A lot of the time porting a game to another platform doesn’t always work or it’s poorly implemented, like giving GTA San Andreas touch controls or Wii-mote controls in Resident Evil 4 that completely undermine any difficulty. But on that rare occasion you’ll come across a game on another platform that completely changes your opinion of it, in this case it’s Sunless Sea’s move to iOS.
Developed by Failbetter Games, Sunless Sea is a topdown exploration game where you’re given command of a steamship in a gigantic underground ocean called the “Unterzee”. You set sail from Fallen London, a dark and dreary looking mockery of old London town itself that’s been dragged into this enormous aquatic cavern by bats. Dripping from the gills with Lovecraftian horror this dark fantasy game is filled with terrors of the deep, pirates, lost colonies and mysteries for you to solve.
The writing of Sunless Sea is something I will drone on and on about until the cows come home because it is just utterly fantastic. Every description and conversation paints a picture of how stark and unforgiving the landscape is. From frozen towns filled with undead, to the raging ironclad inferno shores of cities turned into literal hellscapes by its populace, just like a great novel I’ve had trouble putting this game down.
Although the combat is a little cumbersome and there’s one hell of a difficulty curve at the beginning, once you start really sinking time into this game it can be quite rewarding. Every decision to “Set Sail” has consequence and each voyage could be your last. For example, do you stock up on supplies and fuel for long haul trips instead of buying new armaments but risk being sunk by monsters, or do you save your cash and buy better upgrades but potentially run out of food and fuel.
The same can be said for exploration, venture too far in this world without the proper preparation and you will pay for it. In one instance, I ventured too far off the map with one of my captains, lost all my supplies, several crew members and my ship was almost destroyed by dark gods. Luckily, I could avoid pirates and limp back to a friendly port for repairs before I lost everything.
However, if you do lose your ship it’s not the end of the game. Instead you just create a new character, pick up some of the hand-me-downs from your last brave leader and set out again. You won’t recoup all your losses, but having a little bit of an edge is better than nothing when you’re starting from scratch.
Now this isn’t my first rodeo with this game, I did initially play it on PC and as I’ve mentioned before I don’t always have a ton of time to sink into a game; so, sitting down at my desk and playing it for hours on end when I had stuff to do was less than ideal for me. I would play it for an hour or two, stop, feel guilt ridden about not doing more important things and start to slowly put myself off the game in a “this is all your fault” kind of way. And it did genuinely sour my interpretation of the game and that was something I came to later regret when I got my hands on a copy of the iOS port.
Having Sunless Sea on my tablet is genuinely one of the best ports I’ve ever come across. The menus are quicker to jump around in, the controls are more simplified and better to use as you can just set the speed, leave your ship and occasionally nudge its direction a tap with your finger. Whilst on PC you had use the old “WASD” setup and manually crank the engine speed up and down with another key and when you’re being blasted by pirates trying to manoeuvre and change speed was a tad difficult. So you can see why having that all at the tap of a finger is so much better in my opinion.
Another benefit to having it on my tablet is the portability.
I no longer have to squirrel myself away in my bedroom, sitting at my desk with headphones on completely isolated and alone. Instead I can sit with my family, idly chat whilst still reading the dialogue options or messing around in harbour shops. Plus, I can carry it around and casually play it whilst I’m doing something else only leaning over to check that my ship isn’t going to collide with anything when I set it on a straight line through some of the more vacant areas of the game.
After sinking more hours than I can count into this game I must say that I’m glad I took another look at it. When I first played, it I thought it was good but clunky in parts with a lot of room for improvement, the writing was solid and the only thing holding it back was the controls. These were all addressed in the iOS port and it’s completely changed my opinion of the game, it’s moved up a couple of notches in my personal score of 5 and a half out of ten to a solid 8. It’s genuinely good and has quickly become my new obsession that I’ve been dipping into now and then when I have a few minutes to spare.
Aside from the occasional crash the iOS port of Sunless Sea is in my opinion the prime example of how a port can improve a game. You take something familiar and tweak just one aspect of it to completely change and revitalise it into something so much better. If you have a tablet and like a good tactical exploration game then I recommend picking this up.