There's something inherently spooky about fishing. You're often alone on a boat, sometimes far out at sea. You're casting a line into deep, murky waters and feeling an unknown, unseen creature suddenly sink its teeth into your bait and begin to pull. You're a hunter with nothing but a string on a stick in an environment almost entirely hidden from view, one you can't survive in for long should anything go wrong. It's the perfect canvas for creeping dread and big scares.
So I'm glad to see more and more fishing games embracing the potential for horror, like the announcement trailer for Dredge (opens in new tab) (above). The "sinister fishing adventure" from Team 17 and Black Salt Games casts you as a fisherman marooned on a mysterious island populated with peculiar characters. To earn enough to repair your ship you'll have to trawl the island's dark waters for fish and whatever odd curios you manage to pull from the waves.
In this 20-minute gameplay video (opens in new tab) from GamesRadar (opens in new tab) you can see a lot more of Dredge. While it reminds me of another fishing game I played not long ago, Moonglow Bay, Dredge definitely doesn't have a cozy, comfy feel to it. There are mysterious notes in bottles to find drifting in the waves that hint at some unsettling events. When the darkness and fog settles over the sea your 'panic' meter will grow and you'll need to seek out light to stave off the encroaching fear.
Apart from the horror, the fishing itself looks like a fun minigame, and you can upgrade your ship's hull, nets, and engine, and there's the added enjoyment of what I'll call 'fish inventory tetris' as you stack and shuffle your catches in your boat's limited cargo space. It looks excellent and I'm eager to play it when it comes out next year.
Dredge isn't the only horror fishing game on the horizon, either. There are a few other fishing-themed horror games that will try to lure you in. Fish Cymophis (opens in new tab), out later this year looks like a throwback arcade fishing sim with a healthy dose of horror and dread:
Motor around Cradle Lake in your boat, catch a variety of fish using different rods, lures, and fishing techniques, and occasionally flee for your life as terrifying creatures emerge from the depths and try to swallow you up. It looks like a fun, scary time.
There are several great fishing horror games you can play right now, too. First there's Lure, which is not only free and only takes about five minutes to play, but somehow manages to be both genuinely scary and legitimately funny. I highly recommend it. Experimental indie game A Wonderful Day for Fishing (opens in new tab) is a serene but unsettling experience: you play a smiling man on a boat at sea hauling in strange fish (and other things) and occasionally eating them, which can have some pretty disturbing results. He never loses that peaceful smile, though. Totally zen.
There's also a game called Horror Fish Simulator (opens in new tab), which I haven't played and judging from the handful of reviews on Steam isn't particularly good.
On the plus side, it just so happens to be 51% off at the moment, so you can get it for a mere 49 cents.
And why not try Fishing Vacation (opens in new tab)! It's a bright and delightful retro Game Boy-style fishing sim, and the excitable exclamation point in the title signifies nothing horrible could ever happen, probably! There's catchy, chipper music, fun fishing, a comfy secluded cabin to relax in, nothing… nothing horrible. Or scary. Or weird. Nope. Not at all.