A relaxing adventure through a dystopian city bursting with life
Submerged is a third-person, combat-free game in which you explore a derelict city after an apocalyptic event flooded the world. You take on the role of Miku, a young girl forced to care for her injured brother after bringing him to the city in their small fishing boat. Navigating the flooded city streets by boat, the core gameplay revolves around scaling the submerged buildings, whilst utilising your telescope to scout the environment for the supplies needed to save the only family you have left. In search of this goal, you explore this strange city, as you encounter an ecosystem of life that has flourished in this colourful new world.
Produced by a small indie developer, Uppercut Games, Submerged thrusts you into an enchantingly desolate world that yearns to be explored. One thing that instantly stands out here is the beautiful art style and animation, which perfectly captures the wonderment of exploring an abandoned cityscape. As you explore you begin to encounter the drowned city’s diverse and strange creatures. Giant whales breach the water shaking the small boat you use to explore. Dolphins leap out from the depths twisting through the air, whilst strange, human-like creatures watch you from afar. This odd ecosystem is crowned by a dynamic weather system that depicts a planet still in turmoil, not yet recovered from the apocalyptic event that created it.
Graphically, Submerged isn’t exactly pushing the envelope, but it’s obvious that graphical fidelity wasn’t the goal here. What the game does have is a very unique art style that portrays the sunken city you explore through bright colours interspersed by the stark silhouette of skyscrapers jutting from the dark depths below. The accompanying score, composed by Jeff van Dyck, is atmospheric, yet tense when it needs to be. Although it seems overall the music was intended to offer relaxing melodies to which you can lie back and explore at your own pace.
Submerged map is sizable and encourages exploration, a lot of which is done on a vertical plane. Uppercut Games did a great job of making the city feel bigger than it is, it doesn’t feel restrictive in its boundaries. There are no solid, invisible walls that block your path or horizon cut-offs, the sea seems to stretch on forever. When you eventually reach the edge of the map you not greeted by a hard thud, but a gentle redirection back towards the accessible part of the city. This simple design choice makes the city feel expansive and gives the player the impression they are not locked within a zoned off space.
Washing ashore with your wounded brother in a small fishing boat, Submerged is a story that revolves around relationships. As Miku, you scour the ruins looking for the supplies to heal your sibling, as their tragic backstory is revealed through a series of unlockable pictures. Haunted by strange creatures, known as Remnants, Miku scales the drowned buildings trying to understand the intention of these human-like entities. As you progress through the game you will discover hidden objects that piece together the story of a broken world and a broken family. At its heart, Submerged centres on the relationship between Miku and her Brother and what she’s willing to do to ensure they survive.
One of the first things you may notice about the gameplay in Submerged is that there is no combat. The gameplay has a somewhat minimalist quality to it, with the focus on climbing mechanics, similar to games such as Prince of Persia. Exploration is key as you scout out supplies with your telescope, use your boat to get to reach the location and then scale the half sunken cityscape to reach your prize. The game features hardly any dialogue, with meaning often relayed through pictures and musical tone. This offers players a relaxed pace where they can explore the city as they see fit without the ever present challenge of combat. This more linear approach to gameplay does begin to cause feelings of repetition the further into the story you get, but the overall narrative is interesting enough to keep you progressing.
Overall Submerged is an interesting and compelling game with a strong narrative focus and minimalist gameplay mechanics. The lack of dialogue gives the player the room to utilise their imaginations when confronted with the game’s more vague plotlines. Its greatest feature though is also its only downfall, as the lack of dialogue creates a lack of depth that sometimes leaves the game feeling slightly hollow as a whole experience.
*Transparency: The opinions in this review were formed off the basis of a review copy played on Xbox One.