One of the things I love about games, over any other type of media, is how a genre and your definitions of that genre can develop over time. Submerged is a fine example of that for me.
Essentially Submerged is an atmospheric wandering simulator. From the start you are pretty much in control of what you do and where you go. Yet at the same time there is a fairly regimented story there, that progresses in a very linear fashion.
The game is set in a future (maybe) where the world has been partially submerged by the world’s oceans, what once were vast concrete cities, with roads and buildings, are now just water, with only the tallest of buildings leaving any clue to the world left behind.
The only form of travel seems to be in a boat, as you make your way around the world the game has set out for you. You play as Miku, a young lady who has arrived at this mysterious city with her wounded brother.
That is pretty much all you’ll get in terms of story setup, as the game only unfolds as you reach various points and unlock more of the narrative. Well I say narrative, because there is none as such. You are presented with a kind of tribal drawing set with each new part of the story, that gives clues as to what has happened and what is happening in front of you.
It is an odd concept, as it is a game that feels like it does need an overall narrative, but the mystery of trying to establish this story in your own way works in a way that somehow feels any voice work would ruin the experience. It is sort of caught between two ideals and even after finishing I am still not sure if I am one hundred percent on board with the direction chosen for storytelling or not.
Submerged also has its own fake language, which I personally love, as it brings another mystery to the table. Is this earth? If so, how much time has passed? If this was some kind of disaster, how many people were wiped out that a common language couldn’t survive? Or is this something else? A fantasy land? Another planet? Again if so, how are there so many recognisable things from our own world?
Some clues are given as you progress, but everything is left open enough that you can fill in the blanks with your own imagination and I love a game that can do that.
The game itself though has left me torn, as I said at the top of the review, this is a wandering simulator type experience that has evolved somewhat and tried to do something different with the genre and in doing so it both succeeds wonderfully, but also holds back the overall experience.
By allowing you to discover things at your own pace, you have a wonderful sense of freedom, sailing around in your boat is such a relaxing experience, as you come across various landmarks and wildlife, happily going about their own existence. I could happily spend hours on the water.
I can do this because the water effects, the the lighting, the buildings, the plant life, the wildlife is all fantastically realised and is quite simply beautiful. The dynamic day/night setting also really changes how the world feels and when you first encounter a sunrise you will have your breath taken away.
Yet along with this there is also a need to parkour your way up the sides of buildings to actually progress the story and whilst it is nice that there is this separation, it also changes the overall feel of the game to a point it becomes a little disjointed.
Scaling a building is very linear by the fact you need to follow clearly marked hand and foot holds and despite there being different paths up, you know after the first one that your goal is set and you pretty much have to do what the game says, which is completely at odds with the freedom of being in the boat.
Aside from that, despite there being various collectibles on each building, when you reach the target, the game forces you back to a starting point with your brother, meaning you need to go again to find the building, before scaling it again to find anything you left behind.
This becomes a frustration when some areas have you exploring a lot around the edges and taking different paths, this is where it would have been better to allow you to choose either progressing the story of continuing to search.
It should be a minor bugbear really, but it just takes you out of the experience enough that you almost want to ignore the story completely and just sail around. Which of course you can do, but the story itself is interesting enough that you do want to see it through.
Also, if you are just intent on doing story stuff, this is a game that will end in a few short hours, but if you are the sort who loves to collect everything, or just take in the wonderful world around you, then you will get so much more from Submerged and so many more hours.
I was really looking forward to playing this and on the whole I haven’t been let down, but there are a few design decisions that would have made it so, so much more rewarding.