The gaming industry is in an interesting place right now. Game publishers have been playing it safer and safer with their games, only releasing sequels and other sure-fire hits. This vanilla approach to game development has allowed independent developers to thrive and find success. These (quite often) quirky games only used to be available on PC but now with the ID@Xbox program, we are getting these games on Xbox as well. One of the latest releases through this program is Submerged from Uppercut Games. Submerged is a third-person exploration game. There is no combat and very little dialogue (and what there is, isn’t in English). This is the type of game that would never have been released by a major publisher.
Uppercut Games describe Submerged as a third-person, combat free game. The way it plays is more like a 3D maze with a bit of a story. You play as a young girl named Miku, who has to search the city for supplies to help her wounded brother Taku. The story isn’t told in a conventional way. It’s told through images that you unlock by either picking up collectibles (which tell the story of the city) or supplies to help Taku (which tells the story of Miku and Taku). To aid you in finding these items, you have a telescope that is used to find objects and mark them on your map as well as a small boat that enables you to move around the flooded city. Once you have located a supply cache, you have to climb and traverse your way around the building to retrieve it.
The game is very easy; It’s possible to complete the campaign in about an hour. It only took me about 5 hours to 100% the game, but most of that was trying to find all the collectibles. It was a pleasant 5 hours though as the atmosphere in the game is intriguing and enjoyable. The art-style is fairly simplistic, but it suits the game. The music is fairly predictable for this type of fare. The piano soundtrack coupled with sparse use of strings works fine, and never got in the way or was grating to the ears.
While I do like the art-style, I’m not a fan of the graphics. I had high hopes for the visuals of the game when I started it up and saw that it was using Unreal Engine 4. I hadn’t played any games using UE4 before and was really looking forward to some jaw-dropping graphics and effects. Unfortunately that is not the case with Submerged. The graphics work within the art-style but that’s about it. The animations are particularly poor. Climbing a wall is functional, but not believable and it’s the same thing with just walking. The anti-aliasing is also lacking, with lots of jagged and pixelated edges.
Submerged is a few ideas and little bit of execution short of being a really good game. I understand that jaw-dropping, photo-realistic visuals are not a priority for an independent developer, and I’m prepared to give some leeway to any game at this price point. I enjoyed my time with the game, but I can’t help but feel that it could have been so much more. A little more work on the visual side and adding a little more to do than just boat around and climb buildings (maybe throw in a physics puzzle here and there) would have made this something special.