If there’s one thing that can be considered an adventure game staple, it’s fighting. Submerged is 100 percent combat-free. Perhaps the most surprising thing is how well it works, even if the game is really short.

A Pleasant Dystopia

The story of Submerged unfolds against an all-too-common dystopian backdrop. The environment you set out to explore is littered with remnants of a long-gone civilization not unlike our own.

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Unlike other games set in a post-apocalyptic future, Submerged is bright and colorful. The typical grays and browns meant to evoke some kind of feeling of hopeless in the player are instead swapped for bright blues and greens. In a game focused almost solely on exploration, a bright palette is great for making the mostly abandoned environments feel welcoming and fun to explore. The short time I spent in Submerged’s world was beautiful.

A Touching, If Confusing Tale

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It’s hard to tell you much about Submerged’s story, as it’s somewhat open to interpretation. You take on the role of Miku, a young girl who finds herself needing to care for her grievously wounded brother. The story unfolds through short cutscenes that play each time you find an item with which to help your brother.

I won’t spoil what happens—because I’m a nice guy, thank you very much!—but the more time you spend searching out ways to help you brother, the more you come to put yourself in Miku’s shoes, to ask yourself how she must feel going through this ordeal. By the end of the game I was moved by her selfless attitude, it’s sweet.

It’d be nice if the spoken segments were at least subtitled in English, as they’re in a made-up language for the game’s sake. In addition to this, there are collectibles designed to expand on the story, but they’re told in the way of hieroglyphic-style drawings. Some I could understand, while others eluded me.

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Mechanics

There’s not much to Submerged, mechanically, so it’s really important that they nail it, and boy, did they. As its title would suggest, Submerged takes place in a city that has long been flooded. As such, the gameplay is broken into two major pieces: traveling by boat, and climbing structures peeking out of the water’s surface.

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Using your boat use what now seems to be universally agreed-upon driving controls. If you’ve driven a car in any modern title, you’ll be able to handle your boat with ease. Once you find a structure you want to climb, you’ll hit X to transition from your boat to dry land. Oddly enough there’s no animation there—the screen briefly fades to black and you’re on land. Climbing is as simple as holding a direction and moving toward what you’d like to tackle. Each area has pretty obvious environmental cues to let you know what you can climb on. In the time I spent playing Submerged I never encountered any issue climbing or descending. The game’s mechanics are surprisingly well polished for such a small title. Assassin’s Creed could learn a thing or two about how to make fluid climbing mechanics from Submerged.

Visuals

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Submerged is a pretty game. It’s not the most beautiful game around, but it makes smart use of color and lighting to make a somewhat low-detail world really pop. The water is a beautiful shade of blue, and the way plants cling to and grow through structures really evokes a feeling of how long civilization has been gone from the world. While piloting my boat around I couldn’t help but look at things and take in details, wondering what purposes some of these buildings may have served, and what happened to the world that left it this way.

Submerged may not be as pretty as a game like The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, but it’s certainly not hard on the eyes by any stretch.

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Frame Rate

I hate to harp on this so often, and it’s not so much that Submerged suffers from a cripplingly bad frame rate problem, but there were enough stutters and temporary stops to note it here. For the most part, Submerged performs well on PlayStation 4, where I tested it out, but I noticed in boat sections the game would seemingly briefly pause to load additional assets.

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Submerged isn’t a game for everyone. If you find the idea of a game that’s more about evoking feelings and discovery than it is mystery intriguing, this is absolutely a game for you. After having completed the game, I felt myself wanting more. The core of Submerged is engaging, fun and interesting, and a good way to spend three hours, it just feels a bit like an appetizer.