Bundles. It’s all about bundles these days. Even the big publishers are nosing into the indie bundle craze. The bundle I’m delving into here is the Bundle In A Box which features adventure games a plenty but from which I’m plucking the rather worryingly titled The Sea Will Claim Everything.
On launching for the first time I’m struck by the music, so much so I don’t know how long I sat just staring at the menu screen. The dried vine porthole view of a slither of sand beyond which presumably endless water lay offered nothing, and yet was made captivating by what I image is the type of haunting melody psirens on the shores of the Baltic Sea would sing to call sailors to their doom, a fate they would succumb to willingly. Gratefully.
I eventually broke from its spell sufficiently to move my resting arm and drag my mouse to the credits option in order to see who was responsible but I was informed, “If this was a game…”. Oh dear. I start a new game, not that is a game, or is it? A new experience perhaps would be more appropriate. It certainly qualifies in that regard.
I make a new connection to the Lands of Dream and am confronted by a small hand drawn box of, I’m not sure what, at the bottom of which is a block of bleak philosophical text. As I read on it becomes apparent that this is a communication window through which I can interact with the dream land and its inhabitants, though at this stage all there is is blackness as the graphics are yet to be switched on.
I learn that Underhome is under attack from violent goons who are claiming it is being foreclosed and as a result has panicked and begun misbehaving. The foreclosure may be a conspiracy formulated by Lord Urizen, but details are lacking. Presumably that’s where I come in but first my unnamed conversant will need to quickly grow a dialogue interface.
Advised to flick the switch that turns on the graphics, the largest section of the interface then fills with the image what would seem to be a cave in which a man is standing behind a counter through which vines are growing. The man introduces himself as The, The Mysterious Druid and keeper of Underhome who is struggling to maintain the place following the goon attack which has shunted the ecological and bio-magics out of balance. To top things off his girlfriend Niamh has gone missing and may have even left the Isle of the Moon.
To commence Underhome’s healing process I’ll need to discover exactly what has gone wrong and in order to do that I’m required to speak with the other inhabitants, not something that is as easy as might be expected as the other inhabitants are difficult to distinguish from the scenery.
Viewed from a first person perspective, movement is not free motion but rather static image fixed rooms which are moved to by way of clicking in the view window or on the navigation arrows alongside. Each location is filled with items, none of which initially appear to be superfluous though as progress is made the vast majority clearly are. The library for instance is filled with books and clicking each will supply its title and author. At this early stage I’m not sure if these are relevant but their inclusion suggest I should consider them, and as I come across real world authors I’m worried that there is significance here I am missing.
There is some light relief in speaking with Eddie, the holographic AI, who also provides information as to where I should be heading in order to start the adventure, though I suppose it has already started I just haven’t done much adventuring. Having exhausted the rooms of the third floor I head for the elevator to find a suspicious flower refusing to let me pass, which is my queue to stretch my puzzle solving muscles. Only I have no inventory items that even by the most lateral thinking would have any connection with rendering a flower either less suspicious or in any way drowsy. I revisit the rooms and once again meet a variety of mushrooms, examine books and pictures, and leave boxes well alone. Then I see that the smell of the day is mathematics. I mull this for a moment and try to make sense of it. Have I missed a clue? I don’t recall in any of the significant amount of text that has been presented thus far there being any suggestion that mathematics may have a particular odour. A little panicked I head back to The who gives me the necessary leverage to get past the suspicious flower by threatening to confiscate his hat. No word on sum stench though.
From this point I finally seem to be adventuring as I visit the rest of Underhome and meet some more mushrooms and then head outside and visit the other islands. The adventuring tradition of combining objects and solving puzzles commences in earnest, though mostly it just feels like a series of fetch quests, and as I continue to examine every location to the nth degree and speak at length with the islands’ inhabitants I get increasingly uncomfortable, not least because my quest scroll has reached three pages long and no amount of Doctor Who references, clocks designed by cats so only tell the time when they feel like it, or stoned mushrooms can provide enough relief for the feeling of becoming overwhelmed.
The polite way to describe The Sea Will Claim Everything is surreal. The visuals are nicely drawn and appropriate in making it clear you’re in a world that could only exist in dreams, but the longer I stayed in The Lands of Dream the more it became a nightmare. I’m sure for some the vast amount of textual information, and I do mean vast, The Sea Will Claim Everything presents will be refreshing. I found it confusing. There was simply too much information presented for me to maintain a coherent record of what I needed to remember and what I could discard.
Part of my problem is that I am unable to read without subvocalizing, so progress feels incredibly slow and becomes frustrating when exaggerated by irrelevance. Then there is the language and nature of the interaction which suggests a deeper meaning than I can comprehend.
I appreciate that these issues are mine and not The Sea Will Claim Everything’s, but it strikes at the core of why I and I presume the majority of people play games. Escapism and entertainment. I have no doubt that The Sea Will Claim Everything could provide those things. It’s story has been intricately crafted and at its core is an engaging one that I would have liked to get lost in. It was certainly one whose primary message I would subscribe to without reservation. However, the amount of text, the surrealism, the smell of mathematics, all provide an anchor in the real world to where I sit, staring at my computer screen and very aware of my limitations.
But we’ve already established that The Sea Will Claim Everything isn’t a game, it’s an experience. For me it was unfortunately an unpleasant one, albeit one I am glad I had.