Drowning - Review

"Drowning is a dramatic, well toned art piece that will hit close to home for many players."

Developer - Polygonal Wolf

Publisher - Sometimes You

Platform - Nintendo Switch

Release date: January 31st, 2019

Drowning is a short but effective first person walking experience that delivers perspective on the growth of mental heath issues in individuals as they invade the psyche. The game play is as simple as it gets. Players walk forward the entire time down an easily followed path through various low poly minimalist environments. As you walk you are shown a brilliantly grounded dialogue between a protagonist and his unwelcome inner thoughts. Through this process we see the protagonist's depression grow from a hardly noticeable unfamiliar feeling to an unbearable burden.

I was impressed with Drowning's initiative to display the growth of a mental illness in it's protagonist rather than simply label the character as dealing with one like many games of this generation tend to do. By focusing on how a mental illness develops we are able to see the change in the character's personality over time, in this case over the course of a couple years. Changes include how the character views their self worth, how they view time spent with others, and why someone suffering may seek less interaction with others rather than external help.

In 2018's Celeste, developers used difficult platforming as a metaphor for their protagonist's struggles against anxiety and depression but the narrative took a backseat to the game play and the connection felt somewhat forced. Drowning takes the opposite approach by minimizing game play keeping the focus on the protagonist's struggle and I honestly prefer this method when involving this subject matter.

Drowning is uncomfortable. 

This game isn't really fun, but neither are popular tragedies "The Last of Us" or "Red Dead Redemption 2". Drowning is a dramatic, well toned art piece that will hit close to home for many players. It's somewhat of a therapeutic journey and I would argue that it could be used to heal or help friends and family of those suffering from mental illness.

The sharp loading screen breaks between segments occasionally hurt the momentum. The music pairs well with the narrative but the tracks themselves are a bit harsh. It's apparent the composer peaked the piano resulting in unwelcome distortion at times and for some reason, never went back to re-record. These are my only issues with the game.

Drowning makes a compelling effort to place players in a first-person perspective of what it's like to suffer from mental illness. If you have any interest in walking that mile in someone else's shoes or if you're looking to better understand a loved one's struggle this game is absolutely worthy of your time.

Check out our full play through below:

- Matt

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