Sunless Sea

Sunless Sea: Zubmariner Edition

We finally got around to playing Failbetter's first Sunless adventure following its launch on PS4.

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The phrase 'London has fallen' might conjure up images of Gerard Butler running around London, gunning down terrorists and saving Two-Face. However, Fallen London could remind many gamers out there of a very well received PC game of the same name. The rogue-like sequel, Sunless Sea, is hitting PS4 along with the Zubmariner DLC in one complete package, and we've taken it out for a spin.

The good news is that you don't have to play the first game to know what the hell is going off. The backstory is displayed to you right from the off in a text-based format: London was dragged to a subterranean world by a flock of bats. Yes, bats. In this underground kingdom there are a number of locations spread over a huge expanse of water known as the Unterzee. We're not just making spelling mistakes here as everything seems to have more z's in than normal.

Starting off in the port of Fallen London, you must first pick your character's name, backstory, and victory conditions. These range from finding your father's remains to finding out enough about the world so that you can write a book as a famous explorer.

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Before you even set sail, there is quite an overwhelming number of things for you to click on and read. There are a few tutorial texts, but the first thing you'll notice is there are quite a few different tabs. These include shops and dry docks. There are also some quests for you to take up in preparation for your voyage.

Reading seems to be the order of the day. The stories are all so beautifully crafted, that they're hard not to love. The one thing that you need to be prepared for is that they are text heavy. Sunless Seas requires a lot of reading if you're to get the most out it. The narrative is probably our favourite thing about it, especially how well written everything is.

Sunless Sea

When you're finally ready to cast off, your steampunk ship heads out into the dark waters of the new fallen world. Graphically it looks a little like a top-down board game, with an emphasis on the darkness of the underground world. Turning on your lights will reveal even more. Then the music really sets an eerie tone in this survival game. And survival is what it's all about and it's all a bit of a balancing act. You'll notice in the top left-hand corner of the screen there are a bunch of gauges and bars. These represent Fuel, Supplies, and Terror.

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Everything is about balance, and it all comes at a cost. If you increase your speed, you'll burn more fuel, which means your sailors can get further on the supplies you have. Slow down and you run the risk of starvation, even leading to cannibalism. Then you have a light. If you turn it off, your fuel won't burn as quickly, but your terror will start racing up meaning your crew can go crazy. Turn it on, and fuel is not your only concern, as it may attract some unwanted attention.

The world is populated by aggressive parrots, bats, crabs, and pirates. The combat system involves keeping the enemy in your sights while your weapons charge. If you fire too early, you may miss, but wait too long and you will hit, but you also might be dead before you do. The crews' terror also rises, and lose too many members and it has another impact; drop below 50% and you won't be able to travel at full speed.

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There are so many ways to die and there's so much to think about. It's all a bit overwhelming, but thankfully the stories make up for it. Dying can be good though, as there is a legacy system. This means that you can choose what passes on to your next playthrough. These options include weapons, crew, or even the map that you've discovered.

Choosing the latter option means that your map won't change at all. If you choose another option, there will be some randomisation to the next map. Notice the word: some. It is a roguelike, but parts of the map are permanently fixed, like Fallen London and its surrounding area. Some of the other sections are separated into squares. These squares are randomised, but what it means is that the same locations will always be randomly distributed in the same rough area. While it makes each playthrough easier, it does mean that once you learn the basic layout, it could become a bit repetitive.

Certain quests are randomised as well, but we found that we started to see quite a few of them again and again. It made it familiar, easier, but also a little more repetitive. No game with this much story can be totally random, but it did suffer a little because of this.

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When you are ready, you can head out on a quest to become a Zubmariner and explore even more under the Unterzee. Here there's a selection of even more monsters to run/sail away from. Before you get there, however, there is a lot to play with. You can make some money (in a currency known as Echoes) from trading, but exploring and booty will yield it more easily.

We really enjoyed our time on the low seas in what turned out to be a very atmospheric game. The stories really carry the experience, but its emphasis on reading may deter some. The staggering number of things to consider can bewilder, and we feel this made the game a little on the overwhelming side. Our advice is to push through the initial few hours because what awaits you is a very rewarding experience. Now we have to see what happens with next year's sequel as the steampunks over at Failbetter Games aims to blast off into space in Sunless Skies.

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07 Gamereactor UK
7 / 10
Beautifully crafted stories, lots of things to do and sea, hours and hours of gameplay.
Overwhelming, text heavy, sometimes gets a bit repetitive.
overall score
is our network score. What's yours? The network score is the average of every country's score

Related texts

Sunless Sea: Zubmariner EditionScore

Sunless Sea: Zubmariner Edition

REVIEW. Written by Roy Woodhouse

"Increase your speed and you'll burn more fuel. Slow down and you run the risk of starvation, even leading to cannibalism."

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