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Submerged / 12th of September 2015

Submerged, for those that do not know, is a third person action-adventure title that eschews combat in favour of a more exploration based gaming experience, where the player must set out into a world devoured by the rising oceans. What we see is a potential future for our planet, and one where the remaining humans will struggle to adapt and survive, one such unlucky soul is the protagonist’s younger brother, whose wounds inspire his sister (Miku) to venture into a flooded city to find the supplies that she needs to save his life. Despite the harrowing journey that Miku should find herself on, and the desperate race against time that she should be facing, Submerged never really ventures away from the demure pace that it moves at, stripping it of any sense of urgency and leaving players pondering just what all the fuss is about. But that, sadly, is only one of its problems…

For starters, Uppercut Games seem to have attempted to create a lavishly beautiful videogame with only a moderate budget at best, yet their attempts to cause a bit of a splash (get it?) have fallen a little bit short of the mark. Now, there’s no denying that in the screenshots, Submerged appears to be a very attractive game, yet when in motion, this illusion begins to unravel. Now, texture resolution is typically the first visual aspect to suffer, yet not here, surprisingly, it is instead the game’s substandard animation that lets it down. Characters typically swan about with gangly limbs that fail to embed them into the world at large, depriving every single motion from creating any real sense of urgency or tension, which is particularly disappointing given that the primary purpose of the game lays in the attempt to explore a world gone wrong. So needless to say, I was somewhat unimpressed.

As I said, the game moves along at a fairly serene pace, which should be fine, yet still it feels more than a tad stop-start as the game constantly loads section after section, effectively taking players out of the experience. Likewise, should you wish to simply stop and enjoy the calming sounds of the ocean as you watch the ebb and flow of the tide, or a warming sunrise, you’ll likely find yourself unimpressed as you’re disturbed by the incessant piano and synth led score. Now, that’s not to say that Jeff van Dyck’s compositions aren’t any good, because they certainly are (he’s won a BAFTA after all), though they’d perhaps be better suited to a traditional platform game instead. I mean, it might just be me, but given the pounding drums in particular, couldn’t these pieces have sat comfortably alongside the Donkey Kong Country soundtracks? Personally, I wanted to savour the desolate world, the emptiness of it, but clearly the developer had other ideas.

To their credit though, Uppercut Games are hardly a mammoth team, with (putting aside voice acting and music) only eleven people having worked on the game, so the decision to attempt to create an open world adventure is certainly a bold one, and some credit must go to them for their ambition. However, it is perhaps this lack of resources and personnel that has ultimately led to the exploration of this world feel somewhat dumbed down to the point of being overly simplistic. The bulk of the game sees the player zip about in Miku’s boat before ascending some half submerged skyscraper, the basic set-up here is fine, it’s just that when you come to climb up a building, you’ll notice one crucial element is missing; there’s no jump button. Essentially then, all one has to do to ascend these buildings, is to simply point the thumbstick in the direction of the next ledge, and Miku will take care of the rest. Now, give that exploration is the name of the game here, why on earth has its principle mechanic been limited in such a way?

It’s clear that the decision to create a combat-less game was one that was made early on in the development cycle, and in fairness, they were not simply correct to do so, but in effect they gifted their project a fairly unique selling point within the world of videogames, only to then severely handicap themselves by reducing the entire experience to one that feels completely empty and relatively pointless. Most buildings feature multiple routes to ascend them, some of which lead to optional collectibles, yet few are going to go out of their way to do so, now if only Uppercut had introduced new mechanics or threats, or at least prompted players to take stock of their surroundings and plan out their climb in advance, these issues might have been avoided. As it is though, each building just feels pretty much identical to the last one, and, once again, a game that clearly had an abundance of potential ended up failing to live up it its promise.

Submerged is a game that you’ll genuinely want to love, there’s unquestionably been a substantial amount of care and attention lavished upon it, yet the developer’s attention seems to have been drawn more towards the scale of the game rather than in attempting to create a genuinely thought provoking and moving story. Post-apocalyptic based videogames are ten a penny really, yet few offer a view of the world quite like this does, where, despite its many flaws, the possibility of a genuinely interesting game lurks only just beneath the surface. I’d find it tough to recommend Submerged as it is then, but I can still say with some certainly that Uppercut Games will be a studio that I’ll be keeping my eye on from now on, because I do believe that there is still much more to come from them despite the fact that Submerged, for all of its ambition, is a bit of a wash out.

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