Artistic, story driven indie games are fairly common these days. No bad thing, but it does mean that Uppercut Games’ Submerged has to do something special to stand out in today’s market.
In this game you play as Miku, a young girl trying to save her wounded, unconscious brother Taku. The first thing you’ll notice is the interesting setting: a flooded city in a post-apocalyptic world. With dilapidated towers covered in moss and plant life, and tainted water filled with unusual creatures, this city oozes atmosphere. The story itself is essentially silent, with the only speech being to tell us what we’re expected to do next. This is where the game is at its simplest, as you are only really required to find medical supplies for Taku, and you do this by using your telescope to discover the nearest drop point denoted by red and white fabric dangling from a building’s roof.
The first time you press Y to use your telescope, you’ll likely notice the strange clicking sound that accompanies the white arrow guiding you towards your nearest objective. Or, as you will soon learn, it may be guiding you towards a boat upgrade or one of the many secrets dotted around the map. Speaking of which, Submerged offers an open city to explore as you wish in your little boat. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. Exploring the city is wonderfully relaxing and the day/night cycle, along with the stunning dynamic weather, adds to the atmosphere and immersion of the game. However, given the immediacy of Taku’s injuries, it seems an odd choice to allow the player to sail around the city at their leisure.
That aside, it doesn’t change how enjoyable it is to look around the city. There’s plenty to find too, as you discover different species, including massive whale-like creatures, and dolphins that swim alongside your boat as you move. There are landmarks as well, all adding to the sense of immersion as you piece together the story of the city. This is the reason for all the secret collectibles throughout the game world, diaries that offer cave drawing style images that reveal what lead to the drowning of the city.
The cave drawings accompany everything within the game. They tell Miku and Taku’s backstory that lead to his injury and the pair’s eventual arrival in this new area. This draws comparisons to Journey’s storytelling, even down to the almost mute protagonist, but Submerged doesn’t quite reach the heady heights of Sony’s exclusive masterpiece. The story sometimes feels a little too obscure in its telling, feeling more forced than necessary, though learning the history through secrets is a nice way to lengthen game time for those wanting more. It also justifies the collectible mechanic that so often feels like padding in other games.
Visually, Submerged is lovely. With stylised characters that bring to mind the underrated Xbox action-adventure Galleon, or perhaps Beyond Good and Evil, and the surroundings and general art direction resembling Ninja Theory’s gorgeous Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, there really is something instantly appealing here. When the weather takes a turn for the worst and the heavens open, the rain effects look great and the sound totally completes the picture. Then, after the storm, the sun’s rays peak through the parting clouds and present an image so beautiful that you’ll appreciate the Postcard feature of the game.
Pressing pause, you’ll be able to ‘create a postcard’ which opens the game’s photo mode. This is something many games are adding in this age of screen captures and social sharing, and it’s very welcome, especially in a game with as much beauty as Submerged. Create your perfect picture by zooming, moving the camera, etc. and save/share them via the Xbox One’s screenshot function. You’ll probably have an album full of images by the time you’re done with the game, if you’re anything like me.
Being done with the game will require at least two or three hours of your time, just finishing the story alone. Add in another two or three hours to polish off the collectibles – be it the boat parts (which are essentially useless, only really useful to lengthen your boost meter, which only comes in handy when looking for secrets as they’re spread about the map), finding creatures or going for the diaries and landmarks – and you’ve got a fair amount of content for your £15.99. There’s very little reason to replay the game once you’ve finished with all the collectibles though, as the story has no branching paths or anything, nor is it engrossing enough to warrant another playthrough. That said, the time I spent with Submerged was definitely good fun and you’ll definitely get your money’s worth.
Despite its pretty visuals from the Unreal 4 engine and all its atmosphere, there are some issues with how Submerged runs. Even with some gorgeous art direction and visual effects, the game’s character models are quite basic and there isn’t a huge amount of detail in some of the textures. This makes it baffling when the framerate inexplicably dips.
The controls can be awkward too, despite their simplicity. Other than using face buttons for telescope, map and picking up items (and occasionally the left bumper to boost your boat’s speed), you really only ever use the analogue stick to move around as Miku’s context-sensitive movement automatically jumps to grab ledges, etc. She’s a little slow-moving though, which can be especially grating when manoeuvring around the bigger buildings in the game. The boat does move at a decent clip, however.
At its heart, Submerged is definitely a fun game with an interesting story and a beautiful post-apocalyptic setting. A few issues aside, there’s enough to keep any adventure fan going for up to five or six hours, which isn’t bad at all when you consider the price is under £16.
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