Submerged is an experience that can take you away from the world for a few hours. It calms the soul with its stunning vistas and beautiful melodies, but it gives very little in terms of interesting gameplay.
In the game, you are Miku, who looks after her injured brother in a stranded and flooded cityscape. To do this, you must go up buildings to find care packages left by another civilization. Not much is explained in Submerged, but most of the backstory is told through drawings. While this is an interesting way to give background to the mostly mute storyline, it came across as confusing half way through because the pictures didn’t have enough detail.
The storyline of the current day is explained through cutscenes as Miku helps her brother go through his ailments every day. They have a repetitive structure as we see her get one supply every day, but it is effective as the developers try to establish that she is trying her best to look after him. This is all the more effective when something happens mid-way through, as she has to deal with her own problem. The body language emitted from the characters does a great job at establishing how they are feeling as well. Despite other reviewers saying that they saw the end coming, I would say otherwise. To me, it could have gone either way as both characters have to cope with the world around them.
Unfortunately, the gameplay is the weakest part of Submerged. There are two sections of the game: first, you have to search the area on a boat, and second, climb a building until you reach the top. That’s it, and it gets repetitive quickly. This game was developed with the idea of being non-combat based, but without any sense of danger or conflict, Submerged suffers as the player laboriously climbs. An inclusion of a time limit to save Miku’s brother would have added both some drama, and relieved the sense of disbelief from her brother being able to survive by himself as days pass. The challenge of the game is to find the way up a building, but it gets frustrating as you lose where you’ve been. Time and time again, I had to re-do parts because I went the wrong way. Another annoying aspect is that the boat stops accelerating after a while, disrupting the exploration of the world. Climbing up to the top of a building feels rewarding, especially with the Unreal Engine 4-run locales, but it is an arduous journey. The game also is a bit slow in comparison to other games with climbing sections, like Uncharted, Tomb Raider, and Assassin’s Creed.
With all of those frustrations, however, I truly enjoyed the experience of Submerged. Yes, it was slow, but it also made me feel tranquil. Whether or not that was the purpose, I’m not sure, as the subject matter doesn’t really fit that idea. The game has a wonderful art design behind it with buildings stuck in the waves, a glistening sun and moon, and trees flopping in the wind. The weather effects, and the day and night cycle just made it a living world. The music — despite sometimes being repetitive — and most of the sound effects of the wind and the rain sucked me in as well. What took it away ever-so-slightly is when you are exploring on the boat, the frame rate drops significantly when moving fast. The boat sections, on the other hand, are fun as you explore the open world. You see old advertisements and landmarks that have sunk into the water. It’s also quite thrilling to jump the waves by boosting. The sense of climbing to the top of the building felt triumphant, and the journey by boat and climbing, overall, was so serene. Whenever I have a hard day, I will play Submerged to feel chilled.
Part of the reason why Submerged is so chilling is the music by Jeff Van Dyck. It carries through a serene theme with a strong piano presence. The main theme, although it carries a charming melody, is used slightly too much by the developers during the beginning, but as the game progresses, the themes change every once in a while. The strings and the maraccas combine with the piano as well to create a wonderful soundtrack overall. The use of silent breaks with rain and wind sound effects is a nice touch, but one of the wind sound effects sounds tinny. Overall, Submerged sounds superb despite a few issues with the repetition of the theme, and a tinny sound effect.
Submerged lasts around 2-4 hours. It’s a bit short, but there are many collectibles to get. A cool collectible in the game are pictures, which like in the story, give you background of the world, its history, and the culture; there are 60 of them to find throughout.
Submerged plunges you deep into a world with wonderful graphics, an intriguing world, and a well conducted soundtrack, but the repetition of climbing a building drains the player without a sense of immediate danger or threat. The developers have succeeded in bringing a beautiful, calming experience, but they failed to make it fun to play.
A PS4 code for Submerged was provided by Uppercut Games for the purpose of this review. The images were provided by Uppercut Games.