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Submerged (PlayStation 4) artwork

Submerged (PlayStation 4) review

"So much more could have been done with Submerged. Calling the failing here tragic barely qualifies as hyperbole."

Submerged (PlayStation 4) image

So much more could have been done with Submerged. Calling the failing here tragic barely qualifies as hyperbole. It has so many things going for it at first glance: a female protagonist. A minimalist approach and aesthetic reminiscent of cult hit Ico. A unique (as games go) kinship between a doting big sister and her wounded little brother. A devastated, half-submerged city begging to be explored. I can see the development team back-patting in the boardroom as they took stock of the uncommon glut of riches they packed with the premise.

It couldn’t have been too long after that meeting that they decided to stop working on the game.

The cliché goes that the game is a story of squandered promise. It was with some sadness that I racked my brain and concluded that I don’t know of many examples of that trope more extreme than Submerged.

Submerged (PlayStation 4) image

The good part first, then (I promise you’ll be able to tell when it goes bad): You are Miku. Your brother Taku has a wound to his abdomen that has left him in a catatonic state. After sailing untold miles to seek shelter, you find it in the form of a reasonably safe haven - a building with a bench of sorts that he can rest on - and then it's off to find him various supplies to assist in his recovery.

Off you go, aboard your little boat. You'll use your telescope to magically locate the helpful items you are seeking, hidden away in red crates, usually on the top floor of some random building. You'll steer out to said building, dock, and start climbing.

You can climb up what look to be moss formations, pipes, and ledges - both broken and whole - all by simply pressing up on the analog stick. You’ll reach the crate when you reach the top, crack it open and find water, food or medicine, and a cut scene will whisk you back to your home base, where you administer aid, take a nap at the foot of your little brother's bed, and when you wake up, you will do the exact same thing again.

The entirety of the game is ten such fetch quests.

Submerged (PlayStation 4) image

There's nothing more to it. You can't swim underwater. If you read the previews, you’d have known already that there's no combat. There are no NPCs to speak of (your fitfully sleeping charge doesn’t count). I get that the game is supposed to be about solitary exploration, and the depth of your relationship. But the same-looking broken buildings offer precious little to see, and aside from the initial 'aww' factor that seeing big sis care for little bro elicits the first time, nothing plays out that might be mistaken for being poignant, or for approaching permanence.

When you reach the end, in only a few hours of play time, you'll wonder what the point was. The collectibles (upgrades to your boat and drawings that reveal your personal plight along with the greater downfall of civilization) can be considered further fetch quests which are rendered wholly unnecessary by the facts that you don't need a faster boat than the one you’ve got (to escape from what?), and the drawings you come across without trying are sufficient visual cues to tell us what's been going on.

Once again, it’s sad really, because it seemed as if there might be quite a bit going on with Submerged from a distance. Didn’t the screenshots of climbing sequences remind us of the dynamic platforming of Uncharted? Would we uncover horrible - but compelling - vestiges of whatever cataclysmic event wrought this place, a la Bioshock? There really did seem to be quite a buzz about this game based on previews, based on what little we knew of it. Sadly, like a bad Hollywood comedy, the previews are the best of, and limits of, what is on offer.

Masters's avatar
Staff review by Marc Golding (August 04, 2015)

There was a bio here once. It's gone now.

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EmP posted August 04, 2015:

Takes three years off, pops in outta nowhere and drops a day one review. Marc Golding, ladies and gents.

I'm a little gutted about this game; I was thinking about picking it up on the PC, but I was slightly taken aback when I read another review that dropped a decent chunk of spoilers. I was further taken aback when reading this review and learning about its limitations. Thanks for popping out of the void to offer me seconds thoughts.

See you in 2018!
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Masters posted August 04, 2015:

Thanks for pimping my review (as always), Gary. I had more in the review, but took some borderline spoiler content out. Felt a bit odd to submit a review, but in the end I was glad to do it.
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Suskie posted August 04, 2015:

You there! Write more reviews!

Also, thanks for writing this, and good job! This one seems to have just popped up out of nowhere and has been exciting people (such as myself) purely for its visual style, so thanks for saving me the $18 bucks that this thing costs.
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sashanan posted August 05, 2015:

Nice read. Seems to me that it didn't need to say more than it did, the message got across loud and clear. A pity this game didn't accomplish what it presumably set out to do, because I don't imagine "interesting premise but let's stop there" was the intention.
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Masters posted August 05, 2015:

Thanks, guys.

Suskie, it's always good when you can save someone some cash, so I'm thankful for that. I have a few more reviews to write before likely fading back into obscurity.

Sashanan, I didn't realize you were still visiting this site. I had a description or two of 'features' I've since seen mentioned in other reviews that I realized might spoil what little fun one might have with this game. I'm glad you felt the review didn't need it.
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dementedhut posted August 05, 2015:

I've only known about this game for all of two days, and within that time, I went from curiosity and fascination after hearing it mentioned on a podcast, to downright disappointment after reading this. Thanks for the review and changing my mind on getting it. And you convinced me with so few words, too!
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Masters posted August 08, 2015:

Awesome to hear, Pick! And thanks.
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Suskie posted August 08, 2015:

As it happens, I actually stumbled upon an extra code for this game. It was for the Xbox One version, though, and for whatever reason, that one has a slew of technical problems and framerate issues that make it borderline unplayable (the only possible saving grace being that there doesn't seem to be any reflex-based gameplay at all). Doesn't seem like a very interesting game anyway, for the reasons you stated in your review, but this is pretty inexcusable.

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