PC, PS4, Xbox One
Finally, Enslaved has a rival for the title of prettiest post-apocalypse in videogames. Submerged’s flooded world conjures some striking imagery: a towering suspension bridge looms ominously on the horizon, while a collapsed Ferris wheel pokes up from the depths. You’d expect a certain dystopian beauty from a studio founded by former Irrational Games artists, and Rapture is an obvious influence even before you stumble across an overt reference in the form of an island named after BioShock’s antagonist.
Elsewhere, the game takes its cues from the works of Thatgamecompany and Team Ico, borrowing more liberally but considerably less successfully. It’s a wordless tale of a young woman, Miku, who sails into this former metropolis seeking aid for her ailing younger brother, Taku. His stomach wound needs disinfecting and stitching, but first she must find food, water and a source of heat. Spying a supply drop on a nearby rooftop, she clambers up to retrieve its contents. Thus the structure for the remainder of the game is established. The process simply repeats nine times until Taku has everything he needs to survive. The background of the two siblings is steadily revealed in rudimentary pictographs after each mission, while optional collectables similarly tell the story of how the city came to ruin.
With no form of guidance, Miku ostensibly has to rely on her telescope to scout distant items, though she can simply sail around until she happens across the next important building, signposted by clusters of red blooms flourishing at its base. With no sense of peril, the climbing is monotonous, even before the spotty controls add a note of irritation, while attempts to mask the tedium with atmospheric music and arty camera angles fall flat. Your boat is equally unsatisfying: its motor fails sporadically, and while finding upturned hulls allows you to trigger a turbo of sorts, that only makes controlling it even more unwieldy.
Over time we grow to admire Miku’s courage and selflessness, not least as her sacrifice begins to take a clear visual toll, but you wonder why she can’t simply collect all she needs in one trip. And if her regular returns are enforced by Taku’s worsening condition, why is she otherwise free to explore? There are fleeting moments of visual pleasure, but the sight of a majestic humpback whale breaching the water seems increasingly desperate when it resurfaces repeatedly, as if prodding you to feel something. A host of inchoate ideas served with a helping of self-importance, Submerged threatens to plumb the emotional depths, but there’s little of value beneath its surface.
The game’s performance could generously be described as inconsistent, with the framerate chugging particularly badly when you’re racing rather than meandering toward your destination