Initially released as a Stadia exclusive in 2020, Submerged: Hidden Depths is finally releasing on console and PC. This relaxed adventure, sequel to 2015s Submerged, plays almost identically to its predecessor, so expect a relaxing trip across a flooded city as you sail, climb, and explore this post-apocalyptic world. But is this journey worth setting sail for, or is it best left at the bottom of the ocean?
We start off with the previous protagonists, Miku and Taku, a few years after their last adventure (as evidenced by the fact that Taku has clearly gone through puberty). Having dived into the original game before starting this review, I was surprised to find very little overarching narrative, with the events of Submerged not being referenced at all. That being said, if you’ve yet to play the first adventure of the pair, then starting with Submerged: Hidden Depths won’t impact your enjoyment of the game at all. The story isn’t front and centre and leaves a lot to the player’s imagination, but the basic premise is that a giant plant known as The Mass, a sprawling abundance of black, oozing vines, has absorbed what life remained of the flooded world’s creatures and replaced them with hollow shells of the animals they once were. As I mentioned in my preview of the game, these husks are quite unsettling, flourishing into poses of their final moments as you get close, before returning to their vacant state when you walk away. There is a lot of mystery here, with much of the exposition told through collectibles found throughout the world. It’s unfortunate then that in the roughly six hours Submerged: Hidden Depths took to finish, many of the questions I had about the world and what had happened went unresolved.
Miku and Taku travel the world on their boat, similar to games like The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, travelling to various areas that have escaped the flooding in order to find seeds that will purify the area of The Mass. The sections at sea serve as little more than to reach a new destination, or to hunt for collectibles (many of which are cosmetic changes for Miku), but I often found myself wandering the small map just to explore and take in the sights. On land is where most of the gameplay that progresses the story takes place. Here you’ll control one of the duo — predetermined by each explorable area — and hunt down even more collectibles and upgrades for your boat, or plant the magical seeds needed to rid the area of The Mass and progress the game. And that’s about it really. There is no way of failing or dying, as characters will automatically jump or climb in the direction you point them in, leading to a gameplay loop that some may find unsatisfying, whilst others will revel in the chilled out experience offered to them.
Controls are basic and accessible (including a one-handed layout that works very well) meaning anyone can enjoy their time in this submersed world without having to worry about fiddly control schemes or lengthy button combinations. Indeed, my entire playthrough could be described as “basic”, but that feels like I’m selling the game short. There is little in the way of branching paths — save for a few out of the way collectibles — although thanks to its short runtime, it never became stale.
The visuals are vastly improved across the board for this sequel; the animations looking smoother and more natural (a big step up from the jankiness of characters found in Submerged), combined with the gorgeous aesthetic, really elevates Submerged: Hidden Depths leagues above the original game. In particular, the ocean itself is beautifully rendered, making sailing between the man-made islets a sight to behold. More than once I stopped to just admire the simple beauty; whether it was atop a ruined cruise ship as the sun was setting or navigating my boat around a particularly dense section of The Mass. Never has a post-apocalypse world looked so beautiful.
The perfect accompaniment to the visuals is the incredibly orchestrated musical pieces. The melancholic piano and string compositions are truly fitting, echoing just how alone the pair are in the world, as are the upbeat tones when you return a seed to The Mass, or have the opportunity to play as the more spirited Taku. The audio further drives home that the game is meant to be a relaxing experience, and accomplishes this task with great effect.
To summarise, I enjoyed the short time I spent with Submerged: Hidden Depths. I wish I could have stuck with it longer, although with the simple puzzles and basic exploration, it felt like the perfect length not to outstay its welcome. Expect little to no action and you might be surprised at how touching the game can be!
Submerged: Hidden Depths (Reviewed on PlayStation 5)
This game is good, with a few negatives.
A simple adventure offering a short journey across a ravaged world, unfortunately the story doesn’t unfold as well as it could have done and the puzzles and platforming sections are very basic. Still, this is a relaxing trip worth setting sail for.