Review – Dry Drowning
Visual novels are a particularly tough genre to make an appealing game out of. Since there’s usually a lack of traditional gameplay elements, they need to have a solid story and striking art design in order to keep people interested. While the majority fade into obscurity, there are some like The Life and Suffering of Sir Bronte, Doki Doki Literature Club, and Chicken Police – Paint it RED! that manage to stand out, thanks to their intuitiveness and originality. Dry Drowning looked to be another visual novel with a few tricks up its sleeve, so I decided to give it a try. Despite some flaws, I’m really happy I did.
Dry Drowning is a cyberpunk-themed, investigative visual thriller. Set in a not-too-distant dystopian future, the city of Nova Polemos is a seething cesspool of crime, racism, and corruption. Our protagonist, Mordred Foley, is a disgraced private investigator who is trying to rebuild his reputation after going to jail for falsifying records in a murder investigation and sending two innocent people to the electric chair. When an opportunity arrives to redeem both himself and his partner Hera for their past crimes, he once again gets swept up in the darkness that lead him astray before.
While Dry Drowning is mostly a visual novel, there are a few features that keep the gameplay feeling interesting. For starters, you’ll have to make choices periodically throughout the game and many of them carry real weight. Some decisions will only slightly affect the dialogue, but several can result in certain characters dying or changing various socio-political situations within the city. There are three different endings with drastically different outcomes, as well as over a hundred different branching paths, which gives Dry Drowning some replay value.
Being a private investigator, Mordred will frequently investigate crime scenes and interrogate persons of interest. He has a unique ability that allows him know when a person is lying too. When someone lies, the screen distorts and they get some sort of animal or demonic mask covering their face. He can break away the mask by interrogating them properly and thereby learning the truth. It’s an interesting idea, but it quickly feels ham-fisted. There’s no subtly to it and it takes away the mystery of trying to figure out when someone is hiding something.
The same could be said for investigating the crime scenes as well. Once you arrive, you’ll be able to pull up holographic representations of the actual victim and begin to survey the scene. I liked this concept and it plays well to the cyberpunk theme of the game. However, investigating is nothing more than running your cursor over the area until you’ve noted anything that highlights. Once again, there’s no subtly or even any challenge to scour the scene for clues. Your cursor and UI system will let you know when there’s nothing left to find.
Dry Drowning also has some puzzles to solve every now and then, above and beyond correctly interrogating witnesses. Some of them work, like the few that are left by the toying serial killer, which feel a little more natural to the story. However, most of them feel completely out of place.
For example, while in the middle of an investigation, Mordred will ask an acquaintance for assistance repairing a piece of tech. He then makes you play a game he invented that everyone plays and supposedly gives valuable feedback about each citizen playing it to his corporation. Come to find out, it’s just a simplistic puzzle game where you have to line up marks on each tile so that they all connect and light up. It makes absolutely no sense how this would give information about people to be used by a pharmaceutical company and brings the pacing of the game to a grinding halt. Luckily, not all of the puzzles are that cumbersome, even if many of them do feel tacked on to pad the gameplay.
Visually, Dry Drowning is beautiful. It has a gorgeous hand-drawn art style with carefully crafted, striking backgrounds. Each character is displayed in black and white, which provides a nice contrast to some of the more colorfully rendered areas of the city. My biggest gripe with the visuals is whenever someone is lying to you, the screen gets taken over by a static distortion effect. This makes it incredibly difficult read the tiny dialogue text boxes, which are tough enough to read as it is. It also makes me concerned that it could potentially trigger people who are prone to seizures. There’s no need for this effect and it’s overly distracting.
The sound design is pretty solid all around. There’s no voice acting, but the sound effects are mostly convincing. The musical score is well done with a nice variety to the audio tracks. Each tune fits the tone of the scene well and further sells the emotions they’re conveying.
I have to say that despite some issues, I was pleasantly surprised by Dry Drowning. The setting was interesting, the choices mattered, and the story was compelling enough to make me want to see it through to the end. While not all of the socio-political story elements were original, there were still plenty of mysteries and twists that kept me captivated. Anyone who is a fan of visual novels or gritty crime thrillers should give Dry Drowning a chance.
The hand-drawn art style is beautiful and well crafted with striking backgrounds. However, the static interference effect that happens whenever someone lies makes it very difficult to read the dialogue and could potentially trigger those prone to seizures.
Dry Drowning is mostly a visual novel, but it does have investigative elements and some occasional puzzles.
There is no voice acting, but the sound effects are mostly well done. The musical score does a fine job of setting the tone for the scenes as needed.
Fun Factor: 8.0
A dark, gritty visual novel with a series of compelling mysteries and twists that will keep you interested through the end. The investigative and interrogating parts are fun, but the majority of the puzzles feel out of place.
Final Verdict: 7.5
Dry Drowning is available now on PC, Xbox One, PS4, and Switch.
Reviewed on Switch.
A copy of Dry Drowning was provided by the publisher.