Subtly Submerged in Scenery

By Zatheera, 22 July 2016

When your planet looks a lot more like Waterworld and is populated with crazy coral creatures and various other wildlife, you’d think you were moments away from becoming some aquatic leviathan’s lunch. That of course, couldn’t be farther from the truth since Submerged is a combat-free game, created by the small yet experienced team at Uppercut Games Pty Ltd and it is available on PC, XBOX One and PS4.

Disclosure: This review was written using a press copy of the game.

You may ask what I mean by combat free. Well, it’s quite literally just that. There is no fighting required to progress the game, nor are there opportunities presented for it. And although you climb to ridiculous heights, there is no risk of fall damage either, which means that there is absolutely no chance of death, failure, or defeat in this walking simulator. The only thing you have to do is explore and find key items to progress the storyline and complete the game. Which is sort of relaxing after playing a game where death is almost inevitable, like Ark or League of Legends.

You play the game as Miku, a young girl that is struggling to take care of her injured younger brother in the absence of their parents. It is her caring nature that acts as the driving force which pushes her to climb to incredible heights, boat through beast filled waters and hang from perilous edges just to find various items to keep him alive. Things that I’m not sure if either of my siblings would do for me if we were ever in this sort of situation.

Miku is able to find snippets of information as she searches through the submerged and ruined city. The stories progression is entirely controlled by when you find these supply cases, so it’s up to you when you continue to the next phase. As far as I can tell, it doesn’t matter which order you find the boxes in either since it will give you the next required regardless of where you retrieve them from.

The tale takes some time to be told, as each chapter gives fragmented indications as to what happened in the past, both with civilization itself and with the young girl’s family. You are left to take the little hints that you find and try to piece together what happened as best that you can. Much like looking at paintings on a cave wall and trying to figure out what the cavemen were trying to illustrate. Basically, the narrative is left open for you to interpret as you see fit. Which works fine for those of us with avid imaginations, not so much for those that don’t.

I have to give credit to the engineer that designed Miku’s boat. It definitely has a “Buy it for Life” craftsmanship level of quality. No matter how many times you smash into buildings, it just keeps on putt-puttin’ around as if nothing had happened, which is a blessing when you fail at steering when tired as I do.If only things were that well made in real life, right? It’s either that or  Miku is incredibly gifted at making the best out of the salvaged shipwreck parts she finds to keep her own boat afloat.

The game is all in all very relaxing. The fact there is no risk of death for the main character means you can pause to enjoy the scenery without being concerned that some predator is going to jump out of nowhere and devour you. That isn’t to say you’re alone of course, since you definitely are not. Even though the city seems devoid of civilization, there are plenty of living creatures that have taken it over as their home. From fish to whales, to manta rays. I’m amazed that the boat is never at risk of being capsized when a giant whale comes right up under it is another testament to its durability, or out of this world attributes.

The young girl keeps track of all she discovers in her journal, of course. Which she writes in her own language, leaving it up to you to interpret the images as you see fit. There are only a few pages to it that you have access to, one is her own personal story about her family and how she and her brother ended up where they are now. Another is her log of the creatures she encounters, one about what happened to the world around them and the last is about the landmarks she spots during her nautical adventure. With each secret page you find, creatures you discover, or supply chest you stumble upon while climbing buildings, you get to another piece of the puzzle, another step closer to the end.

I do have one gripe with this game and it is the voice acting. Granted, it’s incredibly limited, seeing as there is pretty much no one for you to talk to, the little that there is is hard to hear and very short. It made me depend on subtitles to know what was said. Honestly, the first time she spoke I didn’t quite catch it and thought that perhaps she spoke in her own language, which wouldn’t have been surprising seeing her writing is, but the second time she spoke I realized that no, she was actually speaking English and she was just very, very, quiet.

These vocal snippets typically occurred at the beginning of each chapter, where Miku would state what she’d need to next find for her brother. I felt there was a missed opportunity with the voice acting in the storytelling aspect of the game, where she could have explained her view of events when she’d find segments for her journal. Even if she discussed her own interpretation of the creatures she found. It would help give a bit more depth to her character, add some more layers to the onion or parfait if you prefer.

The music itself is lovely and carries an understandably somber tone. Regardless, I found it soothing to play after a frustrating day. The textures and animations were repeated throughout, but I didn’t mind honestly. The scenery can be quite stunning when you take a moment to enjoy it and I definitely took a plethora of screenshots whenever I caught myself pausing mid climb just to look around me.

While you explore the game world, you get to take a look at beautiful sights and spy about with your trusty telescope. I was in awe of the sea life and how the general wildlife took over the ruins of the city. The controls were pretty simple and intuitive, and I only got aggravated with the camera on a couple occasions when it would pan out at awkward times until I realize that in some places they were trying to give you a better view and feel of how high up Miku had climbed, how massive the building is, or give the general feel that she was being watched.

The wave mechanics were fairly spot on and I loved the fact there were realistic weather effects. The designers took special care of adding slight changes to the main character physical changes as the game progressed as well as the area around her brother, which was a nice touch.

But what I would have liked to see would have been actual visual representations of the upgrades to the boat as you went along. You spend so much of your time in it and upgrading it. Whether it be adding to its bulk, it’s armor, perhaps a canopy. Pretty much anything would have given me more of a sense of time passing, other than the fade in and outs when Miku rests.

It would have been nice for her attire to have altered as well, whether she fashions strips of cloth around her hands for better protection when climbing, or on her feet. Even if they placed a bandage on her own arm from cutting herself, I’m not sure, but it would have been interesting to see other subtle differences as the plot progressed, other than one I don’t wish to spoil. They did have scarves to show off their cloth physics though, which was fun to see but at times distracting when they would clip through Miku.

The first thing you do is find means to build Tiku a fire after Miku comments that he seems cold, which can be pretty difficult to do when you’re surrounded by water. But while climbing buildings, the player can clearly see that there are giant flags just hanging everywhere. I can’t imagine why Miku didn’t tear a single one down to cover him up. I would like to believe she’s a resourceful, caring, older sibling with great survival capabilities, but seeing her obviously miss that made me shake my head and sigh.

In general, having her use a few more things from the environment would have helped with immersion instead of her relying on supply crates. Heck, she has him laying on blankets when she says he’s cold but doesn’t pull one over him. It would have been an endearing scene to have her tuck him in before she headed out and fairly simple to do without taking away from her need. 

Was the storyline in depth? Not really. Was the ending surprising? Not so much. Were there any puzzles? Nothing I’d actually define as such, no. Was it challenging? Not exactly, particularly for someone used to wall climbing about to find hidden treasures due to games like Assassin’s Creed. But that’s not what I’d suggest someone ever buy this game for. It’s pretty, it’s soothing, it lets you unwind and it’s relatively short. It’s basically the perfect game to play when all you want to do is unwind. Essentially, it’s just a story that you walk and climb your way through.

If you’re looking for something that will have you on the edge of your seat and fearing for your character’s life, this is definitely not it. You’re better off playing something along the line of Dark Souls for that sort of heart skipping style of play. But if you’re looking for something to help you relax, then this is the game for you. I did enjoy the relaxing aspect, it was a nice break from the far more intense games I tend to play where an alpha raptor might attack me out of nowhere. So for those needing something to help them slow down for a little while, then I’d suggest you give this game a try next time it’s on a Steam sale. For the thrill-seeker types, I’d probably advise you to look elsewhere.
Have fun gaming, folks.

Zatheera is an avid gamer, reader, pun enthusiast, overthinker and lover of lore. She can be found on twitter (@Zatheera) or twitch under her pseudonym as Staleina.


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