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July 2022

Submerged: Hidden Depths

Platform(s): Google Stadia, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Uppercut Games
Release Date: March 10, 2022


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PS5 Review - 'Submerged: Hidden Depths'

by Cody Medellin on April 11, 2022 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

Submerged: Hidden Depths is a ‘relaxploration’ adventure that sees sibling duo, Miku and Taku, uncover the mysteries of a sunken city in a vast and vibrant world.

The original Submerged was released on the PS4 in 2015. At the time, we thought that the concept was great, but the lackluster story and a few other issues were enough to make the whole thing feel disappointing. The game did well enough to get a sequel in 2020 on Stadia. Fans of the first game will be happy to know that Submerged: Hidden Depths is now on a multitude of platforms, including the PS5, and this is a much better title than the original.

The opening cut scene introduces us to Miku and Taku, two siblings piloting a boat toward a dome in search of a new home. Miku has a gift where her right arm has vines, and she can grow flowers from there. She was exposed to the goo of a black plant that has overtaken the area and placed people in a frozen plant-like state, and her gift is proof that she survived. After discovering a seed that seems to power a cache of record players, she frees it from its plugs and returns it to its proper place, curing the black roots in the dome. With this knowledge in tow, the duo sets out to find the rest of the seeds and cure other plants.

While the game is technically a sequel to the original Submerged, you'd barely know that from the cut scenes. The backstory of the siblings doesn't cover any of the events of the first game, instead focusing on the current calamity and how the kids can't seem to stay in one place due to Miku's gift scaring everyone away. The only hint you have that the game is a sequel comes from the scar on Taku's stomach, which was a vital part of the first game's narrative.

Speaking of story, what you're getting here is more satisfying because this isn't a solitary journey. It isn't a co-op game, but seeing the interplay between the duo makes things less dour, even though there's no spoken dialogue between them. There's empathy in seeing the two of them struggle with their quest, and the ending feels right. By contrast, the city's backstory that you get from journal entries is compelling, but because there's a chance that you'll get the whole thing out of order, you will see the ending far before you're intended to. The impact and surprise are completely diminished by the time you get every illustration.

If you've played the first game, then you know how the gameplay loop goes. Using your telescope, you locate a point of interest, specifically one with a seed. You make your way over there with a boat and start the journey to find the seed and the area where it needs to be planted to cure the black plant. Along the way, you'll pick up journal entries to get the backstory of the city, flowers, and pieces to change your outfit, hairstyle, or boat cosmetics. In between that, you'll also scour the world to find parts to increase your boat's speed boost duration, lookout points to uncover more points of interest, and random junk to haul back to your dwelling for decoration.

One thing that players may notice is that you won't be fighting. You may see animals and fish, but they'll disappear in a puff of flower petals if they get close to you, and you have no means to harm them. The frozen people affected by the black plant may move when you approach them, but they don't go very far, and nothing they do would be construed as an attack.

Hidden Depths tries to do most of the platforming for you. You still need to move your character, but approach a gap, and you'll automatically jump. Approach the edge, and the game stops you from falling down. Go near some poles and vines, and you'll use them as if you're a platforming professional. On foot, the only time you'll ever use anything aside from the left analog stick for movement is when you pick up and put down objects with the X button.

What you have is essentially a walking simulator by way of a 3D platformer. The semi-automatic nature is good for those who don't platform well in a 3D space. The lack of enemies allows one to focus on a few puzzles , and the lack of a death state means more time spent exploring the world. The inclusion of fast-travel also speeds up things, so you aren't piloting the boat most of the time. As long as you remember that this isn't a typical puzzle/platforming adventure game, you'll be fine.

The campaign is rather short. If you're aiming for the seeds to progress through the story, it'll take a few hours in the afternoon to get through the main tale. Going after all of the collectibles adds an extra hour or two, depending on what you've picked up before and how thorough you are with exploring the world. The whole affair feels like it runs at a good length. Going on any longer would start to make the experience drag, and while there isn't anything else to do once you've obtained every item in the game, the experience feels worthwhile for adventure fans.

There are a few things with Hidden Depths that will give you pause. Capturing a seed and placing it at the correct spot immediately kicks you out of the area to jumps to the next cut scene back at your home. It works as far as ensuring you aren't wasting time by getting back to the boat, but it can be irritating for those who want to thoroughly explore the palace before leaving. It means having to make a second trip for cleanup, but that is a little less annoying thanks to the fast-travel option.

When viewing hotspots via the telescope, getting the game to stay targeted on a spot can sometimes be tricky; any slight movements away from a specific spot reset the recognition meter. Already discovered spots are fine to have on the world map but are annoying to see via the telescope, especially since it isn't immediately clear that you've already checked out that spot given the slight color difference for boat parts and relic hauls. Finally, the game doesn't map out the world as you travel through it, making it a chore to figure out whether you've already been in an area when you're searching for the final diary entry or boat part.

Graphically, the game looks gorgeous. You're still dealing with ruins that have a lived-in state, but the abundance of vegetation gives it a more inviting look. The texture work is good, and the reflections are of the basic screen-space variety, but it looks nice in motion if you aren't swinging the camera too wildly. The character models look fine thanks to the slight cartoon style, and they also animate quite well. The frame rate hits 60fps most of the time, and stutter is minimal, mostly occurring in crowded areas while you're speeding along. Even then, it lasts for a half-second at most.

The game sounds just as good as it looks. Voice work is minimal and done in a language that vaguely sounds modern, but you'll be relying on the subtitles to catch it. Most of the time, the audio gets drowned out by the soundtrack. Speaking of which, it wavers between soothing to creepy, depending on the mood, but it sounds excellent. Even when the tracks start to repeat, you'll be enjoying it too much to notice. The sound effects are where things are interesting, as they're played at an overall low volume compared to the music. Some things that would be constant, like the buzz of the motor, are barely audible, and it's absent from cut scenes altogether. That said, the effects kick in whenever you're near almost any collectible or important item, making for a good alert system if you're not the type to catch things visually.

Submerged: Hidden Depths feels like what the first game should have been. The main story is more interesting now, but the ancillary story lacks gravitas since the game can spoil the ending for you. The actual gameplay is easy for anyone to manage, which makes for an enjoyable experience. Some of the stuff you're collecting now actually serves a purpose, even if it's cosmetic. The experience is short if you're just going after the main storyline, but it feels just right. For those who want the equivalent of a walking simulator with more to do, Hidden Depths is well worth checking out.

Score: 7.0/10

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