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Sea of Solitude Review

Edited by: Jade Swann

NOTE: With the continuous bad press that EA has been receiving due to various different issues, I would like to point out that this review focuses entirely on the game Sea of Solitude — it is not otherwise a review of EA or their practices.

Developed by Jo-Mei Games and published by EA, Sea of Solitude is a narrative story that follows a young woman named Kay and her journey through a world filled with the things that go bump in the night. This mostly submerged city is filled with memories and monsters — sometimes, they’re even the same thing. Kay is on a journey to discover who she is, why she is the way she is, and why those monsters are after her.

Consent and content issues

One thing you should be aware of before you start — by default, and without any particular alert or notice, a setting in the game shares your usage data with EA. This setting can be found under general and can be disabled, however, for those concerned with data privacy, just be aware that data is shared with EA by default.

The other thing is that Sea of Solitude contains crass language and triggering scenes belying the cutesy art style of this title. Topics like domestic violence, abuse, and bullying are featured in some detail.

Kay the Explorer and her magic backpack

As you travel the sea and the city within it, you encounter corruption — this corruption can be “sucked up” so to speak by your magic backpack in order to set free what’s underneath. Much of the gameplay is that of a platformer — you explore different places in the city in what is essentially a walking simulator — the paths are laid out clearly and there isn’t any guesswork on what you have to do next or how to get to your next point.

Instead of that, Sea of Solitude focuses on its narrative. At first, a confused girl looking for meaning, then recognizing familiar elements from her own life and the people in it. While the storyline is clearly meant to engage the player and show them the struggles Kay has gone through, it sadly fails to do so.

It isn’t the story itself that’s the issue, but its packaging. The keyboard controls are quite horrendous, and a mix of super-sensitive camera controls and forced perspective at times really make moving a chore. Then there is the water — it’s everywhere and you spend a lot of time escaping from one particular monster by quickly swimming from one platform to another… except that, because the water sometimes splashes too high, you get “knocked off” and eaten anyway. It’s hard to tell if that is part of the gameplay experience or just buggy — it certainly feels like the latter.

We’re going to… kill you?

The premise is relatively simple — generally speaking, the black monsters you encounter aren’t your friends and want to eat or otherwise murder you. Except for when they don’t, you spend some time chasing down a giant bird representing your little brother. Said brother was unfortunately bullied in school, and you go through some of the bullying. Now addressing that as a topic in media is incredibly important, but it only works when it’s done well, and here that isn’t the case. Middle or high school bullies threaten to kill you constantly — given the chance, they do — and the way to get past them is to get close enough to taunt them out of the way and then to race past. It doesn’t feel like a relatable or even coherent experience and takes away from what could be a powerful moment.

Kay herself participates in this scene only briefly — you hear her ignore her brother’s attempt to talk to her because her boyfriend called, and then not much else in the way of interaction between them.

Dealing with the issues

Obviously, Sea of Solitude tries to convey one girl’s struggle with personal issues, but in my opinion,  it fails to do so. While the overall elements certainly paint a picture, the painful gameplay and at times jumpy and confusing storylines make it hard to focus on the struggle of Kay. The controls and movement in particular make simple straight jumps and walking in a straight line a difficult endeavour in an otherwise easy-to-play game.

While it’s commendable that a high-profile title tries to examine and bring to light unpleasant issues that often go ignored despite being a reality for many, Sea of Solitude didn’t deliver what it promised for me. I wanted to connect with Kay in her boat, but couldn’t — I was too annoyed that I got stuck at every twist and bend of the boat ride.

4

The Verdict: Flawed

Sea of Solitude set its aims high — a gripping tale of a girl’s internal struggle, her confusion, and the entangling of her life and those around her is what it tried to give the player… sadly, it did not give them that at all. Incredibly clunky controls and painful camera movements make simply walking a challenge, and story elements like school kids threatening to apparently murder a classmate ruin what set itself up to be a great and tense scene by being cartoonishly over the top. I wanted to like Sea of Solitude and Kay, but I simply did not.

See About Us to learn how we score

Mel Hawthorne
Written by
Monday, 29 July 2019 09:00
Published in Adventure

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Mel is a London-based copywriter that has been writing about video games for a few years now. After growing up in Vienna, Austria she followed her dreams and moved to London. Said dreams took her through a few different jobs (which included working as a web developer, shopkeeper and translator) before she settled on what she really wanted to do – periodically anger video game fans by expressing her opinions on games through various online publications. When she’s not writing about video games, she’s probably playing them... or walking her dog in a park. Since that depends largely on the English weather, Mel has plenty of time to indulge in her favourite games. These include but are not limited to Ark: Survival Evolved, Skyrim, GTA V, and oddly enough, Amnesia: Memories. She loves Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. She thinks Star Trek is way better than Star Wars and isn’t afraid to admit it – Live long and prosper!

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