Platforms PC, PS4, XBO
Developer Uppercut Games
Publisher Uppercut Games
Version Played PC

Disclaimer: Game key provided by publisher

Submerged is a third-person, combat-free exploration game that casts you in the role of Miku, a young girl who has brought her wounded brother to a flooded city. Miku is in desperate need of supplies and medicine to save her brothers life, so she takes to her fishing boat to scour the city in search of what she desperately needs. Luckily for Miku the city she and her brother have floated into is overflowing with supply crates packed with exactly what she needs. All she has to do is find the correct tall buildings and scale them to save her brothers life.

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I recently released a 30 Minutes With video for Submerged in which I found it to be a “decent” exploration game, major graphical glitches aside (the disco light effect has thankfully been patched out as of writing this). Indeed, the first thirty minutes with Submerged are a fairly pleasant experience, as you take in the fairly nice looking surroundings, explore about a bit in your boat, and learn how to scale really tall buildings to find the supplies you desperately need to save your injured brother. Unfortunately the major problem with Submerged is it’s first thirty minutes, and then everything that follows on from it.

It will very quickly become apparent as you play through Submerged that everything that you’re going to experience is contained within those first thirty minutes. Less, in fact, if you don’t mess around zooming across the watery landscape in your boat to see what’s what in this flooded city. Within the first 10-15 minutes you’ll have experienced everything Submerged has to offer, and then be forced to repeat it over and over again for another two hours, or until your patience wears thin and you do the sensible thing and stop playing the damn game. I certainly wouldn’t blame you if you did.

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Let’s run through those first minutes with the game. A subtitle pops up on the screen informing you what your brother needs to keep him alive. You trot out of the dilapidated church you’re housing him in, clamber into your boat and and sail to the nearest tall building with some red and white flags atop it, indicating that there’s a supply crate at the top. You find some head height vegetation to grab onto and begin your ascent up the building, making use of various ledges, handholds, balconies and precariously perched planks of wood, until you reach the top.

Once you’ve grabbed whatever it is you need a custscene plays, you administer the item, hug/kiss/pat your brother on the chest, fall asleep and unlock the next set of four cards that make up this games story. The game then fades to the next scene where Miku wakes up, and then a subtitle pops up on the screen informing you what your brother needs to keep him alive. You trot out of the dilapidated church you’re housing him in, clamber into your boat and and sail to the nearest tall building with some red and white flags atop it, indicating that there’s a supply crate at the top. You find some head height vegetation to grab onto and begin your ascent up the building, making use of various ledges, handholds, balconies and precariously perched planks of wood, until you reach the top.

Once you’ve grabbed whatever it is you need a custscene plays, you administer the item, hug/kiss/pat your brother on the chest, fall asleep and unlock the next set of four cards that make up this games story. The game then fades to the next scene where Miku wakes up, and then a subtitle pops up on the screen informing you what your brother needs to keep him alive. You trot out of the dilapidated church you’re housing him in, clamber into your boat and sail to the nearest tall building with some red and white flags atop it, indicating that there’s a supply crate at the top. You find some head height vegetation to grab onto and begin your ascent up the building, making use of various ledges, handholds, balconies and precariously perched planks of wood, until you reach the top.

Once you’ve grabbed whatever it is you need a custscene plays, you administer the item, hug/kiss/pat your brother on the chest, fall asleep and unlock the next set of four cards that make up this games story. The game then fades to the next scene where Miku wakes up, and then a subtitle pops up on the screen informing you what your brother needs to keep him alive. You trot out of the dilapidated church you’re housing him in, clamber into your boat and…

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Okay, I think you get the point. That repetition is exactly what it feels like to actually play Submerged. There is zero variation in this game outside of the first fifteen or so minutes. Not only do all of the buildings look the same, they all have the same few ways to actually climb them. You’ll watch the same climbing animations dozens of times over, before reaching the top and be shown the same “open chest, pull out box, stare at box” animation before a loading screen kicks in and one of three “arrive back at the church” cutscenes play.

