Games: Aquatic adventure Sea of Solitude puts the 'blue' in deep blue sea
Sea of Solitude (Multi)
WHEN I fire up the PlayStation, alien guts are usually on the menu, not some rumination on mental illness. Yet the past decade has thankfully seen games get ideas above their station, with developers discovering new ways to sell complex ideas through the medium.
And, while much of Sea of Solitude engages in typical gaming fare such as platform-hopping and puzzle-solving, beneath the surface of this passion project (from a tiny team of 12) lurks an exploration of loneliness and mental illness.
Putting the 'blue' in deep blue sea, SoS follows young Kay as she roams a submerged post-apocalyptic world and encounters personal demons which manifest as monsters. Each must engage with their own inner turmoil to return to human form, where they invariably turn out to be members of Kay's family.
I've skirted with the insufferable git that is depression myself, but I don't want to wallow under a willow with a copy of The Bell Jar – and if you find the idea of roaming the seven seas of sigh to be a load of symbolics, players can ignore the metaphorical muddle and focus on the puzzle-solving.
A platformer at its dark core, Sea of Solitude employs user-friendly mechanics as Kay roams the waves in her boat, scrambles across rooftops or leads monsters to the light.
Each chapter involves navigating to a selected point – helped by a magic flare – before solving a rudimentary platforming puzzle. These usually culminate in a boss fight of sorts – and with little in the way of combat, success often involves clearing a path blocked with obstacles.
Collectable bottle messages flesh out the back-story while achievement hunters can seek out 32 birds to unlock the Flock of Seagulls trophy.
With stunning visuals – all pastel-hued Germanic architecture poking from the water – Sea of Solitude is gorgeous to look at, though its technical strengths are nearly undone by some amateur voice acting and clumsy dialogue.
And, while it can be polished off in less than four hours, those poorly acted cut-scenes are enough to have you reaching for the Prozac.
Much like Kay's tiny motorboat, Sea of Solitude is mechanically basic, but it'll get you where you want to go. Designed to appeal to fans of Submerged, Abzu and Journey, it's nowhere near as good as those indie darlings, while 2017's Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice was much more subtle and effective at exploring similar themes.
Still, it's about as enjoyable a game about emotional trauma can be – and, if it grabs you by the feels, may even make you feel better about yourself. Not bad for a videogame.