You would think that after Journey’s success there would have been a wave of titles hoping to provide an experience away from the traditional game. But games with an emphasis on exploring over defeating enemies or high scores continue to be a rare occurrence on consoles. Enter Uppercut Games, who have crafted something they hope will stay in your thoughts long after those credits roll.
Submerged has two storylines for you to discover. The first one at the forefront of the game begins by showing a boat wash ‘ashore’ alongside a building in a flooded city that sees only the tallest buildings reach for a place above the water. A young girl carrying a smaller boy disembarks and makes her way towards a temple-like structure laying him down near a font that could be as much an alter as it could be a birdbath. There’s no talking, no explanation of why you’re there, or how long you’ve been at sea but as the game plays out, things become a little clearer as details are salvaged from the city whose sidewalks now pave the ocean floor. Much is left for the player to imagine, but Uppercut Games feed you just the right amount of information for you to come away with your own understanding of what has happened.
The briefest of hints suggests you search for items to heal the boy and from there you’re unleashed into the world of Submerged. There’s no limit to where you go next. Despite the mass of water around you, you’re never asked to swim, which given gaming’s persistently awful underwater swimming controls, I’m eternally grateful for. Travelling via a small boat, you’re free to explore the entire game world with nothing to hold you back. Submerged is a simple game in terms of goals and mechanics. There’s not really any ‘platforming’, instead there’s lots of climbing and shuffling along ledges, but with no danger of falling to your death. There are no enemy encounters either.
Instead, you can simply relax and investigate this strange world. As you navigate the waters, you’ll spot telltale red flowers on vines, indicating a starting point for climbing where you may find emergency aid drops on the roof with items you need to heal the young boy.
There are also secret items to find which unlock basic pictures, which as a collective, build up the picture of what happened to the world and how it came to be in this flooded state. This slowly builds into the game’s secondary storyline. You’ll inevitably collect the pictures in a random order, but they’re laid out in a diary in order, leaving some interesting gaps for your imagination to push for answers before this tapestry-like plot device starts to come together more over time.
As you climb up the remains of the city, you’ll get a better view of the surrounding areas, which is where your telescope comes in handy. Scan around the vista and you’ll see hidden items or new aid drop from afar. These are then handily added to your map. The map itself ‘unfogs’ as you pass through the world and it’s of a decent size to enjoy over the course of an evening’s play.
It really is refreshing to genuinely be able to go anywhere from the start of a game, especially from a small studio. If you can see somewhere through the telescope, you can head on over for a closer look. Not every building is climbable, but you’ll enjoy plenty of stunning views after climbing up to the roofs of most of them.
The setting is eerily sombre, as the devastation wrecked by the flood was surely brutal. There’s nobody else to interact with and you don’t come across any bodies either. Nature has reclaimed much of this world long ago and anyone that’s played the likes of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West or even The Last of Us will appreciate some of the artistic design. Vines cover much of the stone surfaces, with their red petals gently floating down through the sea breeze. Trees have impossibly taken root to form small forests of on skyscrapers and thick coils of roots reach out from buildings, desperately trying to feed the lofty green rooftops.
There’s a full weather and day/night cycle that shows off an array of sunsets that have you stopping halfway up ladders to snap a picture and the sunny days are beautifully bright and almost allow you to forget that the world has ended – your Share button is going to love this game. It’s not all sunshine and sunsets though, there are stormy times too as the rain lashes down and the night scenes make up for the lack of electrical light via moonlight, and the glowing algae surrounding the buildings on the water’s surface are nice touches that evoke memories of the film adaptation of Life of Pi. There’s some surprising wildlife to discover too, but I don’t want to spoil everything for you.
It’s hard to pin down exactly where the game is set, it seems to be a fictional city with architecture you’re just as likely to spot in Europe as you are in America. Keep an eye out for the landmarks as you tick them off though, especially the buildings’ names. There seems to be something of a theme of sunken worlds, coded into them. For example, the Saaftinge Hospital links to Saeftinghe, a Dutch town that was consumed by a swamp in 1584. Or there’s the Rullyeh hotel with the name resembling R’lyeh, a sunken city and the prison of Cthulhu found in the works of H.P. Lovecraft. I haven’t found an Atlantis hotel (probably a bit on the nose), but I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a Rapture nod.
Submerged isn’t the longest of games for your £14.99 (£11.99 for PlayStation + members) but it’s easily one of the best titles to appear on PSN this year. I managed to finish the story in one three hour session, but I still have half of the collectibles to find and a few bits of city to uncover on the map. I may not know where Submerged is set, but I’ll be sure to go back.
- A beautiful version of the end of the world
- Relaxing gameplay
- Lots of extras to find
- Frame-rate plummeted a few times
- Soundtrack gets a bit repetitive
- Arguably too short for the price
The Short Version: One of the most relaxing games I’ve played in ages. Submerged is a game happy to let the player explore, with minimal challenge making for an experience that focuses on player exploration and stopping to enjoy the view. The story of the children and the desolate world around them slowly becomes clearer, leaving just enough room for the player’s personal interpretation.
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed) | Xbox One | PC
Developer: Uppercut Games