Submerged: Hidden Depths is an exploration based game that capitalizes on it strengths in a way that allows it to excel at the pinnacle of its genre.
Developer: Uppercut Games
Release Date: March 10, 2022
Platforms: Xbox S/X, PS4/5, PC Steam
Every now and then, usually around once a year, there is a game that comes out of nowhere and really surprises me. Well, right off the bat the most recent game to do so was Submerged: Hidden Depths. The follow-up sequel to Uppercut Games’ Submerged in 2019, Hidden Depths capitalizes on the features which made the original stand out to allow for a much more immersive experience. It’s evident immediately upon playing that there is much more to do in this world than in the original Submerged. While Submerged had a large amount of content, the lack of variety in that content was my chief concern. Hidden Depths truly fixed the issue, and the game is much better off for it.
We get to experience the adventures of sister and brother Miku and Taku as they attempt to navigate a flooded world in order to restore it to its former glory and find a new home. Unfortunately, Miku and her brother become shunned from their community when she receives a special power. After touching a black plant called The Mass, part of that plant attached itself to her arm allowing for her to communicate with the plants growing throughout the world. The Mass has a power source called seeds that have been strewn across the world. Miku and Taku must find and return them to The Mass in order to heal the sunken world they have found themselves in.
Submerged: Hidden Depths is marketed as a “relaxploration” game, and it truly is. There is not a single enemy, instance of combat or any baddies whatsoever. All that exists is the journey and experience we have within it. The contents of that journey include finding collectibles (because why not), exploring the beautiful environment and of course, solving puzzles. It takes a lot for a game with no combat or enemies to maintain the interest of players. As mentioned, this was my concern with the original Submerged. While there was a lot of content, the lack of variety caused monotony to set in and take away from the overall experience (which was still incredible). This concern has been completely eliminated here.
The game’s map needs to be uncovered by simply sailing around, and the visuals practically beg you to do so. The game’s water physics are absolutely beautiful. Rays of sunlight bounce off half-sunken, abandoned buildings and aquatic life are all over to see. The weather changes as you play. One minute you’ll be sailing in sunlight or climbing a tower to solve a puzzle, and the next you’ll be drenched in a storm. In fact, before I really delved into the gameplay, I found myself compelled to sail all over to uncover the map. I didn’t even use the game’s fast travel mechanic by utilizing the lookouts or telescopes until I cleared the map. Instead, I simply sailed.
Not once in a game I’ve played with puzzles have I ever uttered the phrase “Puzzle solving is so enjoyable”, but it really is in Submerged: Hidden Depths. In a game that is all about exploration and puzzles, the lack of any combat whatsoever really emphasizes these features. As a result, the standard frustration that comes with puzzle solving has been essentially eliminated in the game. You won’t have to worry about carefully climbing and navigating a tower only to plummet to the bottom and have to make your way back up after an ill-gotten step. In fact, Submerged: Hidden Depths doesn’t even let you fall off of anything unless you are meant to. We are free to figure out how to solve puzzles, and often there is more than one way to arrive at the puzzle’s end location which can only be found by exploring.
In games like this, dialogue is one of the key features which pulls you into the game’s story. Miku and Taku speak to each other using a made-up language. It’s not difficult to extrapolate what they are saying and how they are feeling as their body language allows this to stand out. Miku is truly troubled and guilt stricken for having her power impact Taku the way it has. She’s trying to fix the world by finding all the seeds for the Mass. She is also trying to redeem herself and do what she can to make up for her brother being an outcast as well even though it was not her fault, but that of the fear based reactions of those in her community which put him there with her. This made up language truly brings us into the game. Since we can’t understand what they are saying, we are forced to think about what they are saying. This gives us the freedom to enjoy the game and its story in a way that is truly our own and become part of the story ourselves by thinking about similar instances in our own lives.
Everything in Submerged: Hidden Depths blends together so brilliantly. The sounds of the waves crashing as you’re sailing, the immersiveness of the dialogue, beauty of the landscape and its soundtrack at pivotal moments really hammer home the overall experience. While a few wonky camera moments pop up every now and then, it’s a minor inconvenience for the overall experience of the game.
Submerged: Hidden Depths allowed for me to get lost in a truly therapeutic experience with the ability to enjoy their game in the most inclusive way possible – while looking into myself while playing. This allows Submerged: Hidden Depths a truly rare ability – that to transcend the exploration based game genre and allow fans of any arena the same incredible experience.