Sunless Sea ReviewPrice:
Imagine a mind as an ocean, a bowl of bone filled with thoughts that ripple and roil, swell and shrink. This bobbing blue dreamscape stretches to the horizon. Somewhere beyond that point is our destination; a verdict. It is never definitive, never objective. But it does provide some solace, a spit of ground we may kiss after stumbling down the gangplank.
On this particular occasion, we are far from such solidity, and our ship braves treacherous waters. Conflicting opinions crash violently against the hull, and the air is foggy with uncertainties, thick clouds of questions hanging eerily about the deck. If you've come aboard seeking answers, sailor, you may be disappointed. The best I can offer is guidance.
Sunless Sea is a game about stories. The telling of them, the selling of them, and the making of them. It is also a game about death. Death by drowning. Death by madness. Death by a thousand cuts to mind, body and soul, and death by sweeping, cruel chance. It's a game I love one moment and despise the next, like a weary ship's captain wrestling with unpredictable weather.
Sunless Sea is set in the universe of Fallen London, a fiction swathed in Victorian gothic where the macabre is the everyday. You assume the role of a neophyte ship's captain with nary a tattoo on his body, and are charged with exploring the oceans beyond the relative sanctuary of the sunken metropolis. The ultimate aim is to earn enough money and prestige to retire.
You achieve this through a combination of exploration and trading. But not trading in a conventional sense. It is possible to trade goods between the many islands of the fractured archipelago. But the real reward is in the trading of stories. Every port you can visit is layered with tales, narratives and information which can be explored for rewards great and small. For example, port reports can be gathered and then sold back to the Admiralty Board of Fallen London, while 'Zee Stories' , 'Tales of Terror' and 'Distant Memories' can be related to various characters in exchange for coin. In addition, most islands have unique stories of their own, be it a civil war between a tribe of rats and a society of guinea pigs, or a research station conducting bizarre experiments who will only allow you access if you give them a specific item.
Sunless Sea carries this off beautifully. Each story is told with brevity, colour, and a dark wit. Tonally it is also remarkably consistent. Fallen London has clearly enjoyed a huge amount of attention devoted to its lore, and Sunless Sea does a fantastic job of conveying it without suffocating you in it. The seas are crammed with unique and ingeniously conceived landmarks like the giant Stalagmite of Gaider's Mourn and the Dead City of Vanderhyde. Sunless Sea encourages, nay, necessitates repeat visits to these places too, so these harbours begin to feel like a second home, always a welcome sight to a troubled Ship Captain.