Every once in a while a game comes around that decides to forgo the status quo of popular genres and game mechanics and decides to try something different. Submerged does just that and more. Developed by Uppercat Games (ex-irrational staff), Submerged takes a leaf out of the likes of ICO, Journey and Brothers: A tale of two sons where; less is more. It doesn’t tell the player where to go, it doesn’t hold the gamers hand for the first hour of the game. Simply: Here is a world, you have one objective and go explore this wonderful world we built while you are at it. Submerged is a great game from start to finish with stunning art direction with one of the greatest musical pieces ever released in gaming but it isn’t without problems.
Without spoiling anything, Submerged is a story about a brother and sister. They arrive in a submerged city on a boat and the brother is dying. You play as the older sister, whose sole objective is to scavenge this desolate and sunken city for supplies that will hopefully aid her brother in recovery. That is all the developer presents to the player and it is up to him/her to use the boat to find supplies and also discover the reason behind the cities ruin. I found this approach refreshing and I applaud the developers for deciding to let the player interpret the story for themselves and let the player choose how they want to go about saving the brother. I liked the story and once it finished I was satisfied with the conclusion and ready to explore the city to try find out how the city became empty and devoid of life.
Submerged is created on the Unreal 4 engine and it looks stunning. You can tell that the developers are ex-bioshock because the art direction is perfect for the style of game. The game is rich in tropical foliage that reacts perfectly to the girl’s body when she moves through bushes and grass etc. There is a full day/night cycle with randomised weather. As you would expect from a game where you pilot a boat, the water is amazing and reacts perfectly with your vehicle as you glide through the water. Character models are stylised rather than photo realistic which is perfect and it suits the art direction perfectly.
The standout part of the game for me was the soundtrack. The main character doesn’t speak so it is the soundtracks job to set the tone for the game and boy does it do a god job. As you are climbing the buildings to save your brother all you can hear is wildlife, the wind and stunning soundtrack. From piano to violin, it is all in here and created to perfection.
Even though there is no hand holding in the game, the mechanics are simple. One button is for your monocular which the player uses to spot care packages, secrets and locations of interest. One button is for your map and you control your boat using the right triggers. The beauty of this game is there is zero combat in Submerged. Your goal is to save your brother before he dies. I was so happy to see that the developers decided to omit tacked on combat because it would have no place in the tone and direction of Submerged. In order to retrieve the care packages needed to save your brother you must first find out where they are located on the map by travelling around and using your monocular. It isn’t hard to miss them though as they were always placed on the roof the tallest buildings in the city. There are 10 packages to find and each building is staged like a platforming level which the girl must carefully traverse in order to reach the top. The platforming is easy to master with ledges and vines easy to spot so they never become an annoyance. Each building is designed differently and some have a certain theme to them like a hotel or office building.
Of course like every game, Submerged isn’t perfect but it doesn’t have to be. After I completed the main story, I felt less compelled to go back and get all the secrets to find out what happened to the city. There isn’t anything to unlock once you get everything so this might put off potential buyers. Once I finished the main story I was done. If you want replayability over the experience in your games then maybe Submerged isn’t for you. Of course you are free to explore the city when you complete the game but why would you? I think the developers could have done a lot more once the game ended to keep players interested for an extra hour or two but I applaud the developers for sticking with their vision and giving in to the usual tick the box requests most developers try to include in their game. While the city looks amazing, after the first hour or two you realise that there is little to no variety in the building and environments. Also, at just over 5 hours gameplay, the €19.99 price tag might seem a bit steep for some players.
If you are looking for an experience that strays away from the usual gameplay tropes we are used to in modern gaming then Submerged may be just the game for you. Personally I would wait for the price to come down as €19.99 is steep for the game you get.