It’s a universally acknowledged truth that sharks are really flipping scary. Whilst not an entirely rational response given their somewhat restricted geographical range outside of terrible B-Movies, they are such awesomely efficient killing machines that they have the power to terrify even when you’re sat comfortably in your lounge. However, even a sufferer of selachophobia – a fear of sharks, obviously – would have to admit that sharks have an awesome beauty to match their terrifying potential. Submersed seeks to use this unique blend of beauty and terror to bring a new slant to survival horror, but does it pull it off?
Submersed starts off in underwhelming fashion with an opening cutscene that looks like an early 2000 game and has all of the cinematic power of an outtake from an Asylum Studios movie. I don’t mind clichés in genre games, and in many ways hitting familiar tropes helps them to be recognised, but there is little sense of a knowing use of these conventions here. You begin as a member of a research team working in a submarine centre who is woken by alarms triggered by an unidentified threat. A fellow scientist informs you that the power needs rebooting (so far so familiar) and you set out to do so.
This opening prologue introduces you to the more original aspects of the game, as you wear a bulky diving suit in underwater sections. The slow movement and restricted vision initially seem to be perfectly suited to creating a true survival horror experience, but the boring level design and inadequate signposting combine to offer up a horror of an entirely different kind. Moreover, this clunky opening also blows the game’s first proper sight of a shark in a totally scripted jump scare.
Everything is dark and dreary. While there is a clear attempt to give the environment a suitably wet look, the labs and corridors look like the hundreds of identikit first person horror games that infest the Steam store. The underwater sections that do offer some kind of differentiation from the masses are terrible, with a minimal view distance and insta-death shark attacks. The diving suit you wear is equipped with a sonar device that warns you of imminent danger, which means that you crouch under flimsy bits of fence until the light goes green before shuffling to the next piece of cover. Any challenge is restricted to trial and error choices of which path to take. I soon learned to dread these sections for all the wrong reasons.
The general storyline of Submersed is a rudimentary blend of Jaws and Alien mixed up with a dose of Lovecraft. The team of scientists in this facility have uncovered a strange organism that infects living things and links them to some kind of hive mind. So far so generic, but there is potential for something interesting to develop. Unfortunately, everything is left almost unfinished, so there is little development aside from lab reports that the sharks are somehow smarter – a fact that doesn’t really tally with the dumb pathfinding they display in any flooded areas.
The general air of being rushed carries over to a number of gameplay mechanics that are introduced and then discarded. A trophy is awarded for picking your first lock, but I only encountered one opportunity to do so and even then the only door that could be picked was right next to the room with the necessary key. This kind of aborted mechanic is repeated with vents that require tools that never materialise and, perhaps most egregious, lockers that say you can hide in them but never reappear and wouldn’t even be useful given the underwater nature of your threats. It is as if the released game contains elements of previous versions that were abandoned and contributes to the amateur feel of the whole thing.
Along with all of these aforementioned issues, Submersed manages to be both short and padded. The slim playtime is filled with repetitive corridors and identikit underwater sections. When new mechanics are introduced they are just as swiftly abandoned and there is a lack of any real internal consistency. This is perhaps best illustrated by a chapter towards the end of the game where you must climb a lift shaft using fallen beams and pipes. Alongside the perennial issues with first person platforming in general, you have fire that at one point kills you from a metre away and that you must effectively run through later on to progress.