Submerged: Hidden Depths – hands-on with this deeper sequel

The Stadia is set to lose an exclusive next month, with Submerged: Hidden Depths setting sail for horizons new. The original Submerged – released in 2015 – arrived to mixed reviews but having spent an hour with this sequel (a restriction of the embargo) it’s safe to say it’s far truer to the developer’s original vision. Between the two, developer Uppercut Games also produced the underrated City of Brass and this diversion also seems to have benefited Hidden Depths.

True to its name, Submerged: Hidden Depths takes place in a flooded city. Not only are buildings partly submerged – providing a striking backdrop of colossal skyscrapers – but they’re also coated in an ominous black goo. Heroine Miku can harness nature to restore balance, turning said goop into plants and vines. But to achieve this, exclusive glowing seed pods must be discovered first and safely transported, occasionally via ropes and pulley systems.

We’re in open-world (open-ocean?) territory once again, with a sunken ornamental dome – complete with stained glass windows – acting as a hub. From here, Miku and her brother can set sail to just about anywhere. Comparisons with Zelda: The Wind Waker aren’t entirely off the mark, although Hidden Depths has a bigger emphasis on traversal, sliding along ledges and climbing ropes while on foot.

Miku’s telescope is used to highlight nearby locations and items of importance – everything from towers, which mark more objects on the map, to boat upgrades. A record of discovered landmarks also features, making it slightly easier to navigate the ocean when returning home.

Indeed, collectables are used as a driving force to explore and go off course – you may spot some unfamiliar wildlife in the distance, prompting a detour. The main menu keeps track of encounters, backstory-expanding diaries and more. There’s also a photo mode – referred to as a postcard mode – in which the camera can be panned. A sneaky way to find collectables, perhaps?

While locations as towers aren’t particularly exciting to traverse, key locations – which house the valuable seeds – feel lived in, with remains from survivors scattered around. There’s a degree of retro flair, with record players, digital alarm clocks and other past-world tech adoring centrepieces. Similar treasures can also be reclaimed with the boat’s line and then displayed within the dome.

You’ll soon notice that the boat’s physics are rather unrealistic – it carves through waves effortlessly and turns on a dime. This does, however, make it a breeze to steer. Technical issues are more worrying, such as the occasional stutter and some scrappy textures. On the whole, though, the world is inviting – an elegant combination of blue skies, glistening water, and a piano-lead musical score.

It’s too early to tell if a lack of combat will diminish appeal, but what we’ve played so far is promising. Miku mentions early on that she’s keen to explore her powers, and this alone should be enough to propel the story along. Hopefully, PlayStation owners won’t be suffering from post Horizon Forbidden West open-world fatigue by the time it arrives next month. Xbox owners looking for something similar should keep it in mind.

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