Sea Coral

by Jeff Greer profile


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
PunyJam #3: Sea Coral, February 28, 2023
by kaemi
Related reviews: PunyJam #3

Florida’s coral reefs are threatened by environmental terrorism, and it’s time for two grizzled Navy SEALs on detachment to the US Coast Guard to stop these pirates! Okay, wow, that was a lot. That sounded scary! Pirates? SEALs? Terrorism? Grizzled??? Gee willikers, this is the Florida Keys, we’re here to relax. How about some delicious key lime pie? Maybe a little mai tai? There we go, now we’re sufficiently chilled out to approach Sea Coral on its own terms.

This laidback investigation adventure isn’t out to get anyone’s pulses racing. Although the prose is quite clipped, it is driven by a genial interest that cheerfully prints out facts, which can sometimes result in a series of tangential hardcuts that depressurize focus: “The Deep Sea Submersible Vehicle (DSRV) supports two researchers. It’s maximum depth capability is well below the tolerance of the divers. The divers depth tolerance can be increased by use of mixed gasses. The exterior is equipped with 360 degree thrusters, full lighting, hand like grasping claws and specimen holding bays. The DSRV can operate at full capacity for more than five hours on a full charge.” What makes this fuzzy factspew enjoyable is that the gameplay is so lowstakes and telegraphed that you don’t need to sift through the spray for any one detail. You simply relax as the game completes its own missions with only light interaction. For your inspection of the damage to the coral reef, you merely board the DRSV, go southwest, and voila, mission complete, time to reboard the DRSV and go northeast, taking only a brief moment to appreciate the natural beauty: “There is an amazing array of sea coral and marine life. / After seeing some strange damage to the environment, you have collected samples of coral, water and sand from the area that looks disturbed. / You can board the DSRV to return to the Pollux.”

Although slightly offkilter, this brisk enthusiasm proves charming, giving the narration the tone of a friendly guide who really hopes you have a nice time, it is so lovely around here: “The lab is meticulously organized. Sandy is an excellent lab tech. You can see the lab station and some specimens that seem to have been analyzed already. Labs are interesting places. You are free to examine [X] everything. But do not touch! It would break the chain of custody rules. / It would be wise to discuss the lab results with the lab tech: [Talk to] Sandy.” The little satisfied sigh of “Labs are interesting places” interrupts the description without adding anything, and yet it feels like such a simple, genuine flush of enthusiasm that you can’t help but nod and agree. Before the train of thought gets lost, however, the game’s immediately back to business, providing helpful tips to glide you through the next scene. This exuberant simplicity sparkles the game with excitement while keeping the player tightly choreographed: “An amazing array of sea coral and marine life. The water is so clear, you can see it from the surface. Just some fins, snorkel and a mask would provide a great experience! By the way, you need to check on that kayaker just to the east.” Wow, corals are so awesome! Oh and by the way, just as an aside, the game needs you to go east.

Your investigation mostly consists of you trawling around the map, talking to every ship or diver you encounter. These dialogues keep up the same rigid amicability: “Hank: Hi captain, I’m Hank. What brings the Coast Guard out this way? / You: We checked your records. You run a clean operation. / Hank: I used to be in corporate relations. It was quite a grind. I spent my life savings buying this boat. We run a tight operation and do everything we can to give our customers a good time, but safety and protecting the environment here are important to us.” This conversation is so stilted that the resulting humor brims it with character, which is pretty par for the course with these matter of fact dialogues, all of which are brief exchanges that repeatedly offer up the same one clue about a renegade tramp steamer in various degrees of detail, although the game does once giddy up a joke to liven the proceeds: “You: I’m here from the government and I’m here to help you. ;) / Joe: Don’t make me laugh…” That sudden emoji is so iconic of the rest of the game that I’m convinced that it is the cherry on top.

Anodyne pleasantries abounding, it’s no surprise the game’s little bubbles of excitement don’t quite gush up into any explosive thriller breathlessness, even though it does gesture at the danger of the high seas: “> x flag: The divers down flag signifies that there is actually divers in the water and nearby vessels should stay clear. It is usually on a float but can also be a pennant or flag on the dive boat. / > take flag: Taken. / > mwahaha: That is not a verb I recognize.” Oh whoops, sorry, wrong quote. I meant these villains: “The pirate has an aggressive posture. / … / It looks like a pirate vessel. You notice a lot of unsecured items in disarray all over the deck.” Our climactic encounter with the dastardly pirates starts off with a crisp admonishment that they haven’t properly secured the equipment on deck. Didn’t they read the manual? And how dare they with this “aggressive posture”? Pirates indeed! Time for the US Coast Guard to put a stop to their environmental terrorism through a dramatic confrontation: “You: Tell me about the unsecured items on your deck. / The pirate: I will do no such thing. You have no authority on my ship. Now leave before there is trouble. / You: Very well. This is not the time, but it is the place. Good day to you. For now… / The pirate: Harr! / With that, you politely end the conversation.” Oh, uh… are we sure this isn’t the Canadian Coast Guard?

Of course, it’s for the best that such a chipper little exercise is content to cruise along in good spirits, even if the subject matter it touches on like environmental pollution or piracy hint at dark clouds on the horizon. Our final confrontation proves as frictionless as the rest of the experience, sustaining the breezy lighthearted atmosphere to the endscreen, leaving you with a smile and a sense of warmth, if not much else. Still, the game is so straightforwardly content, why shouldn’t we just share the vibes and soak up the Florida sunshine?