When Sea of Solitude was announced back at EA Play 2018, I was not quite sure what to make of it, now though, that it is out and I have played it, is the game something special, or is it a drift like some flotsam.
The story is the core of the game it begins with you as Kay, waking up in a boat, there's no explanation as to what the boat refers to or the location you wake up in; or even how you got there to begin with and it sets the trend for how the story plays out for the rest of the game. Are you slowly move forward in the story you come to learn that Kay has her demons and while some of them are attempting to stop her by force, others are using words and logic, but there's no real explanation as to what they all mean, making you play further and through the game, in order to attempt to uncover what is going on.
As you play through you will eventually come across a monster that is a giant bird and while Kay initially is startled by it, she quickly comes to realise that the bird was sad. Deciding to follow it to see what is going on it begins the first step of Kay's understanding not just for the bird but for herself as well. This is perhaps the biggest story point that can be made for the game is not in order to understand even the small parts you have to complete that section of the game, there are no real story threads that will jump out of you right away because the more you play the more memories K rediscovers and then when all told come together to tell a story. I do like the fact that all these stories are small and then interconnected something larger the problem is there's nothing that connects me to K story and therefore these little ones as well. By the time the credits began to roll I felt that I did have an understanding about Kay, but there were still nowhere near enough information for me to relate to her or her experience because there is no context do anything it is just there.
When it comes to gameplay it can be broken down into 2 distinct parts platforming an puzzles, but sadly neither of them works the way they need to. a lot of the time Kay in her boat, driving from place to place across this vast ocean that inhabits the world, in this the game does a brilliant job, combining the water physics and the boat mechanic it honestly is one of the best open Sea world’s I've played in a long time. The problem is the moment Kay steps out of the boat and onto land, for the most part you spend more time on isolated sections of land connected by water and you have to run from place to place whilst avoiding one of the monsters, the problem is keys not as responsive as she needs to be for some of these sections which can result in stuttered jumps, miss timed jumps and even clipping object before jumping falling. The times when the water recedes and your left in a larger open space to explore the same clunky jumping in moving mechanic or in fact but they're not as noticeable because you have the space to play around with which means they are not as obtrusive as they are when you lack space.
The other mechanic is the puzzle solving and this is actually done in a pretty unique way as they're not puzzles, in so much that you need to move this block to there, but harness the abilities of Kay herself, that she uses in her struggles. In terms of abilities at Kay possessors there's two, one allows her to send up a flare of light which can help reduce the darkness surrounds her as well as provide assistance in navigating to where she needs to go, the other allows her to draw in some of the darkness which goes inside of the back pack she carries. Both abilities play a central role in moving forward throughout the game and there are times when you need to use both in order to breakthrough an obstacle blocking the path. The problem with the puzzles, is that there is no challenge to them, you just have to wander around the world, until you trigger one and as the world, at least when on land, is fairly linear, there is no way to miss them. The game does have some collectables to locate, messages in bottles and seagulls to scare, but I missed some early on, so I don’t know what they do, but that is something to keep an eye out for.
The visuals though, there is something about them that is appealing and not at the same time, the world, when it is not so gloomy, looks amazing. The pastel colours that the game uses, all shine through, and in the latest parts of the game, really stands out, the issue is that those moments, while amazing, are few and far between. The rest of the game, you are stuck in dark and gloomy locations, with little to no colour and while it does suit the story that is being told, there are times when the game is just too dark, which makes things very hard to see. The juxta positioning of the two extremes does work well and helps highlight the ups and downs that someone like Kay is going through, I just wish there was a more middle range, to help with the gameplay. On the audio side, the games score is suitably dramatic when it calls for it, but when the action calms down and there are moments of reflection, the score changes to match, even listing to it over the end credits is a treat. The voice acting though, that is harder to accept, there are a handful of characters, some of which are shown over years and for the most part they all sound fine, except there are times when they lose their German accent and sound British and there are even voices that sound British all the time. My issue with that, is not that it changes, but that it just breaks the tension, to hear one of the monsters talking clearly and then to hear the same creature talking in a heavy accented version of the language, it is odd.
Sea of Solitude is more of a game about acceptance than anything else and playing it, requires you to accept that there are problems with it. The story, whilst interesting, has no context for anything and with that lack of context, there is no connection to Kay or anyone else, the visuals are incredible, but fall to the side of being too dark to see at times. While it might not be a perfect game, it does provide some insight into how some people live and even that helps the game stand out.
Review copy provided by Electronic Arts