Drowning is a game that is about a school boy (its never expressed that the narrator is a boy, but the games creator has stated in its synopsis), moving from Year 7 to Year 8 and ultimately Year 12 (so the game starts with the narrator being 11 years old) who is suffering from depression and how he deals with having depression during his school years.
It’s a strong subject, and the manner in which the tale is told suggests its a deeply personal matter to Polygonal Wolf. As you slowly walk through the games different locations, following a strict path, text appears suggesting a conversation between the narrator and their own mind. It’s all sensitively done and at times genuinely moving and cathartic, and aside from the occasional grammatical and spelling error (for which I’m not one to judge!) its down to Polygonal Wolf’s talent to get, what I presume, are his own thoughts and feelings down in a manner that the player can relate to.
The tale is told as you walk through some beautiful settings, all created in a low polygon and pastel effect with the tone changing, alongside the music, as the narrator gets older and their depression becoming deeper. What starts off as an almost innocent walk through some woods, full of bright sunshine and bold colours, later develops into dark, cold atmospheres that it would be easy to say are cliche but perfectly fit with the words that appear on screen.
However, whilst Drowning is great at getting all of these feelings down, when the narrators mental health begins to find its own voice, and begins to challenge what it is being told, be it positively or otherwise, the dialog can feel a little clumsy and forced, as though the writer knew what they wanted to aim towards and just headed straight for it, much like the linear path that the player is forced to walk along. It never really feels like you are part of the conversation, nor that there is any room for discussion to go beyond a certain path, which ties into the way the game handles its multiple endings.
The initial ending is easy to unlock, its literally following the path laid out in front of you until the game reaches its conclusion and the credits roll. But there are three other endings to walk through, all of which involve convoluted exploration that, due to the linear nature of the path (there’s nothing to suggest you can leave the intended path at any point unless your literally pushing against the walls on either side at all times) I can’t see how anyone would figure out how to unlock them. I personally only experienced them after following a guide to see if they offered anything different.
That being said, an initial run through for one ending only takes about half an hour, personally speaking as someone who has received treatment and is still undergoing treatment for depression, Drowning is a title that I’d urge anyone to play through in order to either maybe understand their own inner monologue and realise that, actually, this happens to an awful lot of us, or if you care for someone you know to be struggling, it could help give you a better insight into why they act the way they do.