Sea of Solitude makes it clear right away, that it is a very personal project. As part of EA’s indie lineup, it’s refreshing to have a game focus on mental health issues, but boring gameplay and a very short length do not really help elevate it to the levels of Hellblade.
Whereas Hellblade focused on psychosis, Sea of Solitude focuses on loneliness, bullying and self-esteem (although touches psychosis and a few others also). Like Hellblade, it’s a looker too. Cell-shaded, cartoony visuals offer almost a Wind Waker like world to explore, whereas the main character – Kay – and subsequent monsters are dark with distinctive eyes which really makes them pop against the environment.
Once you are past the visuals, the gameplay look quickly becomes apparent and sadly it is not as engaging as it looks. You run around the world, climbing and exploring with the main aim being to eradicate the corruption. The ‘corruption’ are a series of nodes whereby you hold a button to clear it. If it sounds simple, it is. The point here is the story, whereby Kay experiences the isolation of loneliness from wandering the island, and sailing by herself, getting threatened by a monster in the sea (involving lots of waiting till it is out of reach from you before you get to safety) or a monster blocking your way. Often, the nodes will require you to shine a light at this monster to clear the path.
Clearing the corruption adds light to the area, a metaphor perhaps for rest from the confines of Kay’s mind. Whilst isolation is a prominent theme, it does also make for a fairly boring world to explore. Thankfully, getting lost isn’t too much of an issue, as Kay has access to a flare, which can be used to light the way and point there you will go. Sadly it doesn’t do much as a weapon against creatures – an early section has you avoiding school bullies in a dream-like sequence to rescue your brother, and your flare can take them down if they get in the way but it seems more accidental and a helpful side effect. Sadly, this mechanic of running from various threats and clearing nodes is really all the game mounts up to. Again, I keep telling myself that this is more about the story, but still. The game never really manages to get interesting and grip you, despite some various set pieces which try their hardest to do this.
I really enjoyed the music, and the voice acting actually. It’s decent and fitting for the setting, with a nice mix of piano and stringed instruments. It’s kind of relaxing, kind of haunting, kind of desperate – and I mean that as a compliment. It’s such a shame then that the execution doesn’t match the idea. For example, one section has you climbing a tower, but it goes on for far too long, and the end result is simply the same mechanics you have already seen earlier in the game. And that’s the main issue really, it’s repetition over and over – whilst it tries its best to convey many different feelings, I’m sure boredom wasn’t one of them.
At least it’s trying something new, and trying to direct some attention towards mental health issues, and that should be applauded. If then, it succeeds in helping people understand some of the emotions it tries to explain – be it those suffering, or helping those be aware of those who do suffer – then it was worth it. It’s not as good as Hellblade, but then perhaps it’s relative to the emotional state of the player too? In that respect, this should probably be given a look, for the total experience and understanding of what it is trying to do, if not for the raw gameplay.
Reviewed on PS4