The folks at Uppercut Games were kind enough to provide us with early access to their brand new game Submerged, which just released on Xbox One earlier today. Usually we’d play through the game before its official release and have a video review ready as soon as possible. Unfortunately we ran in to a rare bug, which caused the game to run at an abysmal frame-rate for the duration of our playthrough. Damn.
After talking with Uppercut Games about our issue, it turns out we’re not alone.. and while most folks playing the early release fixed the problem with a simple hard restart of their Xbox One, we weren’t so fortunate.
With the developer unable to replicate our problem on their own hardware, we’re left waiting for a future update in order to play the game the way it was intended. I didn’t feel it was fair to review Submerged in the state that we played it, seeing as how it was an extremely rare occurrence, so rather than offering a definitive review, I wanted to talk about other aspects of the game that are unaffected by the frame rate bug we’re currently experiencing.
So what is it?
Submerged is a non-combat adventure game where you explore the remains of a partially sunken city in order to find supplies to save your injured brother. I’ve enjoyed other non-combat games in the past, like NERO, Gone Home, Lifeless Planet, and The Stanley Parable, and I was immediately drawn to its beautiful environments and potentially emotional storytelling. What I got, though, was something unexpected–and not in a good way.
The game is a bit like Ico and Shadow of the Colossus without the platforming and combat, combined with a bare-bones sailing mechanic that sets the tone for the entire experience. Everything exists for the sake of existing, and nothing is really standout enough to make Submerged more than just a game that does something unremarkable.
At first glance, there’s a lot of beauty. Skyscrapers reach out like an arm in a grave, while collapsed bridges, hotels, and billboards show what was once a bustling city. Traversing the open world, however, reveals a sort of mutation occurring in the wildlife. Massive whales and dolphins are covered in a sickly green and strange humanoid creatures watch from a distance as you scale buildings in search of supplies.
As the older sister, you’ll use a combination of your telescope and boat to spot supply drop packages, boat upgrades, and lore items scattered about the decaying ruins of the city. Manning the vessel feels awkward, as it sways and fishtails with little input; bumping and bopping in to every corner along the way. It purely exists as a means to get you where you need to go, and little else.
Keeping within the “basic” boundaries of the rest of the game, scaling buildings is an effortless affair with very little enjoyment. Using the left analog stick to climb, scale, and drop, there’s little challenge in reaching the top of each skyscraper. Aside from pressing A to leave your boat, and again to open the supply box, the rest of your time is spent manning the left analog in an uninteresting journey to yet another partially submerged building. Repetition sinks in quick (I promise these puns are unintentional), and by the 2nd or 3rd crate you’ll begin to notice that each one sits atop the tallest buildings within the small map. With exploration thrown out the window, you’ll be in and out of Submerged in about 2 hours.
You’ll uncover the mystery of the city if you choose to locate all of the hidden lore items, but the siblings’ tale is told through images after each supply drop is found. You mention a specific item needed to ensure your brother’s survival, climb a tall building to locate a red box containing exactly what you need, wait at a loading screen while you’re teleported back to your brother, use the item, fall asleep, wake up, and repeat the exact same sequence 9 more times.
When it was all over, I didn’t really feel anything. I wasn’t emotionally invested in the world enough to bother collecting all of the lore items, nor did I feel connected to either of the two siblings. Your brother spends the entire game on his back, moaning repeatedly, while you follow the exact same flow of events ad nauseam. It’s a rushed concept where everything exists in the most passable way possible. Nothing is well executed. It’s just there. It’s a thing. A game.
I’m all for combat-less adventures, exploring worlds, and emotional storytelling, but Submerged is really just a shell of what others have done in the genre. NERO, for example, also suffered from technical issues and lacked challenge, but the storytelling was good enough to carry the game’s shortcomings. With Submerged, nothing moves beyond a passing grade. The boat is just a boring method of transportation. Scaling buildings is little more than tilting the left analog stick. The world itself is a series of uninteresting buildings draped in the same color scheme. Even the characters were given little attention, repeating the same animation, sound, and tiny snippets of dialogue.
A better frame-rate isn’t going to improve aspects of the game that are uninteresting, and I doubt my opinion will sway much once we get our hands on a working product. However, when we do, you can expect a definitive score-card here at the bottom. In the meantime, it’s not something I recommend investing your time in.