It’s been a while since I’ve played an incomplete, rough indie game, and weirdly enough, I wasn’t actually going out of my way to do that. But that was the case with Submerged – a weirdly ambitious indie platformer that proceeded to push the boat (literally) in the graphics department, but also felt so rough that I ended up almost quitting the game. Lets take some time to disseminate why.
Submerged has you playing as a teen who is looking to help her injured brother. The very start of the game makes you know this is a world unlike our own, as the whole world is “submerged” in water, with only the tops of skyscrapers being accessible for humans. Playing as the unnamed girl, you proceed to sail the sea hoping from one building to another finding collectibles and old medical equipment for your ill brother.
With that context out the way, let’s talk about the good things Submerged brought to the table.
Graphically, Submerged is both one of the prettiest indie games I’ve seen in a while, as well as the roughest. Some scenes took my breath away, especially the dynamic weather on display through your travels throughout the world. Having the absolutely stunning skies, sunsets and sunrises follow your main character as you explore the world was fantastic, and had me more often than not standing still and watching as the world passed me by.
Another thing submerged done right was its UI, or to put it another way: its ability to say a lot without saying anything at all. There is very little text used throughout the game, with most story points, as well as objectives told through simple symbology or animations. I was surprised and excited at how much I was able to understand the world and it’s backstory based on nothing more than simple abstract cards that are collected throughout the game. It gave me true inspiration for my own games in the future, and is definitely a highlight of how well games can do when they try their best to portray elements to players of many different walks of life through simple human-understandable images.
Collectibles was another strong point that kept me playing far longer than the game required just so I had everything the game had to offer. The world is vast, and as such, has many islands that hide collectibles throughout, as well as powerups for your boat within the
On the rough side is the absolutely atrocity that is the textures, repeating of assets, and just simply flat world the developers at Uppercut Games have conjured up. Terribly detailed and bump mapped lion textures adorn every surface, with their intention meaning to bring more detail to the world, but instead detract from the beauty of the environmental effects. Textures were so flat and dull that even my girlfriend pointed it out, saying it looked terrible. Considering my other half usually doesn’t care about graphics, it shows how bad they really are.
The animations too are lacklustre and provide no life to the characters you’re meant to care about. Every morning your female player discovers that she is increasingly getting more moldy, with green spores covering her arms – but I just don’t believe that she’s actually worried. Each day her animations for climbing are exactly the same, and just don’t give the feeling that she’s pushing through pain to save her brother.
Then there’s the gameplay of getting to the main game objectives themselves. For one, your character cannot walk, jump, or in fact, do any of the things you would expect in a platformer. Instead, you simply walk up to a wall, continue to press forward and have your character traverse the environment like you would in Assassin’s Creed – all without any button prompts. It’s weird, but the lack of actual control of my character made the actual traversal of the world extremely boring – I simply felt like a bystander willing the character to their next inevitable position.
It seems that in striving for simplicity, Submerged becomes all but mundane, making me bored when traversing environments, and requires so little input from the player that I was able to play a lot of the game one handed.
The buildings you traverse weren’t exactly exciting either – there are multiple paths to take usually, with some resulting in dead ends, and others leading to collectibles. If anything I found the map design of the buildings the most frustrating part of Submerged: 5 minutes of slow traversal could result in nothing in you took the wrong path, with no way of getting back to the start of the building in any timely fashion, yet again resulting in more wasted time.
Despite the rough edges, there is some charm to be had in Submerged. I may not believe it’s anywhere near as good as some of the reviews I recall reading when the game was first released, but it was still a nice way to kill some hours, and a great way to find collectibles across a whole map. By all means give the game a go if you like finding lots of collectibles, just be warned that the graphics, gameplay and even controls are a little rough, and as such, you should know about that before going in.