Submerged: Hidden Depths Review: A Real Gem Hiding Amongst the Waves
There’s always something bittersweet about exploring ruins of a ravaged modern-day world. Looking around at once was, now left in shambles with nobody around to tend to it anymore. Few things incur wanderlust for me than the post-apocalypse and Submerged: Hidden Depths brings that to the high seas in a flooded ruin strangled by thick vines and vivid flora. But does this trip through the ruins rise above the waves? Or does it sink more than it swims? Let’s find out!
Teens of Mother Earth
The story keeps things simple for this adventure, and despite being a sequel, you don’t need to play the first game to get everything going on. You play as Miku and Taku in their little motorboat, exploring a ruined city barely poking its head above the water and strangled by mysterious, thick vines. Plantlife is ever abundant, with nature attempting to reclaim the city and everything in it. Miku has been gifted a strange power to work with and control some of these plants, while Taku is there to keep her in check in case her power starts being more trouble than its worth. I will say that there’s a surprising amount of depth to Miku and Taku told exclusively through body language. Your goal in this city is to collect seeds that people were drawing electricity from and use those to purify plants in some regions of the map, but every time you handle one of the seeds, you’ll see a brief cutscene showing Miku’s declining health from this procedure. Taku’s responses to it say a lot about their relationship just through that body motion and reaction. It’s thoughtful storytelling, simple but pure, and easy to read. From there, though, I won’t elaborate further as there is a surprising amount of lore to this game that’s best left unspoiled. You’d best explore the world to learn the deeper details.
Speaking of the world, let’s get to the gameplay and how you interact with it. Submerged: Hidden Depths’ most significant focus is exploration, and it does it in two different ways: on boat and on foot. When you’re in the boat, you’ve got a surprisingly nimble motorized canoe that has an upgradable boost and can be used to pull around larger objects, rip down barricades, and pull down walkways. There’s also a built-in fast travel system you can use at any point, even when exploring outside the boat. On foot, you have a pretty snappy parkour traversal system. You’ll constantly be going up and down poles, jumping across and shimmying around ledges, and riding the occasional zipline. Should you want to cut out some extra time, you can even skip the elevator rides, though I never felt a need to since the scenery was so gorgeous I never got tired of watching them. Another thing to note is you can never accidentally fall off a ledge, and, for that matter, can’t die at all. Lastly, as a neat little bonus, depending on if you need Miku’s powers or not for an exploration zone, sometimes you’ll take control of Taku to change things up a little.
As with games like Horizon: Zero Dawn and Uncharted, the world here wants you to treat it like a playground. Grab around, find new hidden areas by keeping aware of where you’re climbing, and find a few points to snap some good in-game shots with the photo mode while you’re at it. This is all done with a solid level of fluidity, and I rarely felt like I had to fight the controls to get the parkour to work, and also never felt like I was horribly lost. You’ll be seeing a lot of platforming with very light puzzles, but I argue this works in its favor as it leans towards more peaceful gameplay. Once you get the grips on the platforming mechanics, it doesn’t add any new mechanics down the line, but how it incorporates and works with the environment helps keep it from feeling stale, even after you’ve done it for a few hours.
The biggest thing to this world is exploring, and it gives you plenty to explore and see, from vivid landmarks you can visit by boat to collecting trinkets and doodads from the ocean. The best part is that every collectible feels like it has a purpose. You can pluck beautiful flowers from exploration zones to bring to your base and build a garden with. If you want to learn more about the city and its stories, you can gather journals. Collect all the conch shells in an area, and you can unlock appearance customizations for Miku and the boat. All of it feels worth something, and in a game where that’s the key ticket, Submerged: Hidden Depths goes above and beyond to please the player. To help with the hunt, Miku has a telescope that can mark distant things of interest both in the ocean and on land, and some of the collectibles are obtainable only in the boat, so even doing a bit of wandering around the waves can yield results.
While we’re still on the topic of the world, one thing I couldn’t let get forgotten is the visuals. Those graphics pop in ways I wasn’t expecting, with deep, saturated colors and varied levels of environmental depth that brought the world to life. All of the ramshackle woodwork structures always stuck out with small things like blankets over huts and little nooks and crannies filled with collectibles and normal living materials made the environments feel authentic. Vivid colors help the flora make all of the environments pop with lushness, and the artificial city parts never felt too washed out with greys and browns, thanks to it. As a very welcome feature, almost all of the climbable/interactable parts can be set to a certain color, so if you have trouble seeing red or yellow or whatever color is an issue for you, you can set it to be a color that you have an easier time seeing. I really would love to see to see more games use this feature.
