Review

Sea Of Solitude Review - Adrift

  • First Released Jul 5, 2019
    released
  • PS4

Alone at sea.

Loneliness exists on a broad spectrum that isn't always synonymous with simply being alone. It's a state of mind, an overwhelming feeling of isolation that can still affect a person even if they're surrounded by loved ones and friends. Sea of Solitude understands this all too well. Its opening cutscene begins with a poignant musing: "I have family. I have friends... And yet here I am, feeling lonely. Again." Sea of Solitude is a game about loneliness that's very personal for the 12-strong team at German developer Jo-Mei Games, and it shows. It tackles the subject matter with a deft touch, exploring the myriad ways these feelings of isolation, sadness, and anger can impact people's lives in a refreshingly authentic way, using the backdrop of a puzzle-platformer to tell its story.

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You play as Kay, a young woman who inhabits a world where lonely people are transformed into monsters. Kay is a monster herself, so she's desperately trying to find out why this happened and how can she can return to her human form. The rest of the narrative spirals out from this core concept, forcing Kay to confront her past and her relationships with the people around her. Loneliness affects different people in different ways; a lonely child who's struggling to make friends at school has different needs than someone going through a breakup or someone who's just moved to another country where they don't know anyone, for example. Sea of Solitude shines an introspective light on the various ways loneliness can affect people, doing so through Kay's interactions with other characters and the monsters that reside in this world, whether they're antagonistic or seeking help.

The voice acting in these moments is uneven amongst the small cast of characters, however, the consistent writing is a strong point throughout. Conversations feel very raw and are oftentimes uncomfortable, yet Sea of Solitude manages to sprinkle in moments of levity to offset the otherwise bleak subject matter. The ending lacks closure in a very realistic and human way, but the story's profound throughline of self-discovery and healing naturally reaches an empowering conclusion.

The story's profound throughline of self-discovery and healing naturally reaches an empowering conclusion

Each aspect of Sea of Solitude has some kind of underlying meaning, and these are frequently conveyed through the use of both literal and figurative metaphors. The sea is one of the more blatant allegories at its disposal, as the entirety of the game takes place upon the undulating waves of a flooded city. Being alone on a small boat is inherently isolating; you just have to imagine the terrifying feeling of being marooned or adrift at sea, far away from civilization in an unpredictable environment that can deviate from being calm to violent at the drop of a hat. Kay uses this small vessel to traverse the flooded streets of the Berlin-inspired city, utilizing some basic platforming to get around when on dry land. Her interactions with the various monsters that populate the city are the catalyst for everything that follows. There's a familiarity to each monster's design, with the vast majority of them being reminiscent of specific animals, albeit in a fantastical way. Each one shares a mutual feature in the form of jet black fur and unsettling red eyes, but they're often human at their core, transformed into monsters due to their disparate struggles with loneliness and anguish.

You spend much of the game coaxing the human side out of these ghoulish beasts by confronting Kay's own past and dispelling the corruption that's seeped into the city. Corrupted areas are bleak and coated in muted shades of grey and black, with the night sky lashed by swirling winds and torrential rain. Removing the corruption in an area by finding and inhaling it into Kay's backpack introduces light to the world, revealing the incandescent vitality of the sun and turning the sea as blue as the sky. The stark contrast between night and day accentuates the daytime's beauty, while the painterly art style--not to mention the nautical theme--can't help but bring to mind the vivid aesthetic of The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker. It's in these moments that the "Solitude" of the game's title is captured, presenting the positive side of being alone.

Dispersing the corruption is a task fraught with danger, however, and not just for Kay's mental well-being. Some of the monsters are aggressive and will attack on sight. Death isn't really an obstacle, as you're immediately placed back right where you left off, but Sea of Solitude does manage to wring moments of tension out of these interactions. The problem is that, despite a brief three-hour playtime, it introduces new mechanics every few chapters and then drags them out until they're nothing short of monotonous. There are numerous occasions where you have to lure spectral children into light by running close enough to aggro them, for lack of a better term, before dashing away. It's all relatively straightforward, which isn't a bad thing on its own, but the act of playing Sea of Solitude is never particularly engaging and mostly consists of dull mechanics that far outstay their welcome.

