Submerged opens (after a lengthy loading screen) with a montage detailing a boat’s arrival into a sunken, plant-claimed city. The boat’s pilot is a young woman and the only other passenger is a younger boy. The silent introduction depicts a sick child being rescued by his older sibling. All of the surrounding facts are a mystery. What’s wrong with the kid? How did he get that nasty gash in his stomach? Where are these two coming from? Where are they going to? Oh, and why’s this entire city sinking? Most questions are revealed throughout the following few hours of gameplay, but don’t expect a fully voiced cutscene-fest. Submerged is more a game about inference and implicit storytelling, which is one of its strengths. There are little to no words to be read while playing this game. All of the story tiles are crude drawings from a seemingly tribal people with their own language. I’m a big fan of that type of presentation, especially when it works. In Submerged, it definitely works.
The gameplay in Submerged can be described as a combination of Shadow of the Colossus, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, inFamous, and, ready for this?, Pokémon Snap. I know that’s a lot to swallow, especially if you’re not familiar with all of the games. Let me explain. The wonder of exploring a new world with nothing but a few tools is reminiscent of SotC. The submerged city is filled with landmarks and nooks that are begging to be discovered. You’ve only got your boat, a telescope, and a map to guide you. There isn’t any combat here, though, so don’t expect to be taking down any massive baddies. The gameplay is much more focused on scavenging. Your primary task is to scrounge up medical supplies for Taku, your wounded brother. Boat upgrades and pieces of “The City’s Story” are also nestled about, to be stumbled upon or sought out depending on your playstyle. Here’s where Wind Waker and inFamous come into play. You’ll be spending a good chunk of time in your boat (there’s even a trophy for enduring an entire day/night cycle in it). You’ll spend about as much time scaling buildings to find supplies. Finally, since the game is so damn pretty, you’ll probably want to check out the “Make a Postcard” feature, which grants you control of the camera to pan, zoom, etc. in order to capture a screenshot. After collecting all of the supplies for Taku, I putted around for a while making postcards of striking scenes. I implore you to take a look through the gallery above for some stellar shots. Unfortunately, the game looks smoother than it runs.
As beautiful as Submerged is, it’s hampered by framerate issues and noticeably janky draw-in. Every time I careened my boat into a building by accident, the game stuttered to nearly a halt for a few seconds. When surveying far-off objects, it’s not uncommon to see treetops pop in and out of existence. I turned off the HUD in this game because of how great it looks and how much I dig the world-building. To have it slow down and flicker every now and again breaks my suspended disbelief. I also took issue with the loading screens. Every time you find medical supplies for Taku, the game cuts to a loading screen followed by a few shots of you taking them back in your boat. I’m fine with the forced quick-travel back to your base temple, but the static “Loading…” really bummed me out for some reason. That being said, it felt really cool to explain Submerged to a curious on-looker. I didn’t have to use the terms “kill”, “level-up”, “die”, or “win”. This is more a game about isolation, adventure, and discovery. The soundtrack is comprised of melancholy piano trills and sweeping strings, a perfect accompaniment to the game’s mechanics and graphics. If you want a laid-back, relaxing experience full of discovery in a beautiful but haunting world, this game’s for you. I certainly enjoyed my time with it.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here.
What I Like:
- Open exploration
- Chill(ing) soundtrack
- Making postcards
What I Dislike:
- Framerate and draw-in troubles