Indie darlings such as Journey, Gone Home and Limbo have changed the way we view smaller titles from developers we previously hadn’t heard of. They’ve taken us to new worlds, introduced brand new gameplay mechanics and given us experiences that simply wouldn’t be possible in the past. Hoping to join those ranks are Uppercut Games, with their debut title Submerged. However, despite being the first game made by the studio, the developers themselves have previously formed parts of the teams behind Fallout: Tactics, XCOM and Bioshock. So naturally, we had high hopes for their first outing under a new name. Unfortunately, our expectations weren’t met. It didn’t even come close. Submerged is an extremely flawed game that is devoid of any quality whatsoever.
We’ll start with the game’s story, which is only the beginning of a long list of problems. The player takes on the role of a girl named Miku, who has brought her younger brother to the sunken city in their fishing boat. Miku’s sibling is suffering from a deep wound across his stomach, and it’s our job to save him by collecting supplies found throughout the city. This is where the concrete story of Submerged concludes, and henceforth the game’s plot is told through cryptic hieroglyphic style paintings which leave a lot to interpretation. The sketches mostly tell us of a tale of an alcoholic father, but beyond that a lot can be speculated by players as to what it all really means. Furthermore, the ending is a confusing mess that does little to satisfy the player in any way. We were never given a reason to really care about either character and thus we felt indifferent upon the game’s conclusion. On the whole, Submerged’s plot is incredibly weak. It’s full of clichés that players will be able to spot coming a mile away, there’s zero depth to it and nothing very exciting actually happens.
Submerged in its simplest form is a third-person adventure game with some platforming elements. Core gameplay revolves around using Miku’s fishing boat to traverse the sunken city in order to find the supplies she needs to help her brother. These supplies are always located at the top of tall buildings and so we must help our protagonist reach the summit, but this is where things taken an even bigger turn for the worse as we are introduced to the game’s platforming mechanics. Quite frankly, climbing in Submerged is a bit of a joke. To scale a building, the player simply points the left analogue stick in the direction they want to go in, which translates into Miku shimmying across ledges, climbing up drain pipes and ascending ladders. You may think this seems easy and simple to pick up, but this is where another hindrance comes into play: Submerged’s controls are slow, sluggish and unresponsive. Not only does Miku move at the speed of a toddler, but she also appears to weigh the same as a sumo wrestler despite looking rather slim. She is slow as well as lethargic to the point where sometimes she doesn’t perform the input we selected on our controller. The poor controls often affect the boat too, which left us annoyed as Miku pointed us in a direction we hadn’t intended to be facing. To make matters even worse, we experienced issues with the game’s camera too. It becomes a big handicap when the camera gets in our way, occasionally fixes at an odd angle and we have to readjust our movement, and sometimes completely blinds us and we can’t see where we’re going. Overall, the minute to minute gameplay is dull and uninspiring, which led us to getting bored with the game after only an hour. Submerged tasks you with doing the same thing over and over again, and when those assignments are already bland and frustrating the first time around, the game becomes its own worst enemy very quickly. The climbing mechanics here can’t hold a candle to Assassin’s Creed or even Uncharted, and when those very procedures are at the core of your game, you know you’ve got a flawed product on your hands.
Fortunately, we were able to find a few things we liked in the game’s presentation. Firstly though, Submerged’s graphics are on the whole, quite poor. Apart from the buildings themselves, textures are of a low quality, the draw distance is lousy and despite running on Unreal Engine 4, is overall a game that looks like it belongs in the previous generation. Don’t get us wrong though, despite the disappointing visuals, we can see that this world has potential. It’s a rather unique setting and with a larger budget the game could have looked spectacular. To complement the setting, composer Jeff Van Dyck has done a fantastic job with the soundtrack. The piano sounds we hear set the tone and mood perfectly, with a feeling of isolation and loneliness, but also a sense of mystery and discovery in this strange sunken city. Submerged’s audio is by far its best quality, and it’s a shame that such a good soundtrack found itself in a very flawed game.
Throughout our two hour playthrough of Submerged there was unfortunately one problem that we encountered almost every two minutes, and that is to do with how the game actually runs, which can only be described as a complete train wreck. The game paused and crashed on us multiple times, and along with an unstable framerate, created an unenjoyable experience straight from the off. The hitching got even worse once we unlocked a boost mechanic for the boat, which upon use, left us with a static screen for about four seconds after a few seconds of usage. When you combine all the problems we’ve previously mentioned with the amount of stuttering and crashes we encountered, it’s easy to see why we had little to no fun.
Submerged can only be described as a huge disappointment that squandered its potential thanks to some terrible design decisions and being let out the door far too early. Its story is laughable at best, we couldn’t muster up any care for the main character Miku and gameplay itself becomes a drag very quickly. The controls are dreadful and the core mechanic within gameplay, the climbing, is clunky and unresponsive. While the soundtrack is fantastic, it isn’t enough to make us ignore the glaring problems the game has in terms of performance. Barring Assassin’s Creed Unity upon its release, we cannot think of a game that has run worse than this. Add all these issues together and you get a deeply troubled game that we wouldn’t recommend to anyone. Submerged flounders around gasping for air, but its umpteen flaws mean you won't be in any rush to throw it a life ring.