The phrase “visual novel” is one that can spark hysterical reactions across the web from those who will argue that they aren’t proper video games. While Dry Drowning is being described on its Steam page as such a thing, after getting some hands on time through the first chapter, I’d argue there are enough “gamey” elements to put any fears to bed.
Dry Drowning, coming this August, puts you in the role of Mordred Foley, a disgraced private detective trying to make ends meet in the futuristic city of Nova Polemos.
This is a city built on some pretty nasty politics, with all kinds of elitist ideologies come to light as Mordred works to solve a murder, with a high profile politician the number one suspect.
Investigations are driven through conversations with your assistant-cum-partner Hera, various suspects or witnesses along with careful investigation of the crime scene. Clicking around where your cursor changes will reveal any necessary clues, and shouldn’t be too difficult to find, but it is how you interpret them that is crucial.
As events evolve, Mordred’ special skills become clear. He has a helpful trick of sensing when someone is lying to him, represented by a mask covering their face. With the evidence you have gathered you can reveal the truth, but interpret the evidence wrong and ask the wrong questions three times within a chapter will lead to a failure in the case, and the end of your journey.
It seems set to add some level of tension to your journey through this dystopian, cyber-noir world. Backgrounds to different locations are wonderfully drawn, which combined with the oppressive atmosphere of Nova Polemos and what seems to be, so far at least, some strong character work makes for a world rich in stories to unearth.
The stories that you can unearth are multitudinous. Italian developers Studio V promise 150 story branches leading to three completely different endings. This will be possible thanks to a number of crucial moral decisions that you have to make through the game.
From the first chapter, they vary from how involved you allow Hera to become in your investigations, to deciding whether to prove the innocence of a key suspect, or to send them to prison in the hope that it will lead to a better world.
Whether the writing lives up to the high standards of the first chapter remains to be seen. I’ve come across a trans character, and one has to hope that the developers do her story justice. So too, with some of the political messaging going on, there will rightly be some worries that the tone can take a bad turn.
With only a few weeks until release, it won’t be long until I get my teeth truly stuck into Dry Drowning and deliver my Verdict.