There are certain games which don’t really feel like games at all. Not in the traditional way anyhow. Submerged: Hidden Depths is one such example, which takes away a lot of the stresses and strains that the player would usually encounter, entirely on purpose.
This “relaxplorathon” game is set among the ruins of a flooded city, where the highest points poke above the waterline to create a hauntingly beautiful skyline. You play as both Miku and Taku, siblings who are exploring their new world which has been overrun by “The Mass”. Miku possesses a power which proves to be the main weapon against the black plant, but at the same time Taku is concerned about its effect on the pair’s wellbeing.
Although there is a story that is told in Submerged: Hidden Depths, it’s done so with delicacy and at a gradual, relaxed pace. The campaign is advanced by hunting down several seeds which are scattered around the world and are then used to regenerate whole areas in the fight back against the black plant.
You can approach retrieving these seeds in any order you wish, after setting out in your small boat from your new home in the centre of the map. After you retrieve each one, a further fragment of the narrative is revealed.
A key element in Submerged: Hidden Depths is the fact that there is no combat. Which means you can’t die. This is certainly a surefire way to provide a relaxing gaming experience, and instead exploration is the order of the day. In light of the first game – Submerged – coming in for some flack around a lack of stuff to do, there is a fair bit to discover this time around.
It’s a bit odd that floating arrows direct you to the entrances to the areas where seeds can be found, in a game which otherwise gives you no real steer in terms of what to do and when. I have no major issue with this, but it doesn’t quite fit with the theme in the rest of the game.
When you make landfall, Miku and Taku prove to be extremely nimble. Climbing buildings, swinging from vines and zipping up cables are just some of skills they possess; all of which would make Lara Croft very proud indeed. However, fitting in with the overall theme, the platforming is kept stress free thanks to jumps being performed automatically rather than relying on the player to execute them successfully.
Apart from your main objective of collecting the seeds, there are also a whole host of other things to see and do. There are relics to find, boat upgrades to plunder (which increase your boost bar) and lookout points to scale which reveal all nearby items of interest, to name but a few.
There are also journal entries to track down, which reveal more about the world, alongside landmarks to visit and flowers to collect. The relics and flowers you find can be used to spruce up your home space back at base. Each seed site will also house nine pieces which form either a new costume, hair style or boat theme which can be changed from the game menu.
You have a few key items at your disposal in Submerged: Hidden Depths. Your telescope will allow you to detect points of interest as you scan the horizon, which are then marked on your map for reference. You can fast travel from here, hopping around all the sites where you have successfully recovered a seed. Finally, you can access an index of everything you have collected, which should please the completionists out there.
Submerged: Hidden Depths looks really pretty, and is absolutely bursting with colour. The day/night cycle, along with changeable weather, really shows off all facets of the beautifully exotic setting. There are clear themes to the different areas you’ll explore, from industrial settings to more urban areas. It all runs pretty smoothly on the whole, with only a second or so of lag very occasionally where the rendering needs to catch up.
I also love the fact that the siblings speak in their native tongue, which isn’t English. This adds to the sense of mystery and intrigue that the almost alien world in Submerged: Hidden Depths exudes. There is also undeniable joy in skipping over the ocean waves as you set sail across the vast waters which envelop the city. You’ll almost inevitably get distracted by your curiosity for your surroundings.
Your journey is further backed by a beautifully simple, almost haunting soundtrack. Lots of piano melodies punctuate your adventure, and absolutely hit the relaxing nail on the head. It really is lovely to listen to.
Submerged: Hidden Depths is an absorbing adventure which has leapt forward compared to the first game. However, due to the core aim of relaxing the player, it’s not a very challenging game. It’s also pretty short, especially if you seek out all the seeds to complete the story, ignoring other points of interest.
You would be daft to do this because there is much more to see and do in Submerged: Hidden Depths apart from the main story driven segments. I also found myself compelled to find everything in the game, because exploring was so enjoyable. The lack of challenge can be forgiven for the same reason. If you wish to, you can make use of the “Postcard Mode” to take some snaps and share them on your socials.
Put simply, Submerged: Hidden Depths nails its core aim. It’s an experience that plays more along the lines of an interactive art exhibit instead of a traditional game. That may not appeal to everyone, but it’s a slice of tranquillity we could all benefit from.
Submerged: Hidden Depths is available at the Xbox Store