Developed by Spanish studio Main Loop, Submersed is a survival horror game which on paper seems like a solid idea, having a setting primed to scare the player. Unfortunately, it takes whatever promise its concept presents and flushes it down the toilet.
Submersed is available on PlayStation 4 for £12.99 ($16.51).
The story of Submersed is pretty straightforward. You play as Jack, responding to an SOS from an underwater research facility. Your helicopter crashes when you get there, and you find out evil science stuff is happening. It’s not exactly revolutionary, but it’s fine as a start.
The setting is probably the most promising aspect of the game. Being stuck underwater on its own is more than enough to give me the heebie-jeebies. Add in sharks, the most common phobia on earth, and you have a recipe for pant-wetting terror.
Unfortunately, the game fails to live up to this potential in a major way. While a significant part of this is due to gameplay issues, the writing isn’t free from fault either. To be blunt, there’s nothing really scary about it, which for a game that claims to be survival horror, this is a pretty major problem.
One of the problems is that it isn’t clearly defined what it is you’re fighting against. Throughout most of the game, it is indicated that the sharks and people are being controlled by the weird brain bacteria but then takes a huge twist at the end. It’s jarring, but not in an “I’m scared,” way, more like a “Wait, what?” way.
One of the glaring issues with the game is that there isn’t anything to really make you empathize with Jack. They say his wife died in an accident, but only bring it up once.
Another issue that comes in is the voice acting for the game. Is it the worst I’ve heard? No, far from it. But it also isn’t particularly good either. For one thing, it is pretty clear that whoever wrote the English script isn’t very fluent in it, as the sentence structure is off in a lot of cases. There is also a character whose delivery is what I can only call comically nefarious, ruining whatever tension the game could manage.
Sadly the gameplay of Submersed fares even more poorly than its writing. It’s a game that took all the past examples of the survival horror genre, combined all the worst aspects of it, and threw away the things that would have made it work.
Right off the bat, movement is a problem. You can walk and sprint, but the latter is barely any faster, and in addition, you have to hold the left analog stick down to do it. That may not seem like a huge issue, but the longer you play the more you notice it.
Next, there’s the way enemy encounters work. In the game, you will go against them in rooms that are flooded, and in diving suit sequences throughout the game. I’m not sure which one frustrated me more.
In the flooded rooms, water comes up to your waist and you have to wade through it as a shark swims along. Here you have one of two options, either building an electromagnet to distract the shark with, or hitting them with a taser rod. Problem is, neither of them works particularly well.
Both items share the issue of not lasting long enough to be effective. I don’t have an exact time, but I would say roughly 5 seconds is the most time you’ll get them away from you. This is made even worse by items being fairly limited (more on that later).
The taser also suffers from the game having bad hit-boxes. This means that if you actually want to hit the shark with the taser, you need to jam yourself into the sharks face to even hope to hit it. If you only lose half your health trying to do this, you’ve gotten lucky.
Still, at least these sections give you some kind of defense options. The diving suit segments, on the other hand, bring back one of my most hated mechanics: instant deaths. These sections boil down to you crouch-walking and hiding behind objects while a great white does his shenanigans around you.
I already don’t like this kind of gameplay, and Submersed has the worst I’ve played in a long time. For one thing, the movement, already not great, becomes even worse, with the player moving like a 90-year-old man with a bad hip. This may be more realistic for underwater movement, but it sure as hell isn’t very fun to play.
This basically means that if the shark sees you, you’ll almost certainly die, the only exception being if you’re literally right next to a tunnel or stairway. And the shark will find you, as trying to hide from the shark is a crap shoot from start to finish. The game says there’s an icon when you hide, but I have never seen it.
Level geometry is also a prominent issue, especially in the previously mentioned sections. Having your grown man character be stopped by a tiny physics object on the ground isn’t particularly funny the first time and by the 50th time, I was less than amused. The same thing goes for clipping through the floor, though fortunately this was less frequent.
Another issue is the item management. The game seems to go for a Resident Evil approach, with the player picking up items and combining them together. The main issue with this is that the number of items you get is so minimal that you’ll burn through them before you’ve made it out of the first room of the level. This is especially galling with the health items, as the other sections of gameplay make it almost impossible not to be constantly near death.
But wait, there’s more. The checkpoint system is also a pain. Did you reach the checkpoint with full health? Well too bad, because when you respawn you come back pre-damaged. Be prepared to plod about in the diving suit again and again, as those segments always start from the beginning.
When these issues come together, it makes the game decidedly un-scary, which for a horror game is a major issue. There is a major problem if you can have a shark popping out in front of me and my reaction is “Piss off,” and not “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!”
Graphics and Sound
Visually, the game looks like a budget title from 2011. What character models present look like horrible robot people, and the sharks look like bath toys. The actual facility is very generic, without anything particularly interesting until the end.
Sound-wise the game is inconsistent in tone. What’s the nest soundtrack to use for a shark attack? Why, metal guitar of course. And not a particularly good one either, more like something that you would get on a royalty-free website.
The sound mixing is also not amazing. Character dialogue is cut off by music and ambient sounds vary wildly in volume. The game also uses the most ear-wrenching noise for the sharks’ appearances, making them even more frustrating.
Another issue I encountered, infuriatingly enough, was the subtitles. To start, they don’t match the characters’ dialogue, which in itself is frustrating. To make matters worse, when you walk away from say, an intercom, the dialogue keeps going, but the text shrinks. This makes it impossible to read and therefore defeats the point of even having them.