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Submerged: Hidden Depths – Review

Accessibility and game difficulty is a topic that rarely gets the front and centre mention in the gaming debate, but its a key part of a games enjoyment. Some games pride themselves on being hard as nails, even if that means some gamers will get frustrated and tired of the grind. Other games make things so easy, its a cakewalk and can risk some gamers switching off and disengaging. Submerged: Hidden Depths is on the surface a 3D platform adventure game – and it is – but it aims to put accessibility and ease at the forefront of everything it does. It is a bold choice that comes with pros and cons.

The day/night and weather cycles are absolutely stunning – you can watch the ruins go by with ease.

The sequel to Submerged, a game I enjoyed for its post-apocalyptic world setting and exploration, Submerged: Hidden Depths doubles down on all the things it wanted to be in its first iteration. You play as Miku and Taku – siblings with a boat trying to cure the world of a plant based evil brought on by an ecological disaster. The game is split into two distinct play types. Firstly, you’ll boat around the drowned city, picking up collectables in the sea, spotting animals and finding lots of docking places for mini puzzles or big city areas to explore. Once on land, the other half of the game is platforming around these ruins to put the plant goo to rest and bring back nature instead. Before we dive in, Submerged has a stunning setting and the sequel only improves on this. Monuments look stunning, the different areas have tonal and architectural shifts – the place feels lived in and begs to be explored. With a full day/night and weather cycle too, there were times I simply floated on the water, or stood on balconies and enjoyed the world view. So much of what made me time with Submerged: Hidden Depths memorable came from this, and the world lore you uncover.

Whilst boating is as simple as accelerate and steer, the platforming is also just a simple analogue stick and action button. You cannot die or end up stuck anywhere and you can’t trigger moves unless the game tells you to. This means Miku and Taku are very easy to control but it removes the satisfaction of pulling off jumps, traversal or climbs that you may have required some skill to pull off in a traditional platformer. The developers call this game Relaxploration and its a great descriptor. Each area is either almost completely linear (with easy to spot markings telling you what you can interact with) or looped buildings or sites that mean you can always go around again and take different paths to find everything. Just know that you will be on rails, at all times and the platforming has zero freedom whatsoever.

Everything with red paint on usually tells you what can be interacted with, so your every move is telegraphed.

My thoughts on this locked in approach varied over the course of the game. Initially things felt easy as I was just excited to explore. Then I was getting annoyed because some areas looked reachable but aren’t because no interactions were there. I started to get irked by just how telegraphed every area’s exploration was. Run here, jump there, climb this, collect item, zipline across. After a while, I came to appreciate the no fluff approach though. I think the ultimate way to tackle this is to provide both a freedom control setting and a linear almost QTE styled control scheme but I came to appreciate the ease of it more over time.

Story wise, Submerged is fleshed out over reaching several key areas and fixing the blight there. The collectables – almost 60 of them are written passages – also flesh out the backstory. It wasn’t the main hook for me, the world itself was, but our mute characters are likeable and the sentiments are strong in their actions. I also want to shout out the musical score which, whilst limited, really does a good job of selling the emotional moments. I particularly liked how when you found a seed to plant in each area, a plinky synth gets faster and fuller the closer the seed gets to its burial pod. I also very enjoyed trying to stay analogue in discovering new things to explore. There were monuments, wayposts, sunk treasure and so on and using my telescope from various points let me find things without cheating on a map. I felt like a low rent pirate in a good way.

Climbing and verticality is key to all the traversal in the game and makes the world feel lived in.

Enjoyable from beginning to end, I had a great time in Submerged: Hidden Depths sunken world. I do think a few players will really get stroppy with the on rails level design and control scheme. However, if you reframe your expectations that this is an exploration and collecting game and not a platformer, you’ll enjoy it much more.

Submerged: Hidden Depths
Final Thoughts
A fantastic setting ripe for exploring.
The boating and platforming is so very, very easy and simplified that anyone can play it.
Beautiful day/night cycle and graphical style.
Very little fluff - you'll be in and out in 6 hours.
Decent collectathon if that scratches your itch.
The lack of skill required will definitely be marmite for many. It's closer to a freeform walking simulator than a full blown platform adventure game.

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