Thanks to game creation tools becoming simpler and readily available, the size of a typical indie development team has significantly reduced over the years. This has allowed for smaller, more personal, experiences usually handled by teams barely into double figures. Heck, we’ve even seen some indie releases created by one-man teams.
Polygonal Wolf’s Drowning is, without doubt, the most personal indie release we’ve played. It’s a very simple and straightforward walking simulator, for want of a better description, that tells the story of a nameless high school student’s battle with depression. There are no puzzles, NPCs, or even means of failure – it’s a simple case of strolling through forests and other symbolic environments while short, often truncated, sentences appear along the path ahead.
The story lasts around 40 minutes, spread across the four years of high school. Each year is set in a different location, intended to be evocative of the protagonist’s feelings at the time.
It begins with a brisk walk through two different leafy forests, complete with purposely low poly rivers and picturesque waterfalls. It’s here the game looks its best, even if it is incredibly obvious that many assets are endlessly recycled. It also comes to light that English isn’t the developer’s native tongue – typos and grammatical errors are frequent, and we should also note that the story is told in a very basic, childlike, fashion. Given the subject matter, this was perhaps intentional.
As depression starts to take its toll, things become far bleaker. A sequence set underwater successfully conveys the sensation of drowning. There’s also a trek across a precariously narrow bridge; a stage no more linear than those that preceded it due to the constant use of invisible walls.
From start to bitter end, distractions are few. There’s a small number of collectables to look out for, as well as trophies to gain by attempting to break free of the path ahead, and that’s your lot. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine how Drowning could be any simpler.