Sunless Sea Is Great On iPad

Good luck, tiny boat.

The beautifully-written survival exploration game Sunless Sea came to iPad last week. It feels right at home on mobile.

You play as a sea captain in a steampunk/Lovecraftian/fantasy version of London that’s fallen beneath the surface of the earth and onto a subterranean sea. You set out from your home port of Fallen London in pursuit of a goal—fame, exploration, finding your father’s remains. Some locations remain the same from playthrough to playthrough, while others move around. Through lush text, you travel to strange lands, trade mysterious goods, and unravel bizarre tales surrounding even more bizarre characters. You have to manage food, fuel, and sanity (heavily dependant on light) as well as fight the occasional pirate or monster that appears from the ocean’s depths. You’ll die a lot in a lot of unusual ways. I’ve been killed by living icebergs, gone mad in complex mazes, and had my crew mutiny and eat each other while at sea. The game uses permadeath, meaning that if you die you have to restart the game, though you can turn this option off.

I spent about 20 hours in Sunless Sea in 2014 during its early access period on PC and Mac, but when it finally released in 2015 I’d had my fill. I mostly liked the game, but I struggled to stay engaged over the long haul. In their thorough postmortem, Failbetter pointed out the way the game’s roleplaying and roguelike elements didn’t always mesh and how that could make fresh starts tedious. The early game is slow and grindy, as you make small jaunts up and down the coast and push into the darkness of your map, building capital to buy supplies that can send you further out into the darkness. There are compelling stories to unravel across the world: finding a crew member’s familial remains in the belly of an eel…

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