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Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Uppercut Games
Release Date: Aug. 4, 2015 (US), Aug. 5, 2015 (EU)

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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PS4 Review - 'Submerged'

by Brian Dumlao on Aug. 26, 2015 @ 2:00 a.m. PDT

Submerged is an exploration adventure game about sacrifice and the serenity of desolation.

Gone Home, Journey, The Stanley Parable, and To The Moon: Regardless of the platform, the one thing these games have in common is the desire to tell an interesting story via exploration. They also don't rely heavily on the common traits that many adventure games use to entice audiences into playing. Submerged is the latest game to try and pull off such a feat, and although it starts off with great potential, it loses it by the end.

Submerged is set in a postapocalyptic world that is a bit different from what you may be used to seeing. Instead of roaming around a wasteland, you're traveling through a flooded planet where only the tops of very tall buildings can be seen above water. You play as Mika, a young girl who has traveled to the submerged city with her younger brother Taku. While Mika is very healthy, Taku is not, something that is readily apparent by the large wound on his stomach and his listless nature. With the belief that she'll be able to help him heal, it is up to Miku to find the supplies in this seemingly abandoned place.

The game's loop can be broken down in the following manner. Using your handy telescope, you have to find a building that has a supply drop so you can tag it on your map. Usually, those buildings have a downed red and white parachute on it, so it's easier to find it. Next, you get on your boat and pilot over to the given location. Once there, you start your climb to the top to get the supplies, using ledges and vines and pipes to navigate. When you reach the drop, you're automatically whisked away to your makeshift camp, so you can administer the newfound help to your brother and he can get one step closer to recovery.

That loop covers the basics, but there's a bit more to do. Traveling through the world, you can take note of the wildlife and landmarks inhabiting it, placing entries in your notebook to keep a record. You'll also find abandoned boats, so you can salvage their engine parts. This, in turn, increases the amount of time you can use a turbo boost to move faster. There are also different collection tokens, 60 in total, which give you an illustrated history of how the world came to be in its current state. With the exception of the wildlife and landmarks, everything else can be tagged via telescope for future reference.

The first thing to note about Submerged is its graphics. Built with Unreal Engine 4, the game sports some good lighting and wave movement. Cloth on things like unfinished buildings moves pretty realistically, and the characters sport some nice textures and animate pretty well in almost all of their actions. It still suffers from having some bad texture pop-up, though, and up-close, some of the textures on buildings look pretty low-resolution. What's most noticeable is the lack of frame rate consistency. There are several times when you're piloting the boat and encounter frequent pauses. They last less than a second but occur often enough that the game feels unstable. The frame rate drops also occur when traversing up buildings, and the lack of a solid 30fps is very noticeable around lots of foliage.

The audio gives the world some life in small ways. The melancholy soundtrack provides a feeling of despair that fits well in the story while still instilling the desire to explore. The effects are pretty well done and add some real atmosphere, like the howling wind as you climb higher and the sounds of animals communicating with one another. What's disappointing is how all of this is very front-loaded. Play this game on a nice surround sound system, and you'll have nothing playing behind you to help you feel truly enveloped. It is a missed opportunity that will hopefully be rectified in a patch.

The aforementioned lack of combat gives you a good chance to take note of the world, which is a pretty good character in its own right. The ocean sway is relaxing, and the sea life is mesmerizing to watch. Having whales breach in front of you is breathtaking (even if their waves don't affect you much), and piloting your boat alongside a school of dolphins is lots of fun. The day and night cycle is also great because it affects the environment greatly, turning the waves that you create into a Day-Glo scene because of the luminescent algae in the water. The same goes for the weather, as small showers that hit the area give the buildings a slick, wet look.

It doesn't take long, however, for disappointment to set in. Throughout the game, you only get this one environment to run around in, and it quickly loses its charm once you've seen a small chunk of the map. The animal behaviors don't change throughout the game, so the once-exciting prospect of traveling with dolphins becomes rote after the fifth or sixth time. The lack of danger also deadens the level of excitement. The game works fine without any combat, but there should be a moment of tension when climbing any of the precarious ledges, especially since some of them look unstable. Without the prospect of falling, climbing feels rote and unexciting.

The story has to be the least fulfilling part of Submerged. The tale of how the duo has come to this submerged city and of how Taku got the wound is a bit predictable but still heartbreaking. Without spoiling anything, the story of Miku trying to save her brother is intriguing, especially when other elements start to come into play. However, the ending erases all of that intrigue and basically brings everything back to how it started. With no progression on any front, the player becomes apathetic to the characters and their plight, so the ending feels unfulfilling. The city's tale is a predictable one, and because the collectible illustrations can be gathered out of order, you'll figure out the story before you've collected half of the items.

The game also isn't very long. Even if you stumbled upon each supply drop location instead of using your telescope to find them beforehand, you'd only spend about three hours before finishing the main story. Add in another hour or two for grabbing all of the collectibles, and that's it.

Submerged tries to go for the same vibe as Journey but falls short. The game world is interesting, but the brief stay in it is tiresome since you're only given one environment. The climbing mechanics are so easy that the courses don't provide any challenge, so the only tough part is in finding the supply drop locations. It doesn't help that the main story isn't very intriguing, and neither is the story of the city, especially since you figure it out faster via the cut scenes than from the illustrations you pick up. There's no need to rush and check out Submerged right away.

Score: 6.0/10

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