The opening scene to a video game does so much for a player. Emotionally, it can tug at the heart-strings; perhaps even fuel your path towards revenge. Visually, the word “wow” can quickly follow. Submerged does each of these well, but ultimately, leaves the player on a sinking ship throughout its nautical, familial tale.
The game’s protagonist is a young girl who drifts into an archipelago of overgrown and run-down structures. She must care for her sick brother by venturing out by boat and gathering first aid packages to treat his illness. Though it isn’t necessarily a unique premise, it instantly intrigues and beguiles.
The graphics are wonderful and the accompanying soundtrack only adds to that sense of adventure in the post-apocalyptic, eerie environment. At ground level, Uppercut Games have created a world battered by harsh winds and devastated by monstrous waves. There is a strange beauty to the mossy surfaces and vine-ridden alleys. Constantly navigating the world by boat may seem like a chore, but it isn’t. The giant sunken skyscrapers give Submerged a great sense of verticality and you can get lost in how pretty the world is when travelling from one checkpoint to the next, which is further typified by the game’s day/night cycle.
A nice addition are the trails of pink flowers scattered around the city. Not only are the flowers appealing to the eye, but they also act as your visual aid for climbing opportunities. They are mostly found at the base of certain landmarks and surrounding structures, but are also used as vines and placed near drainpipes.
Players will have questions about how this city came to be, and to a minute extent, Uppercut Games respond with an unfortunately lacklustre storytelling technique. ‘Secrets’ are abundant here and you have to discover all 60, in the form of small children’s drawings, to piece together how the cataclysmic event came to pass. Eventually you discover a telescope, which becomes a handy tool for identifying the game’s ‘care packages’ and collectibles over long distances. However, the sheer amount of collectibles drag the game out unnecessarily, erasing your enjoyment in the boat. At the very least, the secrets in Submerged could’ve amounted to a short 2D video instead of a lengthy comic strip.
But that is the least of Submerged’s issues. A game with a premise and setting such as this demands a sense of survival, urgency or threat as you are, after all, leaving your unwell sibling alone for long periods of time. Even though Uppercut Games have opted for a non-combat approach, the player never feels rushed and there are no enemies to speak of. Not even a time limit counter has been implemented to add some haste to your objective. Along your travels there are sea birds and majestic ocean creatures, great and small, but even they are non-responsive to your presence. Something was needed, whether it be a HUD showing hunger, thirst or stamina levels, or maybe even a jumping or crafting mechanic for weapons and other items.
This makes the control scheme all the more dull and uninspiring. The left stick is implemented heavily, as it controls the direction of your boat and is solely responsible for traversing buildings, as well as running and crossing planks. At times, it gets windy and a quick mini-game to help the girl maintain her balance would’ve been a good alternative to simply holding up on the left stick. Later on, you may refer to the map a little too often, especially when looking for unexplored locations for those pesky ‘secrets’. Your efforts to stick with Submerged are tested, due to its infrequent frame-rate issues, gameplay simplicity and its seemingly unpopulated world.
Submerged fails in its ability to match presentation with story. This is wholly unfortunate because, in a round-about kind of way, it brings the towering locations in Shadow of the Colossus mashed with the survival and uncertain threats from I Am Alive. Upon completion, you are given an abrupt and unsatisfying ending to a game that began as a picturesque and intriguing experience, which regrettably manifested into a passive tale of repetitive boating and banal wall-climbing.
Hayden spent a total of seven hours with Submerged, where he completed the campaign and collected all 60 of its secrets. He was quite upset he couldn’t ride a whale – an animal in the game. A review copy was obtained from the publisher.
What begins as an interesting experience soon becomes rather repetitive.