Walking simulators have been fairly controversial recently. Between the questionable behavior of those developing some of them to the general discussion of whether walking simulators count as a game, the concept has been a point of contention. It is also an increasingly popular genre as more games tote the no-combat, no-death style of game. Enter Submerged, a game that prominently describes itself as "combat free." Submerged, at first glance, seems different from most other walking simulators. You do not have a single path, instead requiring you to explore a fairly open landscape, and you don't just walk. You have to climb and traverse the landscape to find exactly how to get to where you need to be. Do not be fooled though this is still a walking simulator. There is no lose condition except quitting and shutting off the game, there is no way to die, and it is fairly easy to maneuver the world. But is this a good walking simulator?
Well, it's pretty. This is fairly common in walking simulators, though Submerged seems to take it farther, making the environment not only appealing but fairly original. The world you inhabit is entirely submerged in water, following an apocalyptic flood. You play as a young girl who is trying to care for her brother, who is injured. At the same time, a virus of sorts is spreading, including to the player character. You occasionally can see infected individuals looming in the distance. The setting has modern buildings and architecture but decrepit in very unique ways, covered in moss and plant-life. It makes it truly unrecognizable unless you focus on it. You can also occasionally see ocean life leaping out of the ocean, which was my favorite part personally. All of this depicted along with a beautiful soundtrack.
The story is told in a unique way. There is no dialogue and no real cutscenes, instead telling the backstory in vague pictures. You can gather most of the story pretty easily from these, and while not complex, it does make you feel for the characters. To unlock more story, you not only have to find the key item, but can also find what my friend—who watched me play—affectionately referred to as "shinies." These will show you more pictures, which reveal more of the story, and gives you a few more objectives to work for.
Of course, where the game falls flat is the gameplay. Admittedly, the mechanics are unique for a walking simulator or even compared to a lot of modern games. You travel primarily by boat and then have to traverse landscapes by climbing and finding ledges. You spend more time hanging from vines and steering your boat than you do walking or running. That was a good choice as it sets it out from other games in the genre. But it still becomes a chore, and a problem, because it makes you start questioning things in the game. There isn't necessarily a real increase in difficulty, so it is very easy to get bored, which starts ripping you away from the immersion, a vital element of all games like this.
It is kind of baffling how much they advertised Submerged as combat-free, because the setup could really do with some combat. It wouldn't have to be intensive or even the main focus, but requiring the character to defend against something would have added more layers. Adding a sense of true urgency, such as a time limit, would have done the same. In fact, the lack of time limit seemed bizarre given you spent most of your time searching for normally vital items, like medicine. The advertisment totes this as a relaxing experience in which you have to traverse a world full of potential hostiles who just happen to never attack you to search for disinfectant for your brother who is dying—exactly what I think of when I think of something relaxing.
The ultimate issue is this: nothing in Submerged justifies the price tag. This game is on Steam and the Playstation store for $19.99. Twenty dollars for only a few hours of wandering an apocalyptic environment. It's a neat concept and you can see the work that has gone into making it look nice, but $20? There are games you can buy for that price currently that you can play for hours that are considerably more fulfilling. Whatsmore, half of this game starts to feel more like a chore, as it becomes more tedious. That is inexcusable in this situation. Price matters, and in this case, the price doesn't fit the product.
If Submerged were considerably cheaper, I might recommend it. Emphasis on might, because critically, you can experience the entire game by watching a Let's Play. There isn't much depth to the gameplay, so the main reason to pick it up yourself would be just to make sure you get to explore the entire environment, which while pretty, doesn't make for a fun experience, even with the added objectives. And of course, it is definitely not worth the price. This game would be more appealing as a $5 game to pick up and play in one night. It almost feels like someone needs to take the overworld of Submerged and add combat and more elements to it to give it fully gameplay, and then it would be worth $20. Right now though, it is not.
This game was obtained from the developer and reviewed on the Playstation 4.