The original Submerged released in 2015 to a lukewarm reception. Rather than jump straight into creating an improved sequel, armed with newfound feedback, developer Uppercut wisely chose to give it breathing space while working on other projects. This break was clearly beneficial â€“ Hidden Depths is a more enjoyable experience, arguably closer to the developer’s vision.
Set in a sunken city where only the tallest of buildings remain visible, you play as Miku and her brother Taku. The world is not only partly submerged, but also smothered by colossal black vines. Miku soon discovers the ability to restore balance, covering the ruined environments with colourful flora â€“ she is, quite literally, green-fingered. To save what’s left of the world, and create a new home in the process, Miku and Taku must locate eight seed pods and harness the power within.
It’s a quest they must face alone – the population has suffered at the hand of a mythical entity. The environmental storytelling has a slight ‘last day of Pompeii’ ethos, with vine-covered figures left standing in their final resting place. Cut-scenes are oddly fixated on Miku and Taku’s wellbeing; the story doesn’t have much of a middle, using the premise alone to keep it moving forward.
The precious seed pods are found within eight sizeable key locations spread across a small map, reachable only by boat. The boat is a speedy little thing, able to turn on a dime and get up to full speed quickly. This makes navigation a breeze, as does the fact that the locations are mere minutes apart. Because there are no Metroidvania-style upgrades, areas can be tackled in any order. While this open-ended approach suits seafaring, it does also make the difficulty curve considerably flat, with each location offering a near-identical level of challenge to the last. Each is roughly the same size too.
A telescope is used to discover points of interest, which are then added to a map. These include beacons and landmarks, such as the remains of a freeway and a ruined rollercoaster. Collectables play a substantial part, used to compensate for the lack of combat – this is a story-driven adventure, with no ‘Game Over’ screen to speak of. Around 200 collectables are scattered high and low, being a mixture of diaries, wildlife sightings, cosmetics for both Miku and the boat, and underwater relics from the past. For a fleeting five-hour experience, there’s a surprising amount to collect.
Locations are even specifically designed around collectable hunting, rife with optional paths that lead to a single collectable. Items can then be displayed back at the alluring sunken dome hub, which is where Miku and Taku automatically return to â€“ via a cut-scene â€“ the moment a seed pod has been used against a location’s source corruption. That’s to say, if you haven’t discovered every collectable in an area before taking the seed to its destination, a return trip is required.
Traversal forms a large part of the experience too, with Miku swinging on ropes, climbing vines, and shimming along edges while following a clearly marked path – anything that can be grabbed or climbed is highlighted in red. Platform jumping is handled automatically, reducing the sense of danger somewhat – there’s no need to worry about falling to a watery grave.
Occasionally the boat must be used to pull makeshift bridges into place, but these instances are rare. Outside of transporting a seed pod via pulley systems, and occasionally opening gates using pressure platforms, there isn’t much in the way of puzzle-solving. For an experience with no means for failure, this seems a missed opportunity to deliver the challenge it lacks elsewhere.
This does, however, make Submerged: Hidden Depths considerably easy-going. Its notable lack of violence makes it suitable for younger gamers too. This isn’t for those looking to challenge themselves, but to merely escape for an afternoon. A pity, then, that its moments of beauty and tranquillity are often marred by scrappy texture work and framerate stutters. Considering it launched on Stadia (as an exclusive) back in 2020 we did expect its rougher edges to be smoothed out by now. We can only assume it’s built on the framework of its ageing predecessor.
By all means, dip your toes- there’s nothing nasty lurking under the surface, making for remarkably smooth sailing. Anybody seeking a wild ride would be better off looking elsewhere.
Submerged: Hidden Depths is out 10th March on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series, Xbox One and PC.