Submerged: Hidden Depths
Submerged: Hidden Depths sees the light on Steam as a sequel to the blockbuster Submerged, nearly 6.5 years after the original was released. Having played both games back to back, I can confidently affirm that Submerged: Hidden Depths is a big step-up from the previous installment. Not only does it bring some brand new mechanics into play and upgraded visuals, but it also manages to re-capture the charm of exploring a half-sunken city similar to the one in the first game, while also building upon the slow-paced, almost meditative-like experience that is now a staple aspect of the series.
In both Submerged titles, you take the role of Miku – a young girl who arrives by boat together with her brother Taku in a ruined city, whose remnants have been partially inundated by water. Designed as open-world exploration games, you will have the freedom to explore the small, cozy map at your own pace and gather various collectibles by rowing your boat to navigate the deep waters or by climbing to the top of the buildings. In that regard, the two installments share the same set of core mechanics: Miku will use all sorts of ledges, ladders and drain pipes for her ascension, similarly to a Tomb Raider / Assassin’s Creed action sequence, but without any time pressure or other stress factors.
Her movements feel almost effortless, and you won’t even need to time the jumps – the game will automatically do that for you as long as you keep your controller button (or the movement key) pressed. Additionally, in Submerged: Hidden Depths Miku will also be able to use ropes in order to jump over an obstacle or pull down gates with her boat, activate elevators or slide down zip lines, and also carry stone spheres needed for certain puzzles.
In regards to the story, the two games can be played independently of each other, but experiencing the original Submerged first will provide some insight into the siblings’ story and a glimpse into how the cities came to be inundated. While in the previous game Miku’s goal was to gather supply crates that contained the necessary items to tend to her wounded brother, in Submerged: Hidden Depths the focus is shifted on Miku’s gift of cleansing the corrupted vegetation and restoring the balance of nature in their small world. With Taku being fully healed, the players can now enjoy exploring some of the locations with him instead of Miku, however which of the two characters one controls is fully scripted – the player cannot deliberately choose. The story is still revealed in snippets of 4 symbolic drawings but they are now accompanied by a descriptive text whose scope is to unravel the story, one paragraph at a time.
If you played Submerged and thought that there were a lot of collectibles to gather, then brace yourself, since Submerged: Hidden Depths offers more than twice the amount, totalling to around 250 individual items or pieces. Aside from diaries and boat upgrades, you can now collect ancient relics from the depths and special types of flowers from the main locations. These can then be displayed inside your home, in designated areas – a very nice-to-have feature, one that I enjoyed a lot. Miku can still use her telescope to scout the surroundings for these collectibles, but she can now also climb to the top of lookout towers, which will automatically mark all nearby collectibles on the map, making it easier to hunt down all the secret locations. Also, each of the major areas has a set of 9 pieces of style that you can gather, and which will unlock different boat cosmetics, outfits and hair types for Miku when combined. Overall, I really loved Submerged: Hidden Depths’s approach to collectibles: they finally stop being a meaningless pixel hunt; instead they’re used to provide more customization for the main character or personalize her home.
The environments of both Submerged titles are masterfully crafted, depicting a thick vegetation woven into the ruins of the city. But the visual detail in Submerged: Hidden Depths is absolutely astonishing: the water is so clear that it allows you to see glowing fish swimming beneath your boat or the reef covering the floor of the sea. The whole scenery blooms with colorful flowers when you carry a certain artifact, the walls of the buildings are covered in rose vines or soft moss. It’s an idyllic and wholesome picture, one of mesmerizing beauty.
Submerged: Hidden Depths is a must-play for those that enjoyed the first game even in the slightest. It’s longer (7-10h), better, richer in collectibles and surprisingly more gorgeous in terms of aesthetics. For those that didn’t play the original, I warmly recommend giving any of the two titles a try, if you’re that kind of a person who appreciates a completely relaxed experience, devoid of any violence or time pressure.