Published on August 27th, 2015 | by Chris Scott0
Summary: An interesting premise that falls far short of its goals
Coming from Uppercut Games, a studio founded by some ex-Bioshock developers, Submerged is a game of exploration that unfolds a simplistic story of Miku, a young girl trying to save her brother in a post apocalyptic world. The world of Submerged is one that is covered by water. At some point in the past, a calamity struck, leaving all of civilization under the sea. The only remnants are the tops of dilapidated structures that jut out the water. It’s a sad world but one with a natural beauty.
Post apocalyptic worlds come with expectations and Submerged does its best to turn those expectations on their head. While Miku’s quest is one that comes about from the aftermath of a violent episode, none of that action plays out on screen. Submerged is a peaceful game that focuses on exploration as its one and only sticking point. There are no guns or swords and there is no fighting. There is just Miku, her fishing boat, and the environment.
Miku is in the submerged city looking for supplies to help her grievously injured brother. She does this by taking her fishing boat and cruising around the city, occasionally getting out at a building and exploring the area, Uncharted style, for supplies and secrets. There are ten supply drops to be found and each, magically, has just the items Miku needs to help her brother. The game allowed me to approach the exploration for these supplies at my own pace and in whatever order I approached them. I found this approach, like I do in many games that present a situation of dire importance without any sense of urgency, to be a bit weird. Sure Miku’s brother needs medicine to stop his infection but I want to upgrade Miku’s boat with unnecessary boost. And my wants come before the game’s needs, or at least that is the messaging I got from the game.
The environment that Miku is exploring contains some “natural” wildlife like gulls and dolphins, as well as some creepy humanoids. And they all look like they’ve been infected with a glowing form of Game of Thrones’ Greyscale. None of this wildlife will hurt Miku, although occasionally whales will bump Miku’s boat making it temporarily out of control, which isn’t much worse than when you are using the boat’s boost that I spent so much time upgrading. This lack of danger from the environment and urgency from the game itself make Submerged feel more lifeless and none of it feels important.
I could almost forgive the lack of direction and consequences because the game itself is full of beauty. In particular, the way the moon hits the water at night is exquisite. And exploring the city can actually be quite relaxing. But Submerged suffers from other issues both technical and artistic that make it hard to recommend.
Both Miku and her boat control rather roughly. Some of this is due to an erratic frame rate that can go from fairly smooth to nearly unplayable on a whim. But if that wasn’t enough, button presses don’t always register promptly and can result in Miku and her boat doing things that you don’t want, requiring backtracking that you shouldn’t have to do. Considering all you do in the game is explore, this lack of polish really detracts from the game. Also lacking polish is the game’s story. Told through crude little drawings, the story of why Miku is on this quest unfolds as you pilfer the supply drops. These drawings don’t do the mature subject matter justice and ultimately make it seem tacked on and trivial.
There is a core to Submerged that makes it more disappointing than if it were just a regular bad game. The ideas are good, the artistry is wonderful, and to its credit, it is quite relaxing to play, but the lack of any sort of substance makes Submerged feel like a proof of concept more than an actual finished experience. But Submerged is a finished experience and it sadly is just not a very good one.