We've been exploring the remnants of a flooded city in Uppercut Games' gorgeous relaxploration adventure.
After serving a stint as a Google Stadia exclusive game, the sequel to 2015's Submerged is finally making its debut on PC and consoles. Designed as a simple adventure game, the core premise of this sequel, known as Submerged: Hidden Depths is to travel around an urban world that has been consumed by the ocean, with the aim of gathering seeds that can help neutralise the mysterious black goo that plagues the landscape. With such a relaxing concept, I've spent some time sailing around the world and I have some varied thoughts about it.
The core storyline revolves around the sibling duo of Miku and Taku, a pair who have been exiled due to the former's unexplainable and potentially dangerous magical curse. With the remnants of humanity forsaking the pair, they find themselves in the flooded ruins of a former city, where the oldest of the two, Miku begins to use her curse to create a safe haven for herself and her brother to live in. With this in mind, the majority of the gameplay focuses on using a motor-powered boat to travel to and from the various parts of the city that still remain above the waves to uncover all kinds of different secrets.
This is a game that is self-titled as a "relaxploration adventure", and it truly fulfils that term, as the lack of any real threat and the straightforward gameplay mechanics remove pretty much any obstacle, challenge, or stress-inducing moment that you could perceive. In fact, if it wasn't for the basic platforming puzzles that ask you to lead Miku or Taku across a variety of wrecked buildings, there would be absolutely no challenge to this game whatsoever. While there are benefits to this design, it makes the game more accessible to less-skilled players for one, it does put a lot of emphasis on the other areas of the experience, primarily the exploration aspect.
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I say this as Submerged: Hidden Depths has one of the most uninspired and dull exploration systems out there. If you aren't a fan of the 'Ubisoft open world formula' that basically just asks you to wander around picking up collectibles and visiting points of interest, then you won't last very long here. The core storyline of gathering seeds is essentially a multiple part fetch quest that takes about three hours to blast through. The rest of the game is then padded out by simple collectibles, be it diary entries for some lore of the surrounding area, boat upgrade parts to increase your boat's boost capacity, or relics, flowers, and lookout points, which - aside from the latter serving similarly to an Assassin's Creed viewpoint - are just run of the mill inconsequential collectibles. And collecting them is even more dull than the idea of them sounds, as you sail or walk up to them and press a single button and that's it, nothing more, nothing less. For the most part, they're not even hidden or placed in areas that require some interesting gameplay to acquire them, a lot of them are just points in the wide, empty feeling azure blue ocean open world.
Uppercut Games does well to create a world that makes you ask questions, and the collectable pieces of lore and the brief cutscenes that are dotted here and there do an ample job of filling in these blanks and building a world that is partly fascinating. But, it's still not a world that will keep you thoroughly engaged for hours, and once you get to the point of simply bobbing around, and picking up items for no real reason other than for the sake of progression, it's very easy to lose interest. And that's coming from someone who fancies himself as a bit of a completionist, and will hunt for collectibles or chase dumb achievements and trophies in a game just to see that elusive 100% statistic.
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There are some areas to Submerged: Hidden Depths that just feel a little clunky as well. Whether it's the short black loading screens between when you pick up a collectible and before the animation cutscene starts (bearing in mind, I have been playing on an Xbox Series X, so there's really no reason for this), or instead the white box around subtitles, which blocks a hefty portion of the screen (you'd think this was an accessibility option, but it's really not). There are a few areas that really need some love, and this is precisely why it's such a big deal that the visuals themselves are a highlight, because you need a pretty environment to draw your gaze from the rough edges.
The world itself is gorgeous and is bright and colourful, and is very easy on the eyes. The rolling cerulean waves are enchanting, and despite being a primarily stress-free game, the white-capped storm-driven tides are enough to spark the tiniest bit of uneasiness. Uppercut has done a fabulous job at creating such an eye-catching environment, but it's just not enough to make me want to trudge through tens of effectively meaningless collectibles just to fill my time.
And that's where I stand with Submerged: Hidden Depths. There are parts of this game that should be celebrated; the world, the environmental storytelling, the relaxed nature, but at the same time there are aspects that feel so disappointing in comparison, and it's hard to look past them. If you're looking for a short game to unwind after a busy day, then this might be the perfect way to spend an evening, but if not, this might not be the one for you.
6 / 10
World is colourful and gorgeous. Relaxed nature is handled brilliantly. Environmental storytelling is a highlight.
Little bit rough around the edges in places. Exploration and collectible-themed gameplay becomes dull fast.