Monday, 16 May 2016 00:00

Trawl Review

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Trawl is a video game. Pretty much. Kinda.

End of review. Okay, what’s next? Oh, I should talk more about it? Hrm. I’ll give it a shot.

Trawl is an “experiential” game from House of Wire that puts you on a boat with a net, and you catch things with it. It’s dark, raining all around you, and there’re waves crashing against your boat. There’re levers to pull that do things, as well as a nice classic boat steering wheel. Below deck is a typewriter where you can write about stuff that you find, or about life, or whatever you want.

You might now ask, “What happens after you do all the things?” to which I respond with “Nothing.” There’s very little to this game and that’s both a pro and a con. Since there is so little to the game, I’ll be able to go over all of the ups and downs.

Trawl revolves around using the few mechanisms available to you on your boat. Starting with navigation: you have a steering wheel, a throttle and a radio.

You can drive any direction you want for as long as you want, but when pointed in the right direction, the radio will make a sound and a light will switch on. If you keep heading in this direction, you might pick up some treasures assuming your net is down below the water’s surface.

The net is fairly simple to control as well. There are three parts you can interact with and a bell that rings once a treasure has been picked up. To open and close the net, you simply click it—this releases the item inside. To push the net towards the water or pull it towards you, you must pull a lever to activate the pulley system. Once the net is over water, crank a lever back in order to drop it to the depths. Once you pull an item up, you’re only able to interact with it by holding it and turning it around to get a closer look. Lastly, there’s the typewriter, which I’ll get to shortly. The items, or “treasures”, that you find are randomized. In the dozen times that I “played through” the game, I didn’t hit the same item twice. Once you’ve inspected them you can place them down on shelves. Because why not?

While you might think this is a treasure hunting game, that is a far cry from what this actually is. Collecting a bunch of treasures would add to the game but, as far as I know, you can only seem to use the radio’s treasure finding mechanic three times before it blows out and starts smoking. I spent some time with the throttle at full blast going in different directions and the bell never rang. I speculate that the creators decided that this would be a much more focused experience, but it’s hard to say for sure.

The atmosphere is the show stealer in Trawl. It will be the first thing you’ll notice when booting up the game and it works on multiple levels. House of Wire’s previous title was Prowl, which sat you in the back seat of a car heading down an endless street in the rain with nothing to interact with other than a few car-specific mechanisms. Tonally, the two games feel identical: Dark and Gloomy.

I must admit that as soon as I started walking around the boat in Trawl I felt terrified—not because the game is scary, but because I have a crippling fear of open water.

There’s something about the absolute darkness and biting cold air that sends shivers down my spine in a debilitating way. It also has something to do with how many unknown creatures lurk underneath the water’s surface. Trawl does an amazing job of making me feel like I am on a boat in the middle of the ocean, and that’s one of the only big positives for the game. The torrent of rain, the crashing of the water, the rocking side to side—these are all great examples of what the game does right with the atmosphere. Even the sounds that emanate from the radio give a sense of creepy ambiance to the boat. However crippling my fear of water is, that only seemed to last for a short while, as I started to realize that there was nothing else out there. There was nothing in the water, no giant Cthulhu looming (Cthuluming?) off in the distance, no story.

Trawl revolves around the concept of making your own story. They give you a typewriter solely for this purpose. It’s a fully functioning typewriter, allowing you to come up with a story or diary of your travels. Using the typewriter is as easy as walking up to it and interacting. Once done with whatever you choose to write, you can then roll up the piece of paper and place it in a bottle and chuck it over the side. Congrats, you beat one of Trawl’s endings. Whatever you write will be automatically turned into a document that you can find in your computer.

Now, on the surface this seems like a throwaway mechanic, but after some thought, it might be something I actually use in the future. I, as do many others, like to do a little creative writing whenever I get inspiration. Sometimes it’s hard to sit down in front of a computer filled with distractions and come up with a story. Using Trawl’s “treasure” finding mechanics, you can take the three items you found and craft a story out of it. In my case, I found a hairbrush, an empty whiskey bottle and a pair of handcuffs. With that I made a very short (and very stupid) story. I’m not entirely sure that this was their intentions while making this game, but by virtue of what they’ve given us, they’ve created a story idea generator that I can respect. With the internet being such a distracting beast, it’s ideal to go out on a boat in the middle of nowhere and craft a story without any Facebooks or Twitters bugging you.

While the “story generator” is a novel idea (no pun intended), that still doesn’t mean the game is full of interesting mechanics that will draw you back time and time again. It’s competent in those few mechanisms, but they're not its strongest suit. As far as experiences go, Trawl is relatively brief in nature and lacks any overall impact with me. I’ve read many reviews claiming to call this the Seinfeld of games, and, while that’s not entirely wrong, gives a negative spin to Seinfeld which is something we as humans should avoid doing.

The interface is also not great. When you hit ESC to get to the menu, one would think that hitting ESC again will get you back to the game. Not here. Using ESC while in the menu starts a new game! I have a dog and wife that need my attention so I must pause the game frequently, so I can’t tell you how many sessions I had to restart due to this irritating little quirk. It seems extra silly seeing that there is an anchor fastened to the front of your ship that, when pulled, allows you to end your trip a.k.a. quit. Why not let that be the only way to quit the game? This whole thing isn’t game-breaking, but it is an annoyance that I am sure some people may experience.

In conclusion, if you like things to happen in your game, Trawl is probably not going to work for you, but it certainly nails the atmosphere that it's trying to achieve. Since Trawl has a complete absence of story, its inclusion of a workable typewriter is an ironic addition that can cause an upswing of creative writing among creative minds.


The Verdict

Trawl is less of a “Boat Simulator” and more of a “Typewriting During A Rainstorm Simulator”. It has a ton of atmosphere but not much else. If you like finding three random items at a time, then this is the game for you! If not, then you might wanna try something else.

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James McKeever

When not playing video games, James is usually found playing video games. When he simply does not have time for video games, he goes to a thing called "Job" where he makes money to feed himself and his wife and to buy more video games. Since he was too scared to use the controller himself at the young age of 3, James started his gaming career as a "navigator" of sorts instructing his father when to jump in Super Mario Brothers. Since then, the fear of controllers has subsided and James can now jump freely, circumventing the middleman.


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