Submerged: Hidden Depths Review
Submerged: Hidden Depths is an interesting proposition, promising a non-combat “relaxploration” adventure where you can’t die, allowing you to explore post-apocalyptic landscapes to your heart’s content without the stress of a radiated giant crab or robotic dinosaurs attacking you. You won’t even fall off ledges because of a badly timed jump!
In Submerged: Hidden Depths, you follow the adventures of siblings Miku and Taku as they explore an abandoned city to rid it of the Black Plant, an infestation poisoning the ruins and affecting the vegetation. Miku is imbued with the power of the Mass, the world’s energy that heals the land of its corruption. By purifying the seeds that connect the ancient city to the Dome, the siblings plan to purify the city to find their new home.
Horizon Zero Deaths
The biggest question you probably have about Submerged: Hidden Depths is how can you have a fully explorable world without the possibility of dying or killing something or someone?
You have the entire flooded city to explore via your motorboat and also by foot if you need to traverse through the ruins. Besides the main goal of your campaign to collect the seeds, the rest of your activities revolve around exploration and collect-a-thons.
There are no enemies that will attack you throughout your exploration, but you do encounter creatures and Remnants. They are merely shadows of the previous denizens of the city left behind after the cataclysmic purging of the city by the power of Mass – the energy of the world to rid it of corruption. There’s an eerie feeling when you encounter these entities and it kept my interest piqued to learn of what tragedy really befell this city.
I talked about not falling off ledges earlier, and that’s mainly because there’s very little to no actual platforming in Submerged: Hidden Depths. You direct either Miku or Taku with the directional pad, but you don’t control their jumps or climbing. You point and they just move, which can get really awkward at times.
On the other hand, traversing by water using the motorboat actually is one of Submerged: Hidden Depths’ best mechanics. Water traversal is quite smooth and the radar system allows you to find points of interest easily, while the telescope allows you to discover new areas.
Throughout the 4-hour campaign of Submerged: Hidden Depths, the experience starts to become a slog after a while because of this no-death policy. Exploring ruins becomes repetitive as everything is straightforward with no challenges or stakes knowing that you can’t die. The mazes offered are so simplistic, and it would have done the game well to make it more challenging to shake things up a bit.
A few of the areas have some interesting level design as they combine both boat and foot traversal to complete, but overall the level design is just tedious, and if you’ve seen one ruin, you’ve seen them all.
Around the last hour of the campaign, we’re introduced to a “boss” of some sort, if you could even call it that. While it added a bit of atmospheric dread to the overall no-stress experience, I felt if nothing can kill you, why add this aspect? In a strange way, it adds a bit of ludonarrative dissonance, creating a conflicting message to make the story work. Do they betray their promise of no death and no killing to add tension?
Finally, I felt that Submerged: Hidden Depths could’ve been better with you controlling Miku the whole time when on foot and Taku maneuvering the boat. There are times when you control Taku, but as he doesn’t possess the power of Mass, it feels that he’s just been shoehorned into the game without anything new to add, except for him to be controlled during the random collect-a-thons where you don’t even get cosmetic items for him.
I was curious about Submerged: Hidden Depths‘ “postcard mode” seen in the pause menu, but it’s really just a creative way of saying “photo mode”. The term seems to be quite apt because you’re basically just engaging in a collect-a-thon while exploring some of the picturesque landmarks discovered in the game. If there’s really a way to describe it, “relaxploration” is perfect.
Once you’re done with the main storyline of Submerged: Hidden Depths, the post-game is all about completing collectibles, easily adding another 2-3 hours of gameplay as you explore every nook and cranny of the small world. You can also return to previously explored areas to clean up cosmetic items and flowers to decorate the Dome, which is the perfect time to do so because if you deposited the seed to its proper place during the campaign, you’re whisked away back to the Dome, not letting you continue exploring the place while you were already there to begin with.
In Submerged: Hidden Depths, you get a lot of the basic open-world mechanics such as improving your motorboat’s boost function by collecting parts and even more decorative items in the form of relics along with outposts that expose available collectibles in the vicinity that you’ve missed with your telescope akin to a Tallneck or an Assassin’s Tower.
Personally, the only collectible in Submerged: Hidden Depths I was remotely interested in was the diary entries that chronicle the history of the city and why there are no living beings in it. It tells the story of the “Big Man” who empowered the population of the city and rejected their leaders and gods by utilizing the seeds to power “ancient technology”. Even after collecting them all, I still wanted to know more about the backstory of the world. It’s as if the more interesting part of the game involves a story that we don’t experience and I’ve seen this trope so many times in indie games that I’ve lost count.
What We Liked:
- Intriguing world where its lore is hidden behind the collectibles you find.
- Boat mechanics are polished and water traversal is smooth.
What We Didn’t Like:
- Repetitive main campaign activity that doesn’t provide a lot of variety.
- Restrictive movements to be able to deter injury and death.
- Because you can’t die, there are no stakes involved with the characters.
- Strange button mapping especially with the map.
Verdict: Wait For It.
Submerged: Hidden Depths sticks to its game promise all the way in its brief 4-6 hour journey, offering a violence-free adventure that stops at just the right time before it completely loses the player. While there are many interesting mechanics involved with this game, we’re given a bare-bones experience overall and I actually hoped for more of the story over than the game I was playing.
The problem with the entire low-stress proposition of Submerged: Hidden Depths is that there’s really nothing motivating me to continue. It’s difficult to get behind the characters as the game is mostly bereft of conflict even if the text keeps suggesting to us that there is something at stake.
*Submerged: Hidden Depths was reviewed on a PS5 with a review code provided by the publisher.