As games have grown as a medium, the definition of what even constitutes a “game” has broadened. I’d talk about this for awhile, but darkness that way lies. Instead, I’ll introduce Submerged, the title we’re talking about today. This is a game that really couldn’t have worked in any climate but this one – there just isn’t much to it, and it revels in this fact.
Submerged will likely remind players of games like Shadow of the Colossus and Ico. You play as Miku, a young girl with a speedboat and a sick brother. She’s got to find items for the sick speedboat, sailing around on the brother in order to find supplies…er, wait, let me try that again. It’s got a little more of a soft touch, though: namely, there’s no combat whatsoever. Essentially, you sail from area to area on your speedboat, then spend your time clambering around areas, which plays out a bit like the Uncharted games.
That basically hits the heart of why Submerged wasn’t one of my favorite games: what we’ve got here is the climbing systems from Uncharted, Assassin’s Creed, inFAMOUS or a million other games…without the action to match. There aren’t any criminals to fight or foes to assassinate. You can’t really fail. The lack of tension means that the game’s primary activity – climbing – loses a lot of its impact, and you’re largely just walking around looking at things.
Whoops, I said it: this is a game where you spend most of your time walking around looking at things. Without expending too much effort arguing whether or not that’s a good thing – because, well, Dear Esther and Gone Home sold like gangbusters so it’s not like they’re going away anytime soon – I can say that your opinion of Submerged is going to rely on how you feel about walking simulators. At least the climbing adds a third facet to the walk-and-look gameplay. Sometimes you’ll take the wrong path to your goal when climbing and end up rewarded with a collectible. Hooray.
Thing is, Submerged isn’t even really the best walking simulator. Despite all the crowing over the game’s use of the Unreal Engine 4, the visuals – while nice – aren’t nearly as mind-blowing as recent titles like The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. The post-apocalyptic setting has even been explored in a more interesting way by games like Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. The animation is painful for a game that’s intended to be all about visual spectacle. Miku glides over the landscape as if she’s not actually attached to it. Red flowers point you exactly in the direction you need to go, since you’d likely have trouble finding it otherwise. The game, at least on my tricked out PC, doesn’t support 1080p resolution, only going up to 1536×864.
At $20 it’s very difficult to recommend Submerged to any but the most hardcore fans of the “art game” genre. There’s just not much here. Art games are all about being, well, art – and Submerged can’t quite pull it off, despite its efforts to prove otherwise like incorporating the option to disable your HUD and take in-game screenshots. I don’t begrudge Uppercut Games for their effort since, as mentioned, there’s a lot of money in these things and their library is limited to titles in the EPOCH series, which can hardly be considered ‘artistic’ by anyone. I wouldn’t even dislike the game if it were as artistic as it’d like to be. But it’s not. So you should probably skip it.