By – Matt Camp

Submerged Review 2

As evidenced by the Epoch series, Australian developers Uppercut Games are no stranger to combat heavy action games. So it may seem rather odd that chose to take a different direction with their latest title, Submerged. There is no combat or, for that matter, any enemies to be found here. Instead, Uppercut Games have decided to try their hand at an exploration focused game which tells the story of Miku as she tries to save her injured brother, Taku.

Unlike many games in the exploration genre, there are two distinctive stages to gameplay in Submerged. The first is exploring the city by boat. I was happy to find that traveling through the water was highly enjoyable. Regardless of whether using the keyboard or a controller, the boat handles smoothly. When moving at the default speed, it quickly turns corners and allows for fine controlling. Using the boost, which lasts for a limited time, allows for faster speed but at the expense of being able to easily steer. The duration of the boost can be increased by collecting boat parts found hidden in the world. The water is not completely calm, and the boat reacts accordingly by bobbing on the waves when stopped and skipping over them when in motion. There is also a variety of sea life to be discovered, such as large whales which can push you out of the way, or dolphins which will swim alongside you playfully. The result is a lovely ambiance that makes travelling in the boat a joy in itself.

The second stage to gameplay focuses on the brief moments when the player is required to exploring the remains of a structure. Those which can be interacted with are easily identifiable by the vines with red flowers. These indicate where a player can start climbing. Additionally, a prompt will be displayed to disembark when moving near enough to such points in the boat. The majority of buildings share one of several basic templates, and offer little challenge in obtaining the collectible they house. Reaching the story items, used to tend to Taku’s needs, involves climbing the ten unique buildings found in the game world. These are far larger than the other buildings and feature several different routes for scaling them. Opening the supply case at the top of the building advances the game, warping the player back to the start point.

Submerged Review 2

Although the search for each of the story items is introduced as a mission, there is no variety in how each is obtained. Nor does it matter which building you chose to fetch them from. The items will be found in a set order regardless. The player is equipped with a telescope can be accessed at any time. This is used to locate the buildings housing the story items and the other collectibles in the game. An indicator appears on the side of the screen directing the player to an item, which is then recorded on the map. However, it is entirely possible to uncover the full map and still be missing secrets. This is down to the inconsistent manner in which the telescope recognizes them. I had several occasions when, despite a pickup being clearly visible to me, they were not added to the map. Conversely, the telescope would also register items on the other side of the map, despite not being able to see them. This detracts from the immersion somewhat.

There are two stories being told in Submerged. The first is that of why Miku and her brother are in the city. The second is that of the city itself. Both are told in the form of simple pictographs. Many of these carry a single four letter word which help provide meaning to the scene displayed. In order to understand these tales fully, the player will need to decipher the language used. Pointers to aid in this can be found by discovering the landmarks and creatures in the world. This should give the player enough information to match the letters in the in-game script with their equivalents in the alphabet. This in turn, will then make it possible to ascertain what English word is represented by the four letter one used in the game. I found this to be an interesting way for the stories to be told, and had just as much enjoyment with this aspect of Submerged as I did with the actual gameplay.

Although Submerged does not feature photo-realistic graphics with the exception of the sky textures (which were provided by NASA), it does do a very good job of being exceptionally beautiful most of the time. With day-night cycles, buildings bask in a golden glow during sunsets while golden specks dance on the waves, the moon leaves a gorgeous silver streak in the water at night, and the whole city looks gorgeous at noon when viewed from a high enough vantage point. Provided the weather is good enough. Thunderstorms can also occur at frequent intervals. While these limit viewing distance, they too can be lovely to watch. However, there is also some very noticeable low-scale graphics which take a little too long to pop-in the higher resolution versions. The Epoch 2 billboard is one of the more prominent examples. Some of the water ripple effects for the larger sea creatures also look far worse than they should due to being heavily pixelated.

Submerged Review 2

It is clear that with Submerged, Uppercut Games know their target audience well. This is an experience aimed squarely at those who are looking to explore, to find something visually stunning, and to want to take a screenshot of it for prosperity. As such, an option to turn off the in-game HUD has been provided in the Options menu. Additionally, a Postcard mode can also be found from the Pause menu. When used this freezes the game at the current point and gives the player free control of the camera independent of Miku. It is even possible to zoom out further than the camera allows while playing. There are some flaws with this however, there is no in-game key to take screenshots, so you still have to use the Steam overlay. The game’s title also takes up a fair amount of the screen in the lower right corner. This, unfortunately, cannot be toggled off.

Further, even with the in-game HUD off, prompts for certain actions, such as to leave the boat, are still shown. It would also have made both options more readily usable if they had been assigned their own keys. Having to navigate menus to access them feels finicky, especially for the HUD option. On completing Submerged, the Continue Game option is replaced with Explore. This allows any remaining secrets to be gathered.

The game can be started fresh by selecting the New Game option in the Options menu. There are a variety of advanced graphics settings also available which include specifying view distance, anti aliasing, and textures. Unfortunately, while Submerged looks lovely, it’s performance is erratic. With V-sync enabled a steady 60 fps should be possible. Yet I would often find this dipping down to 30 fps. I was not able to determine whether this was caused by specific areas of the map, weather effects, or the presence of the larger sea creatures. It may be that some optimization is still required. Even with the drastic changes in framerate, however, I never found it difficult to control Miku or her boat.

Submerged Review 4

Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?

Submerged has attempted to allow the player to explore its world with more than just walking. However, Miku cannot fall off of buildings as a result of making a misstep, nor can the boat sink due to damage. The result is a relaxed, visually beautiful, combat free experience that I highly recommend to fans of the genre. While Submerged would probably be more appealing to a wider audience if a risk of failure (however temporary) had been optionally added, I can’t help but think that would have missed the point.

Submerged Technical Summary:

Submerged Review 2

  • Time Played – 8 Hours
  • Widescreen Support – Yes
  • Windowed Mode – Yes
  • Resolution Played – 1920×1080
  • Bugs/Crashes Encountered – None
  • DRM – Steamworks
  • System Specs – 3.50 GHz i7 3770K , 8GB RAM, 4GB GeForce GTX 960
  • Control Scheme – Keyboard/Mouse, Controller
  • Game Acquisition Method – Review Copy
  • Availability – Steam
  • Demo – No
  • Saved Game Location – SteamApps\common\Submerged\Submerged\Saved\SaveGames
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