A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Dread Nautical is a turn-based action game available for download on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and Apple Arcade that pits humans against zombies on a strange cruise ship. Players choose a hero from a small but diverse cast of characters ranging in gender and ethnicity, then head out to explore the boat room by room, helping and potentially recruiting other survivors when they can. When zombies appear, players move their character to a position from which he or she can effectively attack, using melee weapons such as pipes and crowbars, as well as ranged weapons such as slingshots and throwing knives. There's no blood or gore, only flashes of light, and enemies simply disappear once defeated. Some hard decisions need to be made along the way, including which of your survivors gets fed. Players have some agency over how their character acts around others, meaning they can be rude and less helpful in certain situations, though this sort of behavior typically has a detrimental effect on the relationship and whether the non-player character can be recruited. Alcohol can be seen -- but not consumed -- in certain areas of the boat. Some characters occasionally use mild profanity, such as "hell" and "damn."
What's it about?
DREAD NAUTICAL takes place on an eerie cruise ship. Players begin by choosing a hero, who subsequently wakes up with gaps in his or her memory. As you begin exploring the boat, deck by deck, it becomes apparent that most of the passengers are missing, dead, or worse. The few survivors you encounter don't seem much better off than your hero, and -- with the right choices in dialogue -- can be lured to join your group far below deck, where you slowly construct a safe haven with beds, food, and crafting stations. But most of the action takes place on the floors above, which you can freely explore by tapping where you'd like to move. That is, until enemies in the form of zombies and monsters show up. Then the action will pause, allowing you to plan out what you want to do before taking your turn. Players are provided a few action points each round that can be spent moving across gridded floors, attacking zombies, laying traps, or using items such as bandages to heal. Once enemies are dealt with, it's back to exploring the ship as you try to help survivors with their objectives, searching for crafting resources and weapons. Once you've finished with a floor, you can head back to the lowest deck, feed and talk to other survivors, patch up and upgrade your gear, and improve the survivors' vital attributes to make them more effective in combat.
Is it any good?
This is either an action game dressed up in turn-based strategy clothes, or vice versa. Not that it really matters, since Dread Nautical is pretty fun either way. Gradually working your way through the ship room by room and deck by deck is tense and rewarding. When the turn-based combat kicks in, players are given opportunity to exercise some basic but important strategy as they plan out ranged attacks to remain safe at a distance and charge in with powerful melee weapons to finish off wounded foes. The strategy isn't as deep or nuanced as in similar games, such as Fire Emblem: Three Houses or XCOM 2, but it allows players to dispatch enemies and work through levels fairly quickly.
There's some room for improvement, though. The hero's artificially limited inventory -- as little as just three items at the start -- is both nonsensical and frustrating, at times forcing players to leave behind desirable gear and items. While the writing and voice acting are surprisingly entertaining, the visual presentation could use some work. Character models, for example, are too cartoonish for the spooky setting, with goofy faces and garishly large hands. Just a tad more realism would have been a better match for their surroundings and the game's overall tone. But without being too harsh, though, Dread Nautical is one of the better turn-based strategy games released on both mobile devices and consoles, and it's an easy recommendation for strategy fans looking for a new title to play.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about violence in media. Is the impact of the violence in Dread Nautical affected by the emotional connection to game characters that you can develop while playing the game? Do you feel the same way about these people as figures in other media? Do you feel guilty if your decisions result in the death of game characters?
Do you think you have what it would take to survive a disaster? What sorts of skills and abilities do you possess that would come in handy in the event of an emergency?
- Platforms: Apple Arcade, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
- Price: $19.99 (on PSN, XBox Live, and eStore)
- Pricing structure: Paid
- Available online? Available online
- Developer: Zen Studios
- Release date: April 29, 2020
- Genre: Strategy
- Topics: Adventures, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- ESRB rating: E10+ for Fantasy Violence, Language
- Last updated: September 10, 2021
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.