Developer/Publisher: Uppercut Games
Genre: Exploration Adventure
Reviewed On: PlayStation 5
Also Available For: PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox
When I heard that 2015 video game Submerged was getting a sequel, I was surprised to say the least. It wasn’t exactly a terrible game, but it wasn’t a great game either; it had clunky animations, somewhat monotonous gameplay, and its graphics looked a bit dated even then. I wasn’t under the impression it had done well enough critically or financially for the developers to make a sequel, but Submerged: Hidden Depths is such an enormous improvement upon the first game in every way that I’m very glad they got the chance to.
The Basics: Submerged: Hidden Depths is a non-violent exploration adventure game set in a global flooding style post-apocalypse in which the world is also overrun with an enormous, planet-spanning sentient and possibly magical plant creature known as “The Mass” which has a tendency to create copies of any creatures it… absorbs? Consumes? The game follows the same pair of siblings from the first game, Miku and Taku, as they set out to restore the stolen seeds of The Mass in one ruined cityscape restore harmony to the area. In order to do that, they boat between landmasses and climb what’s left of old buildings and other remnants of the pre-apocalypse. The gameplay itself is pretty simple, not even requiring manual input in order to jump between handholds and whatnot, but it nevertheless manages to be an absolute delight to play.
Before I say anything else, let me make one thing crystal clear; Submerged: Hidden Depths is absolutely, positively GORGEOUS. A strong artistic direction including a vibrantly colored, richly detailed world, amazing looking water and a slightly cartoony art style makes the game a veritable feast for the eyes, such that sailing around doesn’t get old because of how visually engaging it is. It certainly doesn’t hurt that elements of the environment will occasionally shift as you pass them by, a few bricks falling from what used to be a wall and splashing into the surf below or some barrels rolling off a broken walkway. Also worth noting in that vein is the dynamic weather, with storms blowing in and reducing visibility and making the waves choppier, both of which I thought were nice touches.
Submerged has a photo mode built in, and while it’s very simple compared to some recent examples – all you can do is move the camera around – everything is so pretty it doesn’t really need extra filters or time of day adjustment or anything else like that. The photo mode is especially handy during the encounters the player can have with wildlife, which happens frequently as they travel around the map. Pods of dolphins, schools of flying fish, various types of whales and more will regularly show up alongside the boat, frolicking about and being generally delightful every single time. I took dozens of screenshots during my time with the game, at least a third of which were of creatures swimming with me.
Another thing that makes exploring a joy is how well the world is designed to flow (pun absolutely intended) together. Aside from the larger “landmasses” that make up the main objectives, Hidden Depths also has a number of smaller ruins with collectibles as well as a few things to fish up from the water directly. The thing that works really well about it is that it’s very easy to go to one point of interest and see three more from there, then discover another two from the next you investigate and so on, creating a fun chain of finding new things. I joked to my girlfriend that this was “The Aquatic Mad Max game I’ve been wanting for years, just without any combat” but I was being at least partially serious, even down to the highlighting of key parts of the environment – the color for which you can adjust in settings, which I thought was a decent setting for colorblind players.
Speaking of collectibles, even if you’re not paying super close attention to your surroundings visually for some reason or if there’s a wall between you and one of them, each type produces a unique sound effect that blends very well into the game’s overall audio design. Overall the sound design is very good, really, with the sounds of waves and creatures mixing well with the ambient music and occasional words Miku and Taku exchange with one another. That said, one of my very few complaints with this game is the sound design being a little lackluster in cutscenes, consisting solely of the game’s score and without any effects. I understand what the developers were trying to go for with this artistic choice, but I don’t think it was the right move to make and the game is slightly weaker for it.
Submerged: Hidden Depths may be a simple game and not very long to do everything in (I spent just a bit more than four hours on it and found most everything) but it is a superb example of an exploration game and a great title to simply vibe to. If you’re worried about it being a sequel, don’t be; the game’s introduction tells you everything you could possibly want to know about its predecessor in two minutes, meaning you can spend the time you would spend on the first game on its vastly superior sequel instead. In many ways I get the impression that this is a more complete realization of the vision Uppercut originally had, and I adore what they put together here. If you like exploration games with heartwarming stories and hauntingly beautiful yet calming soundtracks, I’m positive you will too.
Submerged: Hidden Depths
Submerged: Hidden Depths is very, very good for what it is, and will make an excellent experience for anyone wanting a more chill game to while away an afternoon on.