Zen Studios has been associated with pinball games for more than a decade, be it with Zen Pinballs, Pinball FX and a multitude of licensed variants, including Star Wars Pinball or Bethesda Pinball. Occasionally they come out of their comfort zone and offer us different adventures, such as the CastleStorm or the new Dread Nautical, a turn-based tactical RPG released on iOS last fall – via Apple Arcade and now coming to PC via Epic Games Store as well as to PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.
Despite its gloomy title and voice-over of its introduction and the nods to Lovecraft, the truth is that we are not facing an excessively terrifying, dark or violent game; There are survival elements but applied to an SRPG with random maps. Its initial history does not offer us much context of what awaits us either: an elegant cruise ship suffers an incident that transforms most of its crew into mutant zombies. We are one of the survivors of the ship and the mission is clear: explore the floors, get resources, food, weapons and everything that is useful to us to progress through further into the ship. Occasionally we will survivors throughout the journey who, hopefully, will join our side.
Not too many new features for SRPG players, although the title knows how to twist around to make up for the shallow depth of its systems with rogue-lite mechanics. We have two game phases: exploration and combat. The movement through corridors and rooms is done in a gridded grid, but in the exploration phase, this does not affect us too much either because there is no type of limit to the movements: just click on the place you want to go, and the character will go to the zone. You can find some objects, key objects and inspect each room. The general objective of each floor is to sound the horn of the ship, at which point the cycle begins again from our refuge in the holds to ascend again in the elevator.
Although the game will usually keep us on edge: due to the limited inventory. It won’t take much for you to fill your character’s pockets and start discarding resources. Which do you prefer, new weapons to be prepared when the pipe you use to hit breaks, or more space for healing items? At the base, we will also be able to repair –or improve- objects and level up the facilities with the scrap we found, so at all times you must be clear about your progress priorities. As in other random map games, you may find your way out of the flat soon, but you can risk seeing the unexplored rooms to come back with better loot.
Now, the ship is not empty and we will meet many zombies ready to end our lives. Depending on our chosen level of difficulty, the death penalty is more or less harsh: in normal we lose what was achieved in the last game, but we can return to the last day and our companions will continue with us. In difficult the defeat is punished more, the companions are lost in the ship, and in madness mode you directly lose everything and you must start again. The protagonist, of whom we have not spoken, is left to our choice among several to choose from, each with specific life values, action points, inventory, active and passive abilities.
The gameplay is what we could expect in these cases, and once we enter the range of vision of an enemy, the fight phase begins. It must be said that many enemies are asleep and can be dodged if we do not make noise, but they can also be surprised – which gives us a small advantage. Use a turn-based system, that is, each action – displacement, punch, attack by weapon, use of an object – consumes a number of points and when they are exhausted, a partner or the enemy acts. Everything is done intuitively – after all, it was born on mobile systems – without having to move through complex menus, so it is suitable for novices.
The colleagues have a little more crumb than they appear because they have a trust system. Before joining our group we must meet a series of requirements, and what is more expensive, once onboard they need their space in the shelter and food. The problem is that food does not abound and each day that passes the characters – including yours – will have to fill their stomach, and not doing so has its consequences. In short, more partners also means more group management, but they become necessary because the game is not exactly a walk.
All in all, Dread Nautical is a good tactical game that shines on mobile systems but remains one point more discreet on home systems. Although it engages and knows how to entertain, the offer is very wide on these platforms, with more complex and original games. The merit of Zen Studios is to adapt many themes generally oriented to a very specific audience – a genre that sometimes is complex, the setting of terror, dose of roguelike – but simplifying the formula so that it can be played on PC, console or mobile, without it being so insipid that it is not worth it.
The best way to describe the setting of the game is a horror cartoon. Partly because of its origin for the Apple Arcade, the art of the game is never intended to cause fear, and monsters are grotesque shapes without much detail. We will not say that it is a kind of infantilized version of survival horror, but of course that at no time will it seek to give fear or scares, only tension and more by the threat of losing a game than by the explicit of some pretty nice cartoon graphics. The sound doesn’t stand out too much, but it doesn’t bother it either.
Dread Nautical has really good ideas in its core, albeit none original and without the expertise behind an experienced turn-based strategy team. Sometimes it seems that the game tries to do too many things, such as that lack of definition between a horror story told by characters with the appearance of a plastic figure; The strategy is a bit short during battles, but there is a system of wear and tear on equipment, food and scarce resources that do raise the difficulty, forcing us to make more than one difficult decision. While it never ceases to be a turn-based tactical game, in the end, yet shows a mix of influences. A very interesting title in the mobile market that you can finally enjoy in-home systems.
We prepared this review with a PS4 digital review copy of the game provided by Terminals PR.