In these trying times a lot of us need a means of de-stressing and taking our minds away from what is going on in the world. Originally released as a Stadia exclusive in 2020, Uppercut Games are now releasing the sequel to 2015’s ‘Submerged’ on Xbox.
Described as a “relaxploration” adventure this game has no combat, no means of threat and no way of dying. I don’t know about you, but to me this sounds like the perfect way to while away some hours. It is fair to say that the post-apocalyptic setting spoils this concept a bit but try to ignore that and join me in a rickety boat for the XboxEra review of Submerged: Hidden Depths.
This is the story of a sister and brother adrift on the high seas after what looks like a major environmental event. To paraphrase from an early book by the genius author J.G. Ballard theirs is a ‘drowned world’. Cities are now mostly underwater and what remains above sea level is being choked by thick black vegetation that looks far from healthy.
Suffering from some form of mutation the female character ‘Miku’ is able to interact with plant life and bring parts of the environment back to life as she travels through it. Flowers spring up where she walks and sometimes come into bloom down her mutated arm. Plant versions of the city’s previous inhabitants and animals have been created by the strange vegetation and the siblings spend their time moving among them exploring their surroundings.
It soon becomes apparent that giant Seeds littered throughout the archipelago had been put to bad use by the previous inhabitants and that has resulted in the darkness and decay that has overcome the area. Miku can hear the seeds singing to be returned to their natural homes and after witnessing all of the black vegetation in an area come back to life after returning one, the children set out to replace them all and cure the city of the black menace.
This is a third person exploration game with a control scheme that is possibly the simplest that I have ever experienced in a game of this type. I never expected to play a game with so many traversal methods reminiscent of the last ‘Tomb Raider’ trilogy that does not even have a jump button. After steering the character in the direction that you want them to go, they will climb, swing, jump etc. using any environmental aids present without any other interaction being required.
While this was obviously a design choice based around the ‘Relaxploration’ ethic of the game it is a shame that steering the boat itself is not quite so intuitive. It is not terrible and to be fair you are travelling over a pretty rough sea at times but it does take a bit of getting used to.
The characters speak in some unknown dialect so subtitles are present to show what they are saying or thinking. This is generally only when they have returned to their home base as one of them does the exploring while the other stays in the boat. Each location is explorable by either the boy or the girl by default with players having no choice over which of them is being used at any given time.
This is in reality an exploration and asset collection adventure. The children have among their possessions a map of the city which upon discovery marks all of the collectibles available to recover. Using a telescope, you are able to spot the locations of diary entries (which explain the story of the city), outfit style pieces, equipment that upgrades the speed boost and look of the boat, exotic flowers and the seeds that need repatriating among other collectables.
Tall structures known as ‘Lookout points’ (which remind me of very easy towers from the ‘Far Cry’ series) are best discovered early on during gameplay, as they give you the best platforms from which to study the surrounding area with the telescope. Having done this, a Compass at the top of the screen can be used in conjunction with the map to navigate your way to every identified object or at least to the building where it is hidden.
On the way to these locations, it is possible to spot wild animals and dredge for relics of times gone by. I was slightly irritated by the dredging cutscene as a rope thrown over the side of the boat is pulled through a solid plank on the way back up, but at least I had the option to mash my way out of the animation.
The Drowned World
Discovering Landmarks is also possible on your way around the city. A duplicate of the Tokyo Tower to mention just one of them is a striking addition to the map that adds depth and variety to the game environment.
Each of the ten seeds is hidden in one of the larger locations in the city. Upon arrival there you may be required to use the boat to solve pretty simple tasks such as towing an object between two points to create a bridge, pulling a barricade down, or manipulating a lever to open some lock gates and allow access. Once you have gained entry, it is a matter of working your way to the corrupted seed to be recovered using all of the environmental objects at your disposal.
Drain pipes, ledges, elevators, climbing plants and death slides are your friend here, with climbable objects highlighted by a painted leading edge a la the previously mentioned ‘Tomb Raider’ series. Easy puzzles relying on giant ‘worlds strongest man’ balls being placed on weight pads to lower drawbridges can be found along the way but nothing too mentally taxing.
Seeds tend to be found at a different level to the spot that they need to be returned to, so it is mostly a matter of using a basket connected to a pully system to move them up or down the floors of a building and then working out how to get to the same place yourself in order to replant them. Collected seeds (although bulky to carry) also cause black organic barriers to return to life and part, allowing access to different areas within buildings.
The Bad Seeds?
The story itself does not add up to much but is basically a cautionary tale regarding the lure of technology over nature, which in these times of extreme environmental events should be taken on board by every one of us.
The game itself has a graphical style that reminds me of other titles such as ‘The Gunk’ and is extremely easy on the eye. The menu does not have much to offer in terms of accessibility options but there is a ‘Postcard Mode’ that allows the game world to be captured in all of its scenic glory.
Complaints about my experience with the game range from the fairly minor odd graphical error, such as planks floating in mid-air beside an elevator, to the grating times when rules regarding unexplorable areas were inconsistent and I stopped dead with a clear path ahead of me. The biggest issue that I came across was a really annoying movement glitch that trapped me on several occasions and required me to restart a whole area.
At the end of the day, random glitches aside this is indeed a relaxing exploration game. You identify interesting locations, make your way to them, explore the area and collect things. This is a very inoffensive way to game for a while and I would recommend it. Yes, ‘Submerged: Hidden Depths’ could be described as a One-Trick Pony, but if you are a fan of this particular trick, it could be worth your time and money.
|Reviewed on||Xbox Series X|
|Available on||Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Playstation 4|5, PC|
|Release Date||10th March, 2022|
|Developer||Uppercut Games Pty Ltd|
|Publisher||Uppercut Games Pty Ltd|