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Dry Drowning – The Verdict

Dry Drowning – The Verdict

When I previewed Dry Drowning back in July, I argued that although it was described as a visual novel on its Steam page, there were “gamey” elements to ensure it would meet some arbitrary definition of what a game is from some quarters of the internet.

Having worked my way through the game since its release at the beginning of August, I’d argue that regardless of how you define Dry Drowning, you should take the time to check it out. There’s even a demo where your save files are fully compatible with the full version of the game, so there really isn’t any reason not to pay this at the least a passing glance.

Living Nightmare mode…nice, but without many real consequences.

Coming from Italian developers Studio V, Dry Drowning is a murder-mystery that touches on some deeper themes. Politics is intertwined with racism and immigration, the surveillance state and AI. During your investigation, it will make you pause and ask yourself how far you must go to “do the right thing”, and what that right thing might actually be.

It’s also a game where I found myself banging my head against the table at the attitude of the protagonist, the private detective Mordred Foley. There are numerous decision points in the game, which will ultimately lead to three completely different endings. Despite making decisions to put Mordred on the path to becoming a better person, I felt a disconnect between my choices, his comments during some conversations and his inner-thoughts revealed during cut-scenes.

At times this left me feeling like he was a dark tormented soul that would have no hope of redemption, but the ending I achieved was positive enough to lighten the mood of the story from the perpetual darkness it could have become. I have no doubt that some players will lean into Mordred’s worst tendencies which will lead the city of Nova Polemos into a more hate filled place to live.

Lots of lovely text to read and find clues in.

While Mordred is a difficult character to love, the supporting cast of characters offer some hope. His partner, Hera has been through hell in a previous case, one that you will experience through well-crafted flashbacks, but hasn’t let her experiences send her down the same path as Mordred. She is the good angel sat on your shoulder and provides some much-needed perspective as you journey through the story. Detective Freya has a testy relationship with Mordred and has a story that I would love to have learned more of. If there is a follow on to Dry Drowning, I would hope that Freya takes the lead role.

There are many decision points during the story, some of which through my playthrough felt like they were left dangling without any clear resolution, while others had a massive impact on different characters, and even the Nova Polemos as a whole. Aside from these decisions, Dry Drowning follows an easy rhythm to follow.

You investigate the murder scenes, ask suspects questions until you trap them in a lie when a grotesque mask hides their face. Once they have begun to lie, you use the evidence you have gathered and piece together the events to break their mask and reveal the truth. Dry Drowning makes a big thing at first about only having three lives during these sequences, and if you provide the wrong evidence three times the game will be over.

Morded, smoking. So very noir.

Rather than being over and a unique ending playing, you simply get to repeat the interrogation. It’s fine but can become a chore to repeat a lot of the dialogue to get to the interrogation again. It shows that paying attention to the story and character motivations is key, but I wonder whether sometimes the translation from Italian to English is lacking in some refinement which can obscure some key parts of a case. Then again, it might be that I’m not the best detective out there!

Aside from these interrogation scenes, there are several small puzzles that you must complete to progress the case. None are too challenging, but a few more would have been welcomed to add a bit more variety to the constant dialogue.

It’s not perfect, and some people won’t give Dry Drowning the time of day, purely because it has “visual novel” in the product description. I think this is a game well worth taking a look at, and I would definitely be interested in seeing what Studio V can do to refine and improve on the formula they have come up with here if they were to expand on the world of Nova Polemos.

The Verdict – Headshot
Platforms Available/ Reviewed – PC
Review based on review code supplied by PR. For more on our scoring policy, please read this post.

Dry Drowning – Hands On

Dry Drowning – Hands On

The phrase “visual novel” is one that can spark hysterical reactions across the web from those who will argue that they aren’t proper video games. While Dry Drowning is being described on its Steam page as such a thing, after getting some hands on time through the first chapter, I’d argue there are enough “gamey” elements to put any fears to bed.

Dry Drowning, coming this August, puts you in the role of Mordred Foley, a disgraced private detective trying to make ends meet in the futuristic city of Nova Polemos.

Living Nightmare mode. Got to play your cards right!

This is a city built on some pretty nasty politics, with all kinds of elitist ideologies come to light as Mordred works to solve a murder, with a high profile politician the number one suspect.

Investigations are driven through conversations with your assistant-cum-partner Hera, various suspects or witnesses along with careful investigation of the crime scene. Clicking around where your cursor changes will reveal any necessary clues, and shouldn’t be too difficult to find, but it is how you interpret them that is crucial.

As events evolve, Mordred’ special skills become clear. He has a helpful trick of sensing when someone is lying to him, represented by a mask covering their face. With the evidence you have gathered you can reveal the truth, but interpret the evidence wrong and ask the wrong questions three times within a chapter will lead to a failure in the case, and the end of your journey.

It seems set to add some level of tension to your journey through this dystopian, cyber-noir world. Backgrounds to different locations are wonderfully drawn, which combined with the oppressive atmosphere of Nova Polemos and what seems to be, so far at least, some strong character work makes for a world rich in stories to unearth.

Lots of lovely text to read and find clues in.

The stories that you can unearth are multitudinous. Italian developers Studio V promise 150 story branches leading to three completely different endings. This will be possible thanks to a number of crucial moral decisions that you have to make through the game.

From the first chapter, they vary from how involved you allow Hera to become in your investigations, to deciding whether to prove the innocence of a key suspect, or to send them to prison in the hope that it will lead to a better world.

Whether the writing lives up to the high standards of the first chapter remains to be seen. I’ve come across a trans character, and one has to hope that the developers do her story justice. So too, with some of the political messaging going on, there will rightly be some worries that the tone can take a bad turn.

With only a few weeks until release, it won’t be long until I get my teeth truly stuck into Dry Drowning and deliver my Verdict.