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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

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