How long should a game be? Probably as long as the number of unique ideas the developer can string together in order to keep the player interested in progressing. If that sounds reasonable to you then Submerged should have ended after its first mission, because unlike most adventure games, Submerged hands you the same task time and time again with little variation beyond the size of the building you are given to climb.
As far as visuals go, I can say some very nice things about Submerged. The ivy-coated corpses of old clock towers and grand copper statues do some amazing things when lit up by the game’s dazzling day/night cycle. The apocalypse-hazed wildlife look as beautiful as they do terrifying when you see their lesioned bodies. Usually when you think “diseased marine animals” you don’t conjure up an appealing image, but the first time your boat is rocked by a spotty and glowing whale shark as she submerges from the depths you will see what I mean. And Submerged even has a “Postcard” option in the pause screen where you can maneuver the camera in all planar and rotational directions in order to capture that perfect postcard-esque shot.
For audio I’ll say that the music is complementary to the visuals in that it can be at times both tense and soothing.
Plot-wise the game runs on a simple errand-running scheme where you are gathering supplies for your sick brother. But each item is different from the last in name only, and thus every mission is a hunt completely indistinguishable from the last. Further backstory can be optionally revealed by locating drawings which tell a picture story into the history of the protagonist’s family and the sunken city. This will prove to be the only thing that motivates the player to continue playing the game, as you’ll soon see that the game-play does little to promote a desire for advancement.
Here’s where the review is going to sag a little bit. Submerged is a combat-free game, which is not altogether a terrible game-play choice. Too often games rely on battle as the only avenue for accomplishment, yet obviously there is so much more that can be made into a satisfying gaming experience. However, Submerged does little to fill any perceived gaps left by the lack of combat.
Your two main pastimes while playing Submerged will be boating, and ledge-climbing. Boating is the better of the two, as navigating the crumbling, drowned city at least gives a feeling of freedom and discovery. But the core of the game is scaling buildings, and it is a rigid and unevolving grind of finding ledges from which to climb up, climb down, or sidle along. Submerged could have benefited from the feeling of advancement that comes from a Metroidvania system of ability-acquisition, but instead it’s one big plateau of repeated tasks. You’re never going to want to see another ledge again after playing this game.
Submerged is a game that was touted for its somewhat unique lack of combat, and its “serene and relaxing game experience” that you could complete “at your own pace”. But all this turned out to be little more than synonyms for “lacking in variety” and “dull”. From the moment you start playing the game you’re given to the grind of ledge-climbing, with the only thing to spur you on being the mystery surrounding the affliction taking over Miku’s world. Yes, the game is fairly beautiful, but once you see the sunset and the barnacle-plastered whale a few times, you’re left with a whole lot of ledges to climb, and not much else. Though pretty, Submerged proved itself to be a game highly uninterested in providing much sense of advancement, variety or fun.