Going even further is the audio, the last piece of beauty that makes this world what it is. The soundtrack consists mainly of piano and string instruments with a few orchestral swells in key moments. It does wonders for the vibe when you’re exploring, creating this blend of melancholy and bittersweet nostalgia for a world long abandoned. Just the feeling of the piano dipping into a low, reverberating sequence as I would ascend a decaying tower put this sense of warmth and wonder in me that makes all of the scenery and sound come together. Another great addition is the little melodies the collectibles emit that are captured in full 3D audio, so it’s highly advised to use headphones to make use of the full surround sound package. One last thing to add is the voice acting. Miku and Taku speak in what I can only describe as a very thickly accented English variation that I still can’t pinpoint the origin of, leading me to believe it’s a custom language for the game. Certain phrases sound like another language altogether, while some background lines you can actually piece together into reasonable English phrases with an accent. There are subtitles for main dialogue, of which there isn’t a whole lot of that, but let this be a heads-up for people that might be just as confused as I was trying to figure out what language they’re speaking.
A Final Warning
As much as it pains me to say, not every venture was without issues. Even on medium settings, I had to mess with the graphics a bit to keep my framerate up. Even then, you can definitely tell when the game’s loading something in. It’ll sort itself out in due time, but it’s a bit immersion-breaking when my computer starts chugging, trying to get the open-world figured out. I know a 1080 Ti isn’t exactly the most updated card. Still, I’ve seen my computer pull more weight before, and judging from some research on the Steam reviews, it’s not just my computer having this hiccup, leading me to believe that there might be a couple of optimization issues lingering around. As much as I enjoyed Submerged: Hidden Depths when I was exploring smaller and smoother areas, it might require a bit more work from here to smooth out the roughness of moving around the open seas.
Another thing to keep in mind is that Submerged: Hidden Depths isn’t particularly long. I cleared the game and almost hit 100% completion in around eight hours. While the content is rich here, it is on the lean side, so you can and will chew through the content fast. Honestly, if there’s one semi-major complaint I had, it’s that it wasn’t nearly long enough, which isn’t entirely a bad thing, but for the amount of worldbuilding and exploration focus, you’d think there’d be a bit more to play around with and see. For all the interesting buildings there were, I didn’t feel like enough of them were explorable. There’s still good stuff here, but I hope this is just a taste of something much more significant to come.
Something I’d like to go over that might wind up being a point of contention for some is that this game really is combat-less. There’s no violence, no personal weapons, and ultimately, nothing to be afraid of (okay, there’s one thing, but it’s still harmless, just really intimidating). Some people might see this as a difficult pill to swallow, since other post-apocalyptic games tend to have you scavenging for parts for weapons or stuff to survive with. However, just as some games take their time to wind up the player with tension, this game strives to do the very opposite and encourage the player to take a deep breath and chill out for the ride. It did take a bit for me to rewire that part of my brain and just focus on my city-sized jungle gym. I absolutely understand why this game was set up like this and greatly appreciate how well it achieves that sense of serenity. This is, as the description of the game itself puts it, relaxploration, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Submerged: Hidden Depths wants you to wander around, play with the environment, and soak up the ruins of a past life without fear for your own life, and sometimes I think some people just want to explore ruined cities in this fashion. However, there are some that will want some thrill and excitement with their end of the world, and that’s perfectly fine, but this game isn’t going to be something for those wanting action and tension.
All in all, would I recommend this dip into the ocean blue? Absolutely, but only if you consider what you’re getting into. There’s no denying this game is eye-candy of the sweetest caliber, with rarely any part of the vine-strangled world lacking vividly colored details. That said, you have to go in knowing that this is a perfect example of peaceful gaming, with no death or combat in sight. Exploration is the name of the game here, and it’s best to go into Submerged: Hidden Depths with low tension, an open mind, and a good pair of headphones. Admittedly, it’s on the short side, but if you’re eager to uncover the secret of these decaying cities, you’ll find the perfect game to scratch that urban exploration itch.
Final Verdict 4/5
Available on: Playstation 4, Playstation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X, Steam (Reviewed); Publisher: Uppercut Games; Developer: Uppercut Games; Number of players: 1 ; Released: March 9, 2022; MSRP: $29.99
Full disclosure: The developer provided a review copy.