Victorian England has just entered the height of the Industrial Revolution when an unspeakable evil sinks the city into the Unterzee – a dark, dreary place full of horrors, mystery, creatures, and adventure. Sunless Sea, from Failbetter Games, is a spin off from Fallen London and is the story of how to survive living off the zee in a world not meant for humans.
Will You Survive?
You play as a captain and must venture into the zee (a wide, not-so-empty sea) to complete missions, find treasure, and hunt for fortune. Some missions are simply bringing a passenger somewhere while others are more complex, requiring you to venture deep into the unknown. The danger comes in two forms – outside forces such as pirates and sea monsters, and keeping crew mentality and morale high. If the crew becomes too terrified while out at zee, they’ll become insane and eventually kill your captain.
There’s also the danger of running out of supplies including fuel and food. If the latter disappears, the crew will turn cannibalistic and that opens a host of new problems such as keeping the victim count low and outsmarting any noisy police officers waiting for you at the docks. And while the London docks are your home base, there are plenty of other ports to anchor, restock and rest.
The challenge in Sunless Sea is not to survive – the game is designed to have your captains and their crew eventually die – it’s to test how long can you survive, and, more importantly, what secrets can you unlock as everyone is slowly driven to depths of madness humans never should experience.
- The concept. Sunless Sea has an extremely unique premise with a fully developed world that I could spend hours exploring and not get bored.
- The gameplay is easy to understand and allows for a quick start – there’s no prolonged cut scenes and no unnecessary setup. Once the load screen is over, the game starts.
- The story lines. It takes time, but as you build your crew and recruit officers, the story of London in the Unterzee unfolds in simple, but engaging, moments. It’s worth the frustrations found in playing the game.
- Repetivitate. The game is designed to kill your captains – it’s not a question of if but of when will they die. This makes the game feel repetitive almost instantly since you’re constantly starting over with new captains and having to re-unlock stories, re-discover ports. I got bored after 30 minutes the first time I played.
- Economy. You start the game with 100 echoes – the main source of currency used to purchase most supplies (fuel/food/crew) but you have to work to earn Secrets to speak with your officers. There’s also random artifacts and unlockables that ultimately made me return to London far too frequently to really explore the zee.
- Captain’s dying. Like I said, the game is designed for your captain to die. This factor attracted me to the game but in the end is what made me stop playing. I’d grow interested in a captain’s story, the officers’ stories, only to have them die on me. Instead of being reckless with my captains, I found myself playing it safe, avoiding the riskier, more interesting options and picking the blander choices that I knew would keep my crew alive. I sacrificed the story in order to prevent restarting, which sucks because the story is the game.
Failbetter Games has released a second spin off (Sunless Skies) and maybe playing Fallen London would have given more context for Sunless Sea. But for me, the game failed to keep me interested in it enough to return after spending four hours on the zee.
I will say, the storylines I experienced were excellent and well developed – seriously, the development team put real effort into this game and had this been a novel (or comic book) I would’ve skipped sleep for it.
Have you played? Leave a comment with your thoughts on Sunless Sea!