When Submerged was first teased to my consciousness I was instantly tantalised, it’s a non-combat, exploration game created by Uppercut Games, former members of Australia’s Irrational Games office. These guys did BioShock, one of my favourite heavy combat experiences, not to mention one of the most culturally twisted and manipulative stories I have played. What is this?! Exclaimed my stimulated little brain, a non-combat game, by these people? Where do I sign up and how many limbs will it cost? PAX Australia 2104 was lucky enough to see Submerged on the Indie Showcase floor with an unfinished version of the game. It was here that I got my first experience boating through the city and it was an experience so pleasurable that it resonated with me for another 7 months until release. What I found within Submerged challenged my preconceived notions of what made a good game or how effectively certain tactics can make you develop a relationship with your main character. Mostly I learned a valuable lesson about sacrifice and love, something that didn’t make itself obvious until the end of the game.
Miku is your focus, a young girl who sails in on a small, rickety boat, with a very injured and ailing younger brother. Who are these children and where did they come from? Why do they not have guardians Submerged starts with many questions, ones that it slowly begins to answer as the game’s objectives are completed. Your journey is to save the boy by scavenging the city and it is the game, not the characters, which reveals the story. Completing objectives means playing parkour around ancient, crumbling buildings, finding paths across ledges and up flower bushes. As for what happened to the city, that’s a tale you must truly scavenge for. Overall it’s an experience that takes less than 10 hours to finish, but more time can be spent looking for more information and unlocking more landmarks.
Piece by piece the story is fed to players through pictograms giving a general overview of Miku and Taku’s backstory; another pictogram story set describes the downfall of the city. Two other sets for animals and landmarks. This story telling method could be confusing, getting the player to piece together the story as they play rather than having events explained to them. I discovered it is incredibly easy to misread the pictograms; my interpretation of information was so incorrect that it initially confused me. Because of the emotional relationship I had developed with these characters, this event moved me to tears, or more accurately, I bawled. Yes, this game and its ending had me bawling my eyes out like a 3 year old who had lost their teddy bear. Never before has a game moved me in this way.
If completing the entire story is an important objective for you then collecting the story pieces to learn the city’s whole story means finding every individual story square, there are 60 in total. Story squares are located randomly around the city, in abandoned building or in the supply buildings that are a part of the player’s objective. Finding all of these means exploring the puzzle paths through the city, the game’s main challenge. Each building is a puzzle essentially if there is replay value it’s navigating through every path to find all of the collectable items. Whether it is worth the time exploring the city and unlocking the entire story depends on your level of interest in the overall game. I personally found the whole thing terribly interesting so when the opportunity arose to find more of the map pieces, I happily set sail amongst the jumping whales, manta rays and dolphins to explore so more magic.
Visually I almost couldn’t fault Submerged, between the radioactive glow surrounding the water, most animals periodically flipping around the boat in a vivid and beautiful display. The city itself was an eclectic mix of classic architecture, modern contraptions and robots rotting in corners. Every creature, every detail looked stunning, giving the impression of having been lovingly crafted by artists and programmers divulging a secret world to their audience. Even the day to night and weather cycles were wonderfully made, giving new life to each part of the city as the landscape naturally changed. Every visual experience brought a sense of joy and freedom, and well as loneliness, for as beautiful and big as the city may be, it is all but deserted of life. Where I can make mention of faults within the game is with the frame rate, everything is beautifully finished but when boating through the city the frame rate drops noticeably which results in jumpy animations. Admittedly many of the animals jump out of the water already, but we’re talking about graceful, natural movement not jumping because of a frame rate issue.
Submerged is a game I would play again, though many of the things that made it good were the continual surprises in the story and visually. These surprises can’t be emulated but the beauty and the enjoyment created by the world Uppercut Games have made, the time can pass by whilst just boating. Being non-combat I was worried that the story or the gameplay wouldn’t be enough combined to hold my interest until the end, I was wrong. By introducing two characters who are young and helpless then making me watch as they struggle to live, alone, in a post apocalyptic world. I found it hard to put the controller down. Another reason I loved this game was the graphics, whilst there was some frame rate issue, overall the art is beautiful, every animal was worth following as they jumped through the water. Collectively if the game can make me cry, engage me through its story and have the world so well designed that it’s worth playing just for the graphics, then call me a fan.
About: Sarah Rigg
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