though, because for just a couple of pounds, dollars, or euros, it’s a worthy and humbling experience.
Drowning PS5, PS4 Review
Overall - Very Good - 7/10
Drowning isn’t a fun game by any stretch – it’s actually quite dark and depressing – but it delivers a powerful message and by the end of this teenager’s tragic tale, you’ll be moved in one way or another.
- A thought-provoking story that most will be able to relate to
- Multiple endings for replayability
- Priced just about right for this kind of experience
- Deceptievly chilled atmosphere and beautiful music
- The writing could have stronger, bolder, and more impactful
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.
Primary version tested: PS5. Reviewed using PS5.