There’ll be the brief “administer item” cutscene, Miku will fall asleep in one of three different ways and you’re off to the next task. Which is the same as the last task. The game asks you to do this ten times with absolutely no variation at any given point. Well, actually that’s not entirely true. Outside of the opening and closing cutscenes, which both last about a minute apiece, the game does mix up its cutscenes. Once. For five seconds. I could have written this review immediately after recording my 30 Minutes With video. If I had it would have been a lot more positive, because the game wouldn’t have made me run this gauntlet of identical building traversal ten damn times.

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While the game is trying to inspire feelings of wonder and awe, and trying to make me care in the slightest about the fates of Miku and her brother, the only thing I feel having just put down the controller is anger. Anger and frustration. The game proudly declares on its Steam store page that it’s “combat-free” as if it’s some kind of achievement. It invites you to explore its world without the need to engage in any kind of violence, but then forgets to replace said violence with anything worth anything. Submerged is a hollow, empty shell of a game. There is nothing here worth exploring, unless you like looking at the same buildings with slightly different layouts over and over and over and over…

There are landmarks to find, eight of them in fact. These do look different from the buildings in the game. You’ve got a half-sunken Ferris Wheel, a half-sunken bridge, a half-sunken statue or any other half-sunken thing the developer could think to put into their half-sunken world. You sail up to each of these half-sunken landmarks, a short cutscene plays where you get to see the landmark for all it’s worth and you unlock a card and be on your merry way, off to see the next half-sunken whatever the hell you’ll see next.

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You might have noticed I’ve mentioned cards a few times in this review. They’re Submerged’s primary form of storytelling. There are sets for “Our Story”, “The City’s Story”, “Creatures” and “Wildlife.” By collecting supplies you’ll unlock cards that tell Miku’s story from before the beginning of the game, and how her brother became wounded (spoiler alert: terrible parenting). Only there’s not enough backstory to actually fill out the backstory. About half the cards are redundant, and by the time you hit your 7th supply drop the cards start telling the story of what you already saw at the beginning of the game.

The City’s Story cards take the form of collectibles dotted all over the map. Some are located on the buildings that you need to climb to reach the supplies necessary for this game to finally be over, but most are hidden on buildings that have no bearing on the main narrative whatsoever. There are sixty altogether and I collected about thirteen. The ones I got were really vague and didn’t really enlighten me to the so-called “City’s Story” at all, and I had no interest in collecting the rest. I struggled to find the will to go through the two hours necessary to complete this game, do you really think I’d spend another hour or two doing the digital equivalent of watching paint dry to collect all sixty?

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As for creature cards, collecting them is all kinds of tricky. You see that whale over there? Congratulations, you just unlocked the whale card. See those dolphins that have started swimming alongside your boat? Hey look, another creature card! Good going. I…should stop writing this review. Once I start getting sarcastic that’s usually a good time to stop bashing my fingers against the keyboard. The best thing I can say about this game is that the music is alright. The only time I felt any positive emotion was as I was nearing the summit of the building that housed the final supply crate, because I knew the game would soon be over and I could stop playing.


Summary

Submerged is the definition of a time waster. Once you’ve experienced the first fifteen minutes of the game, you’ve experienced everything this game has to offer. Outside of a five second cutscene there is no variation whatsoever. The developer proudly proclaims that the game is “combat free” but hasn’t actually replaced combat with anything. The platforming is incredibly straightforward, there’s no way to really fail at it and Miku is never really in any danger, and despite how small the world is everything looks the same. You’re never able to connect with the world, story, characters or gameplay in any meaningful way, so nothing has any impact whatsoever. There’s just no point to any of this. It’s not enough to drop a player into a world full of nothing, and say exploration is its own reward, if there’s nothing worthwhile to see or do in your bloody game.