By: Quinn Potter
Submerged is unique. It is a friendly, post-apocalyptic game with no combat, weapons, or zombies in sight. In this single-player title, the objective is to explore a decaying, fungal-ridden metropolis in order to nurse your injured brother back to health.
Controls are basic and simple. There’s no re-mapping option, but the controls are easy to understand and use for any entry-level player. No big surprises or novel commands, but you do gain skills (driving a boat, climbing) as you progress through the game.
The architecture of this mysterious water-logged city is interesting and creative. The vines growing on the buildings have multiple hues of green with accent spots of color. Time passes with a day and night cycle. Tropical storms with rain, thunder and lightning roll through fairly frequently. The main character’s island attire is interesting and detailed. In the city, some buildings may be recognizable as having real-life counterparts, but the inspiration is clearly drawn from multiple locales.
Boat, walking and climbing are your main forms of navigation. Unfortunately, the downside in graphics is really the movement. Clouds, waves, birds, butterflies, creatures and trees all move, but in an entirely artificial, stilted way. Graphics can be a little shaky as you navigate the city, too. From the POV of the main character (which is the only point of view you’ll have), every turn through the set will give you a brief pause and adjustment. It would be nice to see this move a little more smoothly.
The soundtrack is great and is a perfect fit for the game. The music consists of a soft piano overlaid with light strings and other orchestral accompaniments. It is appropriately moody and mysterious when needed. At random points, the music will swell and fade away, with no obvious or noticeable pattern. Because the game is relatively short to complete, the music never wears thin through repetition.
The seaside backdrop also enhances the story, as you’ll hear birds, whales, waves and the whistling wind while you climb the heights of buildings. There is rarely spoken dialogue. When the main character does speak, it’s done quickly and in a fictional language, so players will rely on reading the subtitles and decoding graphic tiles to understand the game’s objectives.
Right from the beginning, every action of the main character is motivated by a desire to help her injured younger brother Taku. This is a radical shift in philosophy from most post-apocalyptic games. You will not be fighting, shooting or struggling to survive here. This is not a combat area with violence or multiple players. This is about you, your world, an exploration of your world, and a piecing together of the past that brought you here.
For all of us dealing with rising seas, perhaps the Uppercut Games team (based in Australia) is giving players time to reflect about global warming and the potential loss of epic and historic architecture. With no ticking clock, no energy or ammunition displays, and no enemies to hunt, you are free to wander as you want.
As Miku, you won’t need a tutorial or long backstory. Instead, you learn as you go. Miku navigates the City to find the items Taku needs. The City is a mysterious, haunting, half-submerged, decaying tropical metropolis. There are vines growing up the sides of buildings, aquatic species popping up from the water, and blue, moss-covered creatures emerging from the shadows. Observe, wonder and contemplate the story you see before you.
Steer a boat, scale walls and walk across narrow, improvised bridges to uncover pieces of a graphic puzzle. These pieces form timelines which are the narratives for “our story” (what happened to Miku and Taku) and the “city story” (what happened to The City).
Timeline icons will be unveiled with no apparent rhyme or reason. You might find the last piece of the story first or something in between. Most of these graphic cards are pretty easy to understand, especially the ones in “our story.” The story of The City is a little harder to interpret at times, but it’s relatively clear by the time you’ve finished all of your quests.
The more Miku explores, the more cards you’ll collect. These graphics represent all the creatures and landmarks present in the game. Also, the more Miku explores, the sicker she will get. You will observe this in the growing bluish tint to her skin and moss that attaches to her body. There is a solution to this and you will find it.
In 2-3 hours, you will uncover all you need to know to successfully complete all objectives. If you want to come back to the game for another round, you will not necessarily discover new quests, but you may continue filling in graphic cards to help you get the full narrative of either “our story” or the saga of The City.
For a novel approach to a dystopian future, Submerged is an intriguing journey of mystery and exploration. If you have an afternoon, take a spin down around the city as you contemplate one possible way the future might unfold. Since your only true mission is to help and heal, it’s a good platform to bring gamers of different generations together.