The gaming industry is inherently conservative; developing games is so expensive that it’s tempting to go with what works just to make your money back. Uppercut Games has thrown caution to the wind with their first major game, though, as Submerged is a combat-free puzzle platformer where you play a preteen girl trying to desperately save her brother. And it works, for as long as it lasts.
Submerged (PC, PS4, Xbox One)
For a $20 game made by an indie studio, this is a pretty impressive piece of work. The graphics, while not perfect, benefit greatly from clever art direction: This game’s ruined city setting is oddly peaceful, and the post-apocalyptic society we get a glimpse of is carefully thought through. Drawing from Polynesian influences, touches like seeing a Ferris wheel called “The Basket Wheel” subtly drives home that while these may be humans, what we know is the distant, distant past.
That said, there are a few problems. There’s only a handful of songs on the score, and the looping piano music may get on your nerves. The multiple stories that unfold are told simply, which in turn strips out any nuance; it doesn’t help that you’ll rather quickly figure out where all of this is going. It’s not the cheesiest set of stories in a video game… but it’s up there.
This game has gotten compared to Shadow of the Colossus a lot, which is certainly a game it owes a debt to, but honestly, it feels more like the parkour sections of Assassin’s Creed, without the crappy, finger-cramping controls, crossed with The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, except the boat isn’t a tedious pain in the ass. It’s a fairly simple game, but it’s refreshing in that it just expects you to solve puzzles, and that’s all.
The game’s dedication to simplicity can throw you a bit at first; all motion is done with the left thumbstick, and you don’t get a jump button, you can’t fall from great heights (or die at all, for that matter), and all the platforming tropes you’re used to don’t apply. But you get the hang of it very quickly, and it becomes both fun and oddly soothing to explore the environment, looking at the sunset and weather effects and stopping at any buildings you can climb on to poke around and find another piece of the city’s history.
That said, it can be a little bit too simple; for example, you can raid old boats for parts to increase your boost meter… but you’ll barely use the boost anyway. Similarly, a lot of the smaller platforming areas aren’t really puzzles so much as simple climbs to get at a secret. The game would have benefited from building out more climbing puzzles in the optional areas, or perhaps including a few more types of puzzles as mechanics.
Despite how it looks at first, this is a small game; I not only knocked out its ten “dungeons” in about three hours, I found a majority of the game’s collectibles to boot. I even popped one of its novelty trophies that rewards you for hitting all the corners of the map. It’s nice that it doesn’t overstay its welcome; it’s not terribly mechanically complex and the running time reflects the depth of the game. But at $20, it might feel a bit short, and it’s hard to see how even the most OCD of trophy hunters could get more than five hours out of it.
Nothing doing; you pay your money and you get your game.
Submerged has a lot going for it; it’s a peaceful, relaxing game, and it’s fun to just let your brain search for environmental clues and piece together where you need to go to find a secret. That said, though, it feels like more of an audition than a game; it’s short, it’s rough in places, and it very much has the feel of a game with AAA ambitions that were trimmed back in order to ship. I won’t be surprised if a major publisher, or Kickstarter, debuts a Submerged II in a year or two with more features, more mechanics, and more to the environment. If you want a relaxed, peaceful game, this is worth the money… but otherwise, keep an eye out for the sequel.