A sea of woe and empty gameplay.
The discussion on what is or isn’t a game isn’t always a constructive one, and frequently isn’t even an important one. What enjoyment somebody extracts from a piece of media can frequently be unquantifiable and personal. On the other side of the coin though, this is a world post-‘Dear Esther,’ and what is usually pejoratively referred to as a walking simulator isn’t a novel concept anymore.
There are examples of the narrative driven game being done very well, such as Journey, or Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, or even more prototypical versions of this genre mostly seen by Team Ico. It’s not hard to see where the DNA of Submerged comes from, but it failed to replicate what made these games work in the first place.
"There are no peaks and valleys in the story to maintain a level of interest from the player that better games like Journey command so effortlessly. "
An homage (or rip off) to the opening of Shadow of the Colossus brings us into the world of Submerged, as a brother-sister pair in a boat float up to an isolated building amid what is suggested to have once been a bustling, New York-esque metropolis. The sister Miku must then search the dilapidated world for supplies to care for her injured charge.
These are the stakes at the start of the paltry few hours of runtime, and even over such a short length of time, the first and biggest failing of Submerged is that the narrative remains static throughout. There are no peaks and valleys in the story to maintain a level of interest from the player that better games like Journey command so effortlessly.
While searching the world, Miku is bound to come across at least a few of the 60 collectibles, which help piece together what happened to the once thriving city around her, and reveal more about the personal story of the two non-characters the game expects you to invest in. It’s interesting how they’re presented in comic strip like hieroglyphs, leaving a certain amount of interpretation to the player. However, they hinted in my mind toward a far more interesting story, and one I would have preferred to play.
"The world is as empty as the vast ocean before our boring heroine. A world that doesn’t even seem to want a player."
The world we’re begrudgingly allowed to exist in seems all at once serene, empty and hostile. I dodged around the word ‘play’ here, but we’ll get to that in a moment. There are no real characters to speak of in Submerged. There’s nothing outside of Miku herself that moves besides the occasional whale in the distance. The world is as empty as the vast ocean before our boring heroine. A world that doesn’t even seem to want a player.
Submerged was proudly touted as a non-combat game by the developers, and we’ve already discussed how this decision means the game does nothing to vary tone throughout the experience, but I skimmed over what interaction it does resent offering you. Firstly the supplies Miku requires aren’t by default pinpointed on the map for you. Rather you scan around the world with a telescope to locate them.
Once pinged onto your map, you slowly motor over to your discovery and make a generally slow ascent with dumbed down Uncharted type climbing. The weakest part of Uncharted titles, generally mocked, and simply there to vary the pace between firefights, is made even weaker and turned into the main activity you do in Submerged.
"There is no skill needed or anything to be asked of the player here in Submerged. It doesn’t even really want you there. It wants you to sit down, shut up and look at the pretty world they made."
The climbing is so mundane, and the environments so unchanging that I longed for some kind of variation. I could only enjoy the world itself for so long that I needed something new, even if that meant embracing death. I actively tried to die at several points, and was not capable of this. The game simply doesn’t allow it, regardless of how perilous the on screen action may appear. There is no skill needed or anything to be asked of the player here in Submerged. It doesn’t even really want you there. It wants you to sit down, shut up and look at the pretty world they made.
The worst part is, the presentation isn’t even all that stunning. The game is all about the water and it doesn’t even have better water effects than Super Mario Sunshine, and there are plenty of muddy and similar looking building textures that turn any of the climbs into the same old slog. The soundtrack isn’t bad in and of itself. But it isn’t exciting either. You could swap it out with almost any atmospheric Hollywood or “art game” soundtrack and you would have the same thing.
"Lazy storytelling and giggling contempt for having to be played drag it down enough, before the visual pitfalls stick the game’s foot ever further in its almost pretentious mouth."
“Walking simulator” is a term I hate to use, but Submerged is totally deserving of such an odious label all the same. Lazy storytelling and giggling contempt for having to be played drag it down enough, before the visual pitfalls stick the game’s foot ever further in its almost pretentious mouth. Even as a narrative driven game, there are better selections to make than drowning in the tedium that is Submerged.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
The game is technically sound, without choppy framerate or audio.
The game tries to live on a narrative and world, but both of them fall flat and fail to give you a reason to care about either. The game also barely lets you play, and forbids actual exploration.
Submerged is...Well, it exists. It wants to stand beside games like Journey, yet missed the mark so much on why Journey worked. It puts you in a world and expects you to be amazed, but never delivers any reason to become attached or really, a world pretty enough to just become absorbed into visually. Float on.