When our editor Gerard offered me a review code for a game called Dry Drowning, described as a “psychological investigative thriller”, I immediately walked back my hasty “Oh this sounds fun!” reaction as not to appear too enthusiastic about such a morbid sounding premise. Yet, as I got stuck into this dark, interactive visual novel, I realised that was probably wise.Dry Drowning, developed by Studio V, is a mystery story centred on disgraced detective Mordred Foley. After launching on PC in 2019, the game has now landed on Nintendo Switch, the ideal platform, I think, to consume this gameplay style.You’re drawn in by a series of beautifully illustrated stills overlaid with lines like, “If a man is meant to drown, he will drown even in a spoonful of water,” which paint a pretty gloomy, if slightly cheesy picture of what lies ahead. There’s also the opening line, “Come on, be honest, what are you really afraid of?” which hovers just long enough for you to think, ‘Oh crap, do I have to answer?’.
You begin in Foley’s office, which he shares with his partner Hera in the city of Nova Polemos. The year is 2066 yet the office decor says little of the future. At one point, one of the characters even makes a joke about the “retro furniture”. There’s a reason for that. He’s been out of the game for two years after being accused of planting evidence in a murder case which saw two people sentenced to death. Now, Foley has been acquitted due to lack of evidence and just wants to get back to work. Luckily, they’ve got a new client.
Before you know it, you have a body tied to a tree in some sort of elaborate murder, a high-profile politician involved, and a suspect who might just be the ticket Foley needs to right some wrongs.
This is a beautifully illustrated game. The set pieces are decorated with details which either tell you more about the characters or provide you with a vital piece of evidence to progress. Like Foley’s scruffy desk in his office where he keeps a spare pack of cigarettes and is the polar opposite to Hera’s neat pile of newspapers which she keeps just in case they come in handy one day. Though, the detail is slightly spoiled by Foley questioning the stack with a piece of dialogue that might as well have said, “Tsh, women, am I right?” Though this awkward bravado was, sadly, quickly outdone a few moments later when Hera, plagued by the consequences of their less than squeaky past, exclaims, “We’re both monsters” and Foley retorts, “Wrong. The only difference is, you’re a gorgeous monster.” At least Hera calls him an idiot on our behalf.(“you God Damn idiot!”)
On the surface, Foley seems like your standard hardboiled detective, yet he’s tormented by his past, perhaps guilt for those he’s sentenced to death, and throughout you’ll see instances where dark, creepy masks appear on the faces of those he’s talking to when they’re being untruthful. This certainly adds to Dry Drowning’s dark atmosphere but while it was an interesting touch, I thought it was a little odd that a game which asks you to step into the shoes of a detective would provide you with such a tell.
Hera on the other hand, we’re introduced to as she’s playing piano in the office and doesn’t want to be disturbed. At first, she comes off as fragile, haunted by the accusations that follow them but as the story unfolds, we get a character who wants more than being stuck in the office shuffling paperwork and isn’t afraid to call Foley out, though I wish we’d seen more of this growth.
The first crime scene you visit is grisly. You’ll have to click around to uncover any useful evidence which you can collect and access through the game’s AquaOS operating system which also stores dialogue and info on characters you meet along the way. When asked to hand over an item, you won’t get unlimited chances to get it right and I must admit, there were times when my choices were pure guesswork as some items felt less logical than others.
You’ll converse with various characters each with numerous dialogue threads to explore but some will be mandatory. Choices are also important throughout your actions as there will be times when Dry Drowning asks you to make a call about a situation. Should you save one person and let the other go? Should you conceal an important piece of evidence? Some choices were certainly more pivotal than others but those that didn’t appear to have much effect made my part as the player feel a bit surplus to requirement, as though my job was to simply turn the page rather than influence any outcome.While the story had some interesting moments and ideas, I wasn’t completely drawn in or desperate to solve this mystery, which is a shame because I adored Dry Drowning’s art style. The largely monochrome aesthetic accented with flashes of neon, made for a gorgeously gritty cyberpunk environment, and the cityscapes in particular I can only imagine are all the more impressive when playing on PC.For me, the writing is where Dry Drowning falters a little. It’s not that it’s bad, in fact, it’s exactly what you might expect from this kind of crime novel but that also meant that it felt clunky at times and a little cliched. Perhaps had Foley been a tad more likeable I could have forgiven some of the cringier pieces of dialogue but even though he’s clearly got his demons and there are moments when he makes honourable choices, I couldn’t see much further than his tough guy who doesn’t care about anything exterior.
That said, there is a reason these kinds of stories are so popular and that’s because everybody enjoys a good murder mystery. If you can get past the sometimes-awkward dialogue, you will find that within Dry Drowning amidst themes of corruption and censorship, and a visual treat which will implore you to explore every clickable corner.