Submerged is a PS4 game from the same team of developers and artists who worked on Bioshock (but not the same studio). The game’s claim to fame is that you can go about it at your own pace. I paddle about a sunken city and climb some buildings to bring you this review.
Submerged opens with a young girl, Miku, carrying her injured younger brother, Taku, off a small skiff and into a ruin of a building. The boy is obviously in a lot of pain, and it’s Miku’s job to hunt around the ruined, sunken city to find medication and healing supplies for the boy. As Miku explores, the history of the the sunken city becomes apparent, as do the events leading up to Taku’s injury and the siblings’ arrival in the city. Saying much more would entail spoilers, but I’ll say this: deciphering the story was one of the more intriguing aspects of Submerged.
Miku’s explorations are confined to the city itself, and she can wander the flooded streets in her skiff at will. There are also a fair number of buildings to climb, which serve as the game’s “levels”. You can attack the buildings in any order you like, because there are no skills to learn, no experience points to assign, no great leaps of faith to jump. I guess it hits home just how ordinary a girl Miku is.
I won’t deny how pretty Submerged actually is. It’s a delightfully pretty game, but that prettiness hides a lot of strange flaws. It doesn’t take long before you start to notice the reused art assets, or that the world during certain parts of the day/night cycle are prettier than others. Night time, in particular, cause some problems for me while clambering around the buildings. The abundance of lush vegetation in the game also proved a problem, obscuring the view of the camera in certain places. I don’t recall grass and flowers being such an egregious problem in other games, so perhaps it might have been something in the way that the camera doesn’t erase the offending obscuring foliage.
While the idea of exploring at your own pace sounds pretty cool, in reality it became tiresome pretty quickly. Which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the exploration while it lasted, because I did, but when every building looks vaguely similar, and with nothing “over the next horizon and around the next corner” to keep me interested in things, it lost its appeal. Compare this with playing, say, The Witcher 3, where all I wanted to do was explore; partly because I love exploring in games, but largely because the world was so compelling, with something new around each corner.
Submerged is a fairly short experience, and you’re likely to be done with it in around four or five hours, with possibly an extra hour to grab every collectible. It’s a bit annoying that the post-game exploration doesn’t highlight what you’ve missed on the minimap or provide you a quick way of finding what you missed, making the post-game far more infuriating that you’d expect. Still, while Submerged is an interesting experience, it’s definitely not for everyone. The lack of discernable challenge makes this a very niche title with somewhat limited appeal. My kids enjoyed watching Miku’s antics, and didn’t pick up on the dark backstory (which, I have to admit, takes some doing to figure out properly). The ending left a lot to be desired, too, and felt a lot like some kind of cop-out, but despite that, I found it a strangely pleasant experience. Not one that would stick in my mind for long, but still far from a horrendous game.
Final Score: 6.5 normal, submerged prawns out of 10
Developer: Upper-cut games
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Age Rating: TBA