Submerged: Hidden Depths Preview: A Soothing Post-Apocalypse

A former Stadia exclusive, the sequel to Submerged is now coming to PC and consoles, inviting a new host of players into this chilled out, laidback post-apocalypse. Team up with Miku and Taku to explore a beautiful, no combat world and start to uncover its mysteries.

Submerged: Hidden Depths Preview: A Soothing Post-ApocalypseSubmerged: Hidden Depths is the sequel to Uppercut Games’ 2015 Submerged. It has actually been around for some time, having been originally released as a Stadia exclusive in 2020. Now, however, the game is making the jump to PC and consoles. 

In this ‘relaxploration’ adventure, returning players will be reunited with Miku and her brother Taku as they explore a new city together and do what they can to restore the beauty of their world, and undo the damage that has nearly destroyed it. 

Submerged Hidden Depths Trailer

Submerged: Hidden Depths will be available on PC and consoles soon. 

Story: Uncover the Mystery of Submerged: Hidden Depths

This game continues where its predecessor left off, in a post-apocalyptic version of our world following massive flooding and the spread of an entity known as the Mass. Instead of the land, cities, and trees we know now, the world has been transformed into a giant ocean, with only a handful of broken buildings still standing tall enough to poke through to the surface.

As in the previous game, the story centres around Miku, a girl infected by the Mass, and her brother Taku. Together, the pair of them explore the few remaining structures above the waves. Using her connection to the Mass, Miku strives to restore Seeds that have become corrupted, turning the lush greenery into the sinister Black Plant strangling anything still standing. As players progress, they will uncover diary entries that reveal the history of the world they are in. Over time, these snippets of information will start to come together into a cohesive narrative about what happened to make the world the way it is, and uncover the secrets of the Mass.

Miku's unique connection to the Mass sets her apart from other survivors

Miku’s unique connection to the Mass sets her apart from other survivors

While intriguing in its own way, the game’s story isn’t a particularly pressing motivation to progress; if anything, it’s somewhat incidental to your innate desire to explore the new world you’re being presented with. Fortunately, this appears to be an intentional decision by the designers to ensure that the game remains a relaxing, easy-going experience without sudden twists and turns stirring up drama. It’s important to note that while the story is not a major focus, there is a story to uncover. Rather than following in the tradition of similar titles with highly ambiguous narratives with no actual answers to be found, Submerged’s world does benefit from clear story-telling when required.

As someone who primarily plays games for their stories, it was this last point that I found reassuring. The game isn’t setting out to tell a complex story and that’s completely fine, particularly when the experience is purposely built to be resistance-free; at the same time, it’s good to know that the designers had a clear vision for their world and they put in the work needed to deliver it.

Gameplay: Safe As Houses

Games casting you as either a lone survivor or one of a small group in a vast, unfamiliar ocean is nothing new; on the contrary, the concept is almost its own genre at this point. Starting with titles like Abzu and Subnautica, there are now a host of alien oceans to explore. Submerged is another in this line of games, but that isn’t to say that it doesn’t do anything unique with its setting.

Miku uses her connection to the Mass to recover corrupted seeds

Miku uses her connection to the Mass to recover corrupted seeds

Perhaps most prominent of these features is Submerged: Hidden Depths’ focus on relaxation. Unlike the multitude of survival games in a similar setting, Submerged has no combat or survival aspects. There is no jump mechanic and ledges can only be crossed using specific location-based mechanics like lifts or handholds. The result is a gameworld that feels tremendously safe. The only ‘threat’ presented to the player is the possibility of missing a collectible they’ll have to come back later for. Instead, the focus remains firmly on exploration and enjoying the carefully crafted environments.

Said collectibles are a big part of encouraging that focus. They can be found throughout the ruins and the ocean itself, offering boat upgrades, relics, and cosmetic items. Although these aren’t necessary to progress through the story, they’re a good incentive to investigate every region of the map, regardless of its importance.

One of the standout features of the game's visual design is its lighting system

One of the standout features of the game’s visual design is its lighting system

As with the game’s story, the mechanics on offer are, at their core, extremely basic. The lack of a jump function in particular feels incredibly strange for an exploration title. For my part, it took quite a long time in-game before its absence stopped being noticeable. That said, the lack of manoeuvrability options does make the game substantially easier to play; it’s a choice that makes Submerged wholly unsuitable for someone looking for a challenge, but it perfectly fits the tone of the broader game.

Audio and Graphics: A Beautiful Adventure

Submerged: Hidden Depths’ best quality by far is its visual and audial design. The game is stunningly beautiful at every turn, which makes its world a joy to explore. Great care has been taken to make the world feel grounded in its own fantasy, with shattered masonry crumbling into the ocean as you pass by and flotsam dotting the waves.  The simple act of wandering around becomes an enticing prospect all on its own as you strive to find new creatures to identify and vistas to admire. This also serves as a motivating force in an otherwise reasonably laidback story progression; completing world puzzles gradually heals the corruption overtaking the world, leaving flowers and greenery behind.

The Remnants encountered throughout the ruins are a particular highlight. The echoes of long-dead humans, these figures react to Miku’s presence. As she nears them, they turn green and come alive, visualising their last moments before they died. Through them, the developers have been able to tell a multitude of tiny narratives: some figures start to run as Miku approaches, looking behind them in apparent horror at an unseen threat, while another raises its arms to guard against the collapsing building bearing down on them. Perhaps most memorable of all are those that seem to turn and look at Miku as she moves closer. Though they serve no real purpose to gameplay, these Remnants are a constant source of intrigue.

The Remnants of people consumed by the Mass tell stories all of their own

The Remnants of people consumed by the Mass tell stories all of their own

The audio is similarly polished. Although Miku speaks occasionally, the vast majority of the game has no dialogue at all. Instead, players are left to enjoy a wonderfully soothing soundtrack, broken only by the occasional sound of waves, footfalls, and the quiet, sinister chiming of the Remnants. Submerged promotes itself as a ‘relaxploration’ experience and in this regard, the soundtrack really succeeds. Subtle and unobtrusive, it is a delightful companion that meshes with the overall placidness of the world you’re exploring.

For me, it was these design features that kept me playing long past when the game might otherwise have lost my attention. The story and gameplay are both purposefully stripped back to give Submerged: Hidden Depths its laidback atmosphere and, although that would usually be a deal-breaker for me, it absolutely pulled it off. Even without objectives to pursue, simply spending time in the gameworld became a pastime all of its own that never failed to be comforting.

The first hour of Submerged: Hidden Depths was reviewed on PC with a key provided by Renaissance.

Summary
While the relaxed, safe gameworld won’t be an interesting experience for everyone, particularly anyone looking for high-octane adventure, there is a lot of charm crammed into this title. Its soundtrack and stylised graphics are an absolute pleasure to experience and the mysteries of its story are just enticing enough to pull you in. If you’re looking for a chance to sit back and chill out for a few hours, this game is a perfect choice.
Good
  • Beautiful world design and style
  • Calming soundtrack helps to set the atmosphere
  • Very relaxing ambiance for a chilled out gaming session
Bad
  • Very little story or gameplay nuances to hold the players attention
  • The lack of variation in gameplay can get dull quite quickly
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