Mental health is a topic that has become a common theme in video games over the last few years. They create a wonderful platform of interactivity that allows developers to explore depression, anxiety, psychosis and more in a way that is both relatable and entertaining. Drowning is one such game; Polygonal Wolf takes us on a story -his story if the end credits are anything to go by – of a young boy’s struggle with depression through the different phases of his life.
Walking simulators take on a tough job, they must create a story that is engaging enough to keep you playing, often without having the use of combat and fancy game mechanics to fall back on. If the narrative isn’t compelling enough, it’s unlikely you’ll make it to the end. Drowning does well in this respect as from the off I was curious where the story was going to take me, and the use of personification to make depression into a real-life villain that the protagonist communicates with was intriguing.
Even though it is a small game, Drowning has multiple endings for you to discover; some are bleak and harrowing while others show a bright light at the end of a dark tunnel. Having the game branch off is an interesting feature, however, once you ‘finish’ the game you must then work your way through a couple of the beginning levels if you want to wander down a different path. While this isn’t the end of the world, having the option to start from a particular ‘age’ would have been a nice touch.
While the story takes front stage, the low poly environments create an enjoyable backdrop for your journey. The lighting shifts with the mood, it starts off bright and sunny and slowly dims with your descent into depression. One of the final levels is so void of any light you’re left picking a direction, and hoping it’s the right one, which is a wonderful metaphor for what mental illnesses can feel like. The sound is also used to help create the tone for each level, the music in your earlier years is light-hearted and jovial, but as you progress the notes become lower and more morose, building a sense of dread. Drowning does a fantastic job of varying the music and light throughout the levels to create atmosphere, but unfortunately, it limits itself by having the paths be almost completely linear, meaning there was little to explore in the world other than your chosen path.
I also noticed a couple of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors during my time with the game, and although this didn’t exactly ruin the experience it was somewhat noticeable with the writing being such an integral part of the storytelling, especially with the game having forgone the use of spoken dialogue.
Drowning shows us there isn’t just one story when it comes to depression, that depending on your actions, you can change the narrative in ways you wouldn’t even imagine. Drowning is a game that makes you think and while it’s not necessarily hours and hours of fast pace fun (it’s over almost before it begins) it makes you sit back and look at things a little differently, it’s an experience that sticks with you.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*