From afar Submerged looks like your typical indie darling. From its gorgeous sunken cityscapes to the conflict that exists within its lead protagonist, the game promises a cathartic, impacting experience – the genuine kind which we rarely see from big name devs and publishers.
However, upon approach, Submerged becomes tangled and confused, not knowing quite what it is or the message it wants to convey to players. In other words, there are strong concepts at play here yet the execution leaves much to be desired. That said, there are still some positives to take away from Uppercut Games’ debut console title.
Best known for touchscreen shooter Epoch, and its sequel, the studio is no stranger when it comes to crafting a haunting yet luscious post-apocalyptic backdrop. As its name implies, Submerged takes place within the abandoned confines of a drowned city. Lost and with an injured sibling in tow, you hastily make camp within a waterlogged ruin before setting out in search of supplies.
It doesn’t take long to come across your first pick-up; a bundle of red crates perched atop a derelict skyscraper. To get there, you’ll briefly ease into the smooth handling of your motorboat before charting a course to this first waypoint. As one might have guessed, upon arrival you’ll need to ascend the building in order to plunder its bounty of life-saving loot.
This is done by simply tracing a path to the top, making use of ledges, handholds, ladders, and other bits of terrain. Sadly, it’s this part of Submerged that suffers the most, namely from a complete lack of inspiration. Whether shimmying along a decayed window sill or making a steady descent, all movement is mapped to the left joystick or, if you prefer, the D-pad.
Although the lack of any additional button inputs isn’t exactly a deal breaker, it leaves Submerged with a bland and sluggish platform system that weighs down the rest of the game. Although games like Uncharted and Assassin’s Creed are partly guilty of this, they at least make an attempt to spice up vertical navigation by introducing a sense of peril, no matter how inauthentic this actually is. In Submerged, however, scaling these huge buildings is a robotic, automated process that can be in no way described as ‘fun’.
Upon bagging yourself a stash of supplies, the game will fade to black, sparing you the ordeal of climbing back down each landmark and returning home. Instead, you will be given a brief cutscene in which the protagonist attempts to nurse her brother back to good health, a cluster of ominous figures shifting in the background.
As you haul in more and more crates – there are several in total, scattered among various points on the map – their number increases, building up to the game’s final concluding sequence. In truth, uncovering this mystery was the only thing that kept me going during my playthrough. Although Uppercut has populated the game world with plenty of collectibles and boat upgrades, these are mostly superficial and used to pad out an otherwise desolate virtual playground, which fails to enthral no matter how pretty as it is in all its Unreal splendour.
Ultimately, what Submerged lacks is a decent hook in both its story and gameplay. With nothing in the way of substantive dialogue, I found it almost impossible to build a connection with the game’s lead character. Gameplay, on the hand, has nothing to offer in the way of complexity, presenting players with a bareboned toolset to navigate the lost city.
As much as I wanted to fall in love with Submerged, it’s standing proof that a game needs more than good looks and a unique angle to win me over. With the ’emotional’ story-driven approach slowly receding from the frontline of gaming, I’m left craving fun and challenging experiences that have us do more than haplessly roam within the confines of a digital sandbox.