The story, and the way it confronts a universal but often misunderstood part of life, is Sea of Solitude's biggest draw. The gameplay is passable at best and tedious at its worst, but this is still a journey worth experiencing because of the way Jo-Mei Games has managed to weave a heartbreaking tale out of genuine characters and believable grief. Kay wants to know why she turned into a monster, and this is the driving force behind the whole game. What could have triggered it and why are these monsters so intrinsically linked? Despite some missteps along the way, Sea of Solitude is difficult to put down until you can answer those questions for yourself.

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The Good
Tells a poignant story that's personal and touching
Conversations feel very natural and confront uncomfortable issues
Fantastical world design and a beautiful art style
The Bad
Simple mechanics quickly grow tedious
Uneven voice acting
7
Good
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Richard finished Sea of Solitude in around three hours, only missing out on a handful of its optional collectibles. Review code was provided by the publisher.
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aiat_gamer

Wow the voice acting is really bad. For some effed up reason they have picked non-native English speaking people to voice the characters, and it really hampers the experience.

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Clefdefa

I finished the game. It is like a 5 or 6 hours games. Very easy.

I have two complain, one is the voice actor ... sometimes you expect something and they are very laid back which feels very disconnected.

two sometimes it isn't clear where you have to go to get to the next place ... i remember when I was a the foot of a big building but there was too much water and the stupid monster fish in the way ...

Otherwise the story is really good. the art style is fun, the mix of color and they way the water moves to convey the story really works.

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robertbyronz

I'm interested in this game and appreciate the review. Gamespot is wrong however. It's also available on Xbox. This correction is for those who may want to play it on Xbox too.

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mdinger

@robertbyronz: Also it's on PC (via Origin).

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robertbyronz

@mdinger: precisely my point. it's why this article shouldn't soley say "PS4." it makes it seem like it's an exclusive or something when it's clearly not.

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mdinger

@robertbyronz: I'm guessing the author is either ill informed, or only dares post a review for the version he played. The latter is almost fair enough imo, given that different versions can provide wildly different experiences with regard to controls, bugs, and graphics. Still they should always at least mention what platforms it's available on.

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richardwakeling

@mdinger: I reviewed it on PS4 but the info box at the bottom of the review lists all of the other platforms it's available on.

Staff
Avatar image for MigGui
MigGui

@richardwakeling: you guys should really change how this is displayed. Either put all the platforms on the top and format the one(s) you reviewed differently, or put this info box at a more visible place. This is certainly not the first time you guys saw this kind of comment.

Avatar image for cylor
Cylor

@richardwakeling: Weird, the info box on my screen only lists PS4...

Avatar image for MigGui
MigGui

@cylor: On the top below the title is the system where it was reviewed, not the platforms where it is available. All the way to the bottom, below the ads and the reviewer, side by side with the comment section (a horrible, horrible position, btw) there is this info box Richard mentioned. In it, it's stated that the game is available on PS4, X1 and PC.

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Cylor

@MigGui: Thanks for the info.

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Trebor1701

Review reads as a five not a seven. The review really doesn't match the score.

Avatar image for MigGui
MigGui

@trebor1701: this is not the first nor the last game to receive a higher score than its gameplay merits based on either pricetag, story or both.

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mursexxx

@trebor1701: Exactly the reason some sites have done away with number scores. Too many "readers" just check the score and make a decision. A reading of a review gives one a much better idea of the game's fit for the player. Scores are for lazy gamers.

Avatar image for consolehaven
ConsoleHaven

@trebor1701: I think developers are much too criticized nowadays. There is a dearth of original content from AAA devs because of it. That said, the game carries a $20 CAD sticker price which often merits some leniency in the score (value for money despite flaws)

Avatar image for zmanbarzel
ZmanBarzel

Oh, I thought it was out next week. Time to get to downloading.

Sea of Solitude More Info

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  • First Released Jul 5, 2019
    released
    • PC
    • PlayStation 4
    • Xbox One
    Sea of Solitude
    7.5
    Average Rating4 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Sea of Solitude
    Developed by:
    Jo-Mei Games
    Published by:
    Electronic Arts
    Genre(s):
    3D, Adventure, Third-Person
    Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.
    Teen
    Fantasy Violence, Language