Throughout the years the amount of dialogue and cutscenes in games has grown exponentially. For the most part, I am a proponent of this – I love seeing the video game medium become a bastion for renowned storytelling and for games to push the limits of what players expect from a story. In contrast though, occasionally a game comes around that chooses to tell its story through minimalism and is all the better for it – Submerged: Hidden Depths is one of those games. Featuring only striking music, a few written lines of story, and an uttered word here and there, the game still manages to tell a compelling tale of the bond between brother and sister, a world that has fallen apart, and the need for hope.
Uppercut Games has created a subtle yet gripping gaming experience, not to mention one of the most relaxing games I’ve ever played. Submerged allows players to explore its dilapidated world at their own pace, with no fear of death or even enemies. Each location tells the story of those who once existed, and every diary or item found shows the brother and sister duo remnants of a long lost past. Hopping on your boat, exploring the unknown, and unraveling the past while engrossed in the marvelous orchestral soundtrack is one of my favorite gaming experiences this year.
Submerged: Hidden Depths tells the story of an outcast brother and sister, forced to live on their own due to the sister’s gift which she obtained when she was touched by the Mass – an otherwise deadly goo that has swept the world, killing all living things in its wake. Oceans rose and once proud cities were submerged under the depths of the water, with only the remains of building tops and ships left to explore. Unsure why the Mass gifted her the power to bring back life rather than kill her, the sister deems that it is her responsibility to visit the sites taken over by the Mass’s black plants and remove the seed powering the area to restore nature.
While the story gives you a few lines explaining what led the duo to this point, the game rarely takes time to explain much else, thrusting you into the gameplay immediately. Your objective is to find the nine seeds scattered throughout the environment and return them to their seed pod in each area. Each seed location serves as a puzzle which the sister must navigate to reach the seed and then figure out a route back down while carrying the seed. Each location is varied and composed of interesting, although easily figured out, puzzles and the simple act of traversing these locations and taking in the sites of the flooded world is both relaxing and satisfying.
When you begin, your map is empty and you must make use of a telescope to find locations to travel to. The telescope will alert you when an item of interest is within view – holding your scope over the area for a moment will place that item’s location on your map. Players will need to find lookouts and other high areas to constantly scope out the lay of the land to eventually discover the locations of all nine seeds as well as the large amount of collectibles scattered throughout.
Each seed location features 9 boat skin items, a flower, four diary entries, and an animal to collect. Collecting all 9 boat skin items in an area allows you to switch up the look of your boat, while obtaining all four diary installments will reveal an entry about the world before it fell. The animal is just one of 20 animals you are able to observe during your adventure, while the flower is one of 9 you are able to collect. The flower is the most difficult item to find, normally cleverly hidden off the beaten path in each location. Additionally, there are 20 submerged items, 26 boat upgrades which each allow you to gain additional boost time, 10 landmarks, 10 lookout towers, and a total of 56 diary entries to find.
If hunting for collectibles is not your thing, then you can simply ignore everything and head directly for the seeds. The only item which may help your gameplay is the boat upgrades, but without them you’ll merely move slower. I appreciate the collectibles as they gave me a reason to constantly search with my telescope and to explore areas I hadn’t planned to visit, which ultimately lead to more items being marked on my map. It’s an addicting cycle.
That addicting cycle is helped by Submerged: Hidden Depths’ smoothness. The boat glides gracefully through the water and not once did I find myself struggling with the controls. On land, both the sister and the brother move precisely, able to leap or climb without additional input from the player as they intuitively do what is needed when you approach an applicable area. Much of the game involves Prince of Persia style climbing sequences, which I’d argue are smoother than Persia ever was. It was a joy to traverse the land, especially knowing there was no way to mess up and fall. Your character always retains grip and simply does not allow you to drop off from areas you shouldn’t.
If this all sounds like Submerged is too easy, well – that is sort of true. The developers obviously intended for players to experience the story and relax as they did so. This game is certainly not for those wanting a challenge, but after playing 130 hours of Elden Ring I greatly appreciated the change of pace. Clocking in at only 5 or so hours long, maybe pushing ten hours if you collect all items, Submerged: Hidden Depths was the perfect palate cleanser and a far more compelling experience than I had expected.
Submerged: Hidden Depths
Submerged: Hidden Depths is the perfect game to play when needing a break from the more stressful or narrative intense experiences. Featuring a powerful orchestral score, relaxing exploration and puzzle solving, and a subtle yet interesting story about the bonds of family and the power of hope, Submerged surprised me and provided me with one of my favorite experiences of the year.