Walking a fuzzy grey line in Dry Drowning

In which I suck at writing titles

Dive into a dystopian future with Dry Drowning, where politics and personal grudges conspire to get in the way of your job.

Dry Drowning isn’t your usual detective visual novel (although having seen such adventures involving Cthulhu, ghosts and gypsy curses, we probably ought to define ‘usual’). Set in a futuristic city which has isolated itself from the rest of the world in its own little dystopia, Dry Drowning has you decide the actions of the detective Mordred Foley. The task you’re faced with is something with personal history behind it: a serial killer who has struck before, the search for whom cost you your reputation.

Now, the killer has struck again, continuing their recreation of Greek mythology with the murders. You have to investigate the evidence and question everyone you can get hold of to get to the bottom of the case — all while trying to keep your friends safe and your reputation intact. But this isn’t an easy task — Dry Drowning offers you incredibly difficult choices throughout the story. Do you want to doggedly pursue your goal or attempt to make the city a better place? As far as we know, there are no right answers, and plenty of deadly ones.

A holographic projection of a woman is displayed against the trunk of a tree. She has been hung from a branch by her wrists and has an arrow in her chest.
AquaOS makes it easy to see the scene of a crime without the gory details being there in the flesh.

Your investigations takes place in much the same way as any other — point and click at areas of interest and see what comes up — but it’s aided here by AquaOS, the computer system and communications device that underpins life in the city of Nova Polemos. The device can display holograms of the crime scene once it’s been cleaned up and acts as a storage device for personal details and history notes, including psychological profiles that could be useful in a case.

AquaOS’ interface can feel a bit clunky at times, animating through different menus before coming to the one you want, which can get a bit annoying when you receive several biographies in a row and have to watch the same menus pass by every time you read them. Eventually, we stopped opening them as soon as we got them because we felt they didn’t give us much more information than we had already — although that may have been partly down to a choice we made midway through the story.

A message's details are open in the inventory screen, with a list of clues towards a passcode.
You need to use the items in your inventory to help with your cases.

Investigating the scene is only half the story, though. The rest of your detective work comes down to questioning anyone related to the case or checking up on acquaintances for helpful information. It’s here where one of Dry Drowning’s key features comes into play. When someone lies, Mordred’s subconscious projects an animalistic mask onto their features. This helps you direct your line of questioning and gets you thinking about why someone might be lying, which is sometimes more important than the lie itself.

Sometimes, all the lies come to a head and you need to push a suspect into telling the truth. These are the crux points in a case, where you can charge ahead into the next stage of the story or fail completely and have to try again. This is where the interrogation system comes into play — you need to make sure you ask the right questions, present the right evidence and draw the right conclusions. Make too many mistakes and you’re done for. (Thankfully, unless you quit the game, you can replay from the beginning of the conversation an unlimited number of times in this case rather than reloading a previous save.) Connect the right dots and the suspect cracks, you get yours answers and the story continues.

Mordred questions a suspect. In Dry Drowning, the suspect's face is represented by an animal mask because they haven't started telling the truth yet. The number of mistakes remaining in this round of questioning is displayed by opened and closed eyes over Mordred's head.
You get three chances when questioning a suspect, marked by the eyes that hover over Mordred’s head.

While the story is engaging and the choices you get have real impact, we found it was a little let down by the similarity between different characters’ dialogue. For a game with such emphasis on individuals’ psychology, you would expect there to be more than their biography and appearance to set them apart. However, all of the main characters have pretty much the same vocabulary and manner of speaking. It’s not something you notice immediately, and might not be a problem for most, but after a while we found it made conversations feel a bit monotonous.

Dry Drowning’s Nova Polemos, brought to life in beautifully painted backdrops, is a mystery to unravel in itself. Even with one playthrough, you have many hours of content, with the possibility to go back through and unlock other endings. Unfortunately we were unable to complete the game to a bug we have no doubt will be ironed out in the full release, but we’d got far enough in the story to be really eager to find out what happened next.

Dry Drowning is available now on Steam, PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.

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