Uppercut Games’ Submerged: Hidden Depths is a game about exploring a sunken city. It was originally released in 2020 as a Stadia exclusive and is now slated for general PC release on March 10th. I enjoy exploration games, so it was exciting to get an opportunity to play the first hour of Submerged: Hidden Depths and share my impressions.
Alone on the Waves
Submerged: Hidden Depths is the sequel to 2015’s Submerged, which tells the story of a young girl Miku as she scavengers for supplies to treat her injured brother Taku in the flood ruins of a forgotten city overgrown with vegetation. Submerged is a simple game. There are no enemies or combat. You explore the city and climb the ruins, but this gameplay is also basic. There are neither difficult platforming maneuvers nor labyrinthine pathways. Submerged is you and Miku, alone with your thoughts, floating adrift the graveyard of what must once have been home to scores of people and their bustling lives.
The strength of Submerged is its introspective atmosphere. Miku hasn’t come to this place to solve a mystery or change the world, only to make a life together with her brother. The story is entirely wordless. There’s no one else to talk to. All that remains of the history of the city and its people are a series of pictographs. You can sail to submerged landmarks and find old relics, but there’s nothing to tell you what they were for. Add all this to the strange fauna that seems both animal and plant and you begin to imagine what might have befallen the inhabitants. But it’s not Miku’s story and your picture is always hazy.
A New Beginning
With so many questions left to contemplate, I wondered how Submerged: Hidden Depths would continue Miku and Taku’s story. The sequel makes an immediately striking choice in giving explicit voice to the siblings’ thoughts with subtitled dialogue. The use of words and their precision heralds the beginning of a new, less lonesome chapter for Miku and Taku. They survived alone, and now it’s time to build a new life together. The use of dialogue also builds expectations for a more detailed investigation of the world of Submerged.
In Submerged: Hidden Depths, the mysterious vegetation that reclaimed the ruined cities and merged with animal life has turned black, afflicted by an unknown ailment. However, Miku has a gift, one that might allow her to heal this affliction if she can find and return the seeds of these plants to their rightful places. While Miku believes this is how they might build something new for themselves, Taku is wary of the vegetation. After all, the old world it covers now lies still.
Planting the Seeds
The gameplay of Submerged: Hidden Depths will be immediately familiar to anyone who played the original. Miku and Taku take their boat out to explore the ruins of a sunken city, this time in search of seeds rather than medicine. You can look through your telescope to identify and mark points of interest on the map, including landmarks, relics, vista points, and upgrades to the boat’s engine in addition to the seeds. Once you make landfall, you climb and explore in search of objectives or other collectibles. Taku joins Miku as a playable character, though handles identically. Like its predecessor, Submerged: Hidden Depths focuses on environment and exploration, encouraging you to stop to take in a vine-covered whale breaching or contemplate what where you now stand might once have been. If you enjoyed the simple, unhurried gameplay of the original, Submerged: Hidden Depths looks to provide a similar experience.
One new mechanical addition is carrying the seeds. While carrying a seed, Miku can’t climb, and so you’ll need to use pulleys and drawbridges to transport the seed to its destination. The pictographs telling the twin stories of the city itself and Miku and Taku’s journey return, and can be found in books lying around corners or on ledges. They’re not hidden in obscure places, and you can tag them on the map with your telescope. While the books don’t contain words, Miku and Taku comment on the fate of the city and its inhabitants, providing speculation and details. It looks as if Submerged: Hidden Depths plans to more deeply explore the story of this city—and the world itself—than its predecessor did.
Submerged: Hidden Depths has taken advantage of increases in graphics processing power since 2015 to make everything look better without losing the artistic elements that gave the original its visual appeal. Miku and Taku have sharper and more detailed designs and are much more expressive with their movement and faces. It’s a welcome addition given they speak an unknown (even if subtitled) language and Submerged: Hidden Depth is sparing with its dialogue.
Part of what gave Submerged such a great atmosphere was the city design. Viewed from afar, the tops of skyscrapers coalesce into an imagined skyline the way they do in real cities. However, up close buildings each have their own character. The new city in Submerged: Hidden Depths retains this design philosophy. A prefab office building evokes memories of bustling cubicles, while a sunken cathedral maintains an air of gothic majesty. The improved textures and water effects make the illusion even more vivid.
Submerged: Hidden Depths looks to build on the simple, introspective experience of the original with a deeper exploration of its world and characters. It doesn’t appear it will make major changes to the themes or gameplay, but if you enjoyed Submerged and want to see how Miku and Taku’s story continues, Submerged: Hidden Depths promises to show you the next chapter.
If you’re interested in seeing more early looks at games, check out our Previews.
Many thanks go to Uppercut Games Pty Ltd for early access to the PC version of this title.
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A veteran of Oregon Trail and Battletoads, Wes has been playing and talking about games for as long as he can remember. He’s down to try almost anything, and he especially enjoys games with gripping narrative experiences.