This fishing sim on Steam Deck is the perfect horror game for wimps like me

A screenshot of the game Dredge. A boat sits floating between two cliffs as ravens with glowing red eyes fly by.
(Image credit: Black Salt Games | Team17 Digital)

My laptop works fine for playing games (though it's smoked by the best gaming laptops out there). But I grew up playing on consoles, and using a mouse and keyboard has never really felt quite as comfortable as curling up on the couch with a controller in my hands. That's why I finally bit the bullet this year and bought a Steam Deck so I can tackle my sprawling backlog of titles from just about anywhere. 

What We're Playing

Welcome! This column is part of a series in which members of the Tom's Guide staff share what they're playing and enjoying right now, with the goal of helping you find great games that you may have missed. Be sure to check out our previous entry, where we talk about how the highly anticipated Breath of the Wild sequel, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, is even better on the Switch OLED.

One of the first games I've taken out for a spin on Valve's handheld gaming PC has been Dredge, a fishing adventure where Lovecraftian horrors lurk just beneath the surface. I'm always on the lookout for cool new indie games to check out, and after I saw a few gameplay clips go viral online, I figured I'd give it a try. Two problems with that, though: 1) I'm too much of a wimp to play most horror games, and 2) water levels terrify me. 

You see, I have thalassophobia, a.k.a. the fear of deep water, that for whatever reason only ever seems to crop up while playing video games. So basically, I'm afraid of water, but only when it's not real. Trust me, I don't understand it any more than you do.   

Maybe I saw Disney's Atlantis: The Lost Empire at too young an age, and that giant mecha-crustacean scarred me for life. Maybe I died so many times in water levels in Mario and Sonic games that the stressful music that plays when you're running out of air somehow imprinted on my brain. All I know is it's a fear that persists to this day.

While Dredge has a few jump scares, it focuses more on cultivating a pervading sense of unease and paranoia, preying on your natural sense of curiosity as you sail around and explore its open world. And I find that kind of atmospheric horror is much easier to stomach.

Case in point, Horizon Zero Dawn is one of my favorite games of all time, but I almost couldn't get through its sequel, Horizon Forbidden West, because of its underwater segments. As if giant robot dinosaurs weren't already terrifying enough on land. 

In general, while I'm a huge horror fan and can sit through the best horror movies without batting an eye, horror games and I have never really mixed. Something about being in the driver's seat turns my virtual legs into jelly. But while Dredge has a few jump scares, it focuses more on cultivating a pervading sense of unease and paranoia, preying on your natural sense of curiosity as you sail around and explore its open world to make you regret what horrors you find. And I find that kind of atmospheric horror is, for whatever reason, much easier to stomach. 

A screenshot of Dredge showing the player's ship amid a mangrove.

(Image credit: Black Salt Games | Team17 Digital)

Don't get me wrong, Dredge is still terrifying in its own right — just not at first. You play as a contract fisherman rescued by the townsfolk of Greater Marrow, a remote island settlement that's seen better days. During the day, you set out on the seas, casting your line at the shadows of fish that dance just beneath the waves. Catching fish is easy, requiring a simple timing minigame. But getting your haul back to shore to sell can be a delicate balancing act, as you have limited space in your hull. Each catch means rearranging your cargo Tetris-style to optimize storage, and your fish can spoil if left to sit for too long.

You'll still come across some horrors when the sun is up, though. Serpents slither below the surface in rocky alcoves. Giant hermit crabs make their home in beached ships, ready to jump out with snapping claws if you venture too close looking for loot. 

But when night comes and the fog rolls in, that's when things really take a dark turn. The longer you're out in the dark, the higher your panic meter grows, making it more likely that obstacles spawn suddenly in front of you, throwing cargo overboard and tanking your speed when hit. Or, with enough damage, sinking your ship. 

Powering on your boat's light lowers your panic temporarily, but it's also a beacon for sea monsters eager to bite a chunk out of your hull. For example: I got a few hours in before I first saw another boat, only to realize that it was a giant anglerfish using a fake ship as its lure.   

The story, which takes equal inspiration from Lovecraft and seabound thrillers like Moby Dick, is intentionally cryptic, unfolding across little details and quiet discoveries you uncover while poking about the game's map. It's able to cultivate an atmosphere of dread while the moment-to-moment gameplay of exploring the seas still feels exciting and even comforting, balancing the two tones masterfully. And that makes its roughly 12-hour main campaign go by in a blink. In a way, Dredge is one of the most relaxing horror games I've ever played. 

Dredge is available on PC, Switch, Xbox and PlayStation.

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Alyse Stanley
News Editor

Alyse Stanley is a news editor at Tom’s Guide overseeing weekend coverage and writing about the latest in tech, gaming and entertainment. Prior to joining Tom’s Guide, Alyse worked as an editor for the Washington Post’s sunsetted video game section, Launcher. She previously led Gizmodo’s weekend news desk, where she covered breaking tech news — everything from the latest spec rumors and gadget launches to social media policy and cybersecurity threats.  She has also written game reviews and features as a freelance reporter for outlets like Polygon, Unwinnable, and Rock, Paper, Shotgun. She’s a big fan of horror movies, cartoons, and miniature painting.