Submerged: Review of the Hidden Depths – Niche Gamer

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From Australian indie studio Uppercut Games, Submerged: hidden depths is the sequel to their non-violent exploration game Overwhelmed released in 2015 for PlayStation 4, PC and mobile. The sequel was originally released on Google Stadia “alive and well” as an exclusive in 2020, with the Stadia Games and Entertainment division helping with its development. But after a few years of disappointing results for the disappointing cloud streaming console, Submerged: hidden depths was announced for release on PlayStation, Xbox, and PC earlier this year.

Now that this game is out on consoles that people actually own, check out my Submerged: hidden depths review to find out more. Is it a hidden gem pulled from the watery grave of an abandoned console launch, or would it be best left untouched at the bottom of the sea?

Submerged: hidden depths
Developer: Uppercut Games
Editor: Uppercut Games
Platforms: Stadia, PlayStation 4/5, PC (revised), Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One
Release date: December 3, 2020 (Stadia), March 10, 2022 (Everywhere else)

Start of our Submerged: hidden depths review, the strongest aspect of this title is its visuals. The style is colorful and cartoonish, reminiscent of modern Disney movies. The main characters, Miku and Taku, have big eyes and expressive faces that do most of the heavy lifting for a cute naked story.

The setting for Submerged: hidden depths is a small piece of ocean surrounded by the crumbling remains of a once imposing city. Capsized ships, vine-choked skyscrapers, and neglected industrial hubs are where you spend the majority of your time. The combination of cartoon characters with wild nature and the tasteful addition of Greek-inspired architecture in pockets of the booming ocean is reminiscent of another old Stadia exclusive: Ubisoft’s Immortals: Fenyx Rising.

My PC with a mid-range GPU was able to run this game at 1080p on high settings without noticeable performance issues, but you can improve the frame rate by adjusting shadows, post-processing, and foliage with little or no difference in visual quality.

The music is soft and minimalist, mostly piano with a few strings; it is incidental and mostly used to punctuate important items, places or events throughout the game. Other than that, you will spend most of your time with Submerged: hidden depths listen to quiet ambient sounds: crashing waves, rustling leaves and the rustling of pigeons flying.

Overall, the setting and soundscapes truly live up to Uppercut Games’ insistence that this is a “relaxploration” title. My only criticism in this area is extremely minor and virtually imperceptible; I noticed a slight creak when walking on some surfaces that sounded like running shoes on a basketball court, even when walking barefoot on metal scaffolding.

When the engine starts Submerged: hidden depths, You’re presented with expository text and a brief cutscene, then you jump right into the game. The two siblings speak in a made-up language, but I found it weird when they would occasionally say a word or two in English. It was a rare break in the immersion derived from the game’s setting that felt silly; it reminded me of the goofy language of the dinosaurs in Starfox Adventures.

Information about the main characters and the once bustling villages they explore can be discovered by searching for newspapers scattered around the environment. There are also short cutscenes after each level that show vignettes of Miku and Taku’s daily life.

With so little to work on, the story of Submerged: hidden depths is brief and painless but not really interesting or insightful, even when their interactions become awkward and an angry presence is introduced. There’s clearly inspiration in other minimalist gaming narratives, such as The shadow of the colossus and Journey.

Other than that, your time at Submerged: hidden depths moved on to explore the beautiful environment to discover collectibles and unlock paths to navigate the labyrinthine structures completely devoid of human life. There are many collectibles you can find in order to fill out a codex.

Discover animals, landmarks, cosmetics, upgrades to speed up your ship, and the aforementioned journal entries. You have a telescope that lets you find and mark collectibles on your map, but you can just follow the dark tendrils in the water to find each level, which is solved by picking up a seed and bringing it to a centerpiece.

Collectibles can be seen at the home base, including a tapestry made up of the story items found in the journals and through the progression of the main story. Other than that, it looks like a basic checklist with little reward for completion. Maybe there’s an alternate ending to collecting them, but I had no interest in sticking around to find out.

The exact moment I lost interest in returning to this title was when I had to climb something to reveal part of the map – it was fun the first time I did it in Assassin’s Creed, but after the millionth time to do so in every other game since then, it feels like an insulting waste of time. However, I have to give the game credit for letting you skip all the cutscenes, and even some of the long elevator rides.

Something else worth praising Submerged: hidden depths is how Uppercut Games developers use visual design to guide the player in the right direction to solve each puzzle.

At the beginning of your exploration, there is a set of red beams that you must pass through to advance. When looking for a place to disembark from your boat, a barricade painted red must be opened by hitching it to the back of the boat.

Another location requires you to pull buoys through the water to fill a gap between platforms. The Thwaites Center radio tower is an outstanding level, well-designed vertical maze; another interesting centerpiece is the Skyscraper which requires you to transport a seed from the base upwards via a complicated pulley system.

Very quickly, Submerged: hidden depths conditions you to look for red in a predominantly green environment in order to find the right route. But what if you are red/green color blind?

I noticed that you can change the “guide color” in the options menu, which is a nice accessibility feature. It would have been nice if they included the option to remove the color from the guide entirely, at the mirror edge disable “runner’s vision” in hardest, but the option is not available.

Instead I tried changing the color to yellow so it probably blends better with the green and hopefully makes the game a bit harder, but it ended up looking like someone who used a highlighter to scribble over all the important parts. It also didn’t change the color of the vines – so screw the colorblind, I guess.

Here’s my biggest complaint about this game. The platforming is automatic when walking forward; your character will jump, climb and swing to maneuver obstacles highlighted in the environment, just like the N64 era Zelda Games. The lack of autonomous jump or climb options outside of these context-specific areas is frustrating, and it actually got me stuck on the environment multiple times.

Here is another question that I want to discuss in my Submerged: hidden depths review. All levels are filled with invisible boundaries to aggressively guide you in the right direction, check out the screenshot above as an example.

In any other game, you’d assume the character would be able to walk through that narrow ledge, enter the door, and discover some sort of secret. But instead, there is an invisible boundary that prevents you from going further. There were countless areas like this where I encountered this frustrating limitation.

For a game as simple as this, Submerged: hidden depths has an impressive level of finish. But occasional tracking issues and awkward fixed camera angles – presumably for “cinematic effect” – hamper the experience. Additionally, the contextual inputs for animal sighting and item collection are noticeably lag; at one point I lost the ability to register input by tapping too quickly while moving.

Movement is slow when running, but overly responsive when using the analog stick to aim the telescope and navigate the map. Looks like it was meant to accommodate high latency, making it ideal for cloud streaming; that makes sense considering its origin as a Stadia exclusive.

It’s my cynical belief that slow running speed and boat speed (although you can upgrade boat speed later) is an attempt to artificially lengthen the time it takes to beat this game. managed to beat Submerged: hidden depths in about 3.5 hours in a single play session, but finding all the collectibles could stretch that to 5 or 6.

After yet another disappointing cinematic featuring a monster that looks exactly like the one at the end of Moana, Miku and Taku enthusiastically say that they want to keep exploring and finding all the secrets hidden in the flooded town. Unfortunately, I did not share their enthusiasm.

While your mileage may vary and your perspective on the story may be expanded by collecting more of the aforementioned logs, I have found that Submerged: hidden depths has nothing to remember even a few minutes after putting down the controller.

We did our Overwhelmed: hidden depths review on PC with a review code provided by Uppercut Games. You can find additional information on Niche Gamer’s Review/Ethics Policy here. Submerged: hidden depths is now available on Windows PC (via Steam), Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Stadia.

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