We Got Lost on the Sunless Sea, a £100k Kickstarter Game that Drags London to Hell

By Matt Hill on at

I've just discovered Failbetter Games. I feel like that's a sad admission, seeing as they're based in the city I live in and made the excellent Fallen London choose-your-own-adventure browser game that I'm now singularly obsessed with, but hey, sometimes I clearly couldn't be better at failing.

Anyway, Failbetter are from Greenwich, south London, and their interactive stories set around a steampunk-tinged capital that's been sold and moved underground, "nearer to Hell", are all atmosphere. This is proper point-and-click-era prose where an ability to read good was a valid gaming attribute.

But with Sunless Sea, the £100k Kickstarter project that at last went live on Steam this weekend, they've cast a Sid Meier's Pirates-meets-Faster Than Light multi-task sea-faring game over their Chine Miéville-like, Rapture-via-Port Blacksand world.

The results are striking, from the shadows and muted green colour palette making the most of the simple graphics and procedurally generated wider world to the excellent sound design, with silence in unchartered waters rising to cheerful patter in safe ports and dramatic overtures when you come across enemy ships, or worse, above and below the waves.

It's very slow, not overly approachable and sometimes unapologetically challenging, but then as a simulation of life on the water, could it be anything else? Do you risk taking on the giant Lovecraftian sea crab with a flakey hull for the meat it will provide, or retreat to London at haste before your crew eat each other? We risked… it was not a good risk.

Thankfully death, while obviously frustrating, isn't the end, as depending on your success you can bequeath your next captain some of your spoils, from money to maps… so there's that… No, no, it's still really frustrating.

Anyway. At a time of instant gaming gratification, Sunless Sea's Fallen London is a world you must actively choose to get lost in, but which repays those that do with stories well worth telling. iPad version now, please, Cap'n.