Deep Red Sea

HIGH Watching an enormous shark slowly drift by in front of me.

LOW The entire inventory system.

WTF Are these sharks drunk? They keep crashing into things.

There are moments when Submersed works. They’re few and far between, but when it shoves players inside a pressure suit and sends them clomping out into shark-infested waters, it can make for an intensely frightening experience. Sadly, the rest is so utterly mediocre that it buries these few good moments under an avalanche of generic gameplay.

Set on an offshore research facility which shamelessly recalls the film Deep Blue Sea, Submersed follows a rescue team member’s attempts to find out what’s gone horribly awry in the depths of the lab, and to hopefully rescue any remaining survivors. This is accomplished through basic exploration-based gameplay. Players walk around the hallways, read notes and find keys, occasionally speak with a tiny number of characters and easily dart past the rare shark.

So long as the main character is inside the outpost, Submersed is a strangely low-threat affair. There are a couple of environmental threats – flames bursting out of pipes, long swimming sections where an air meter must be minded – but by and large, players will have all the time in the world to explore the facility. Not that they’ll want to spend much time inside the game’s world – it’s a small, visually uninspired place.

Previous-generation graphics aren’t a problem if developers use them in a knowing way to make an artistic point, but Submersed looks like a title that’s been sitting on a shelf for more than a decade. The textures are flat and lifeless, there are no notable lighting effects to speak of, and the rare humans that appear human look like PS2-era FMV models.

The lack of polish extends to the level and quest design as well. There’s nothing fresh or interesting here — cut out a corpse’s eye to unlock a retinal-scan door, record a madman’s voice to activate a computer. It’s all gruesome, and it’s all extremely old hat. Each one of the chapters is set in a small location with just one or two objectives to accomplish. None of them is particularly taxing, and the campaign can be wrapped up in under three hours, provided the player gets a little lucky with shark attacks.

By far, the biggest contributor to Submersed‘s length is its terrible inventory system, which is ill-conceived on every level. Players have just eight item slots, with another eight available in rarely-seen item boxes. Flashlight batteries, key items, and tools all take up inventory slots, so most of my time was spent walking around with blood at the edges of my vision because I rarely had room to pick up health items.

Speaking of which, Submersed has five different kinds of health items, which is four too many considering the infinitesimally small amount of threat in each level. Other than easily-avoided flames and fan blades, the only dangers are small sharks moving through occasional patches of waist-high water, and they’re so prone to getting trapped on level geometry that I rarely had to use the two inventory-bloating weapons I was offered to ward them away.

All that aside though, the deep-sea sequences are genuinely unnerving. Each one follows a set formula of hopping into a heavy pressure suit and slowly clomping along some catwalks to a destination point.

Here the graphics and sound are at their best — everything is muted beneath the waves, and a giant shark appears mostly as a fleeting bit of movement off in the distance. The suit is armed with lights and a shark-detecting sonar, which would be more effective if using it didn’t attract the shark’s attention.

Players have to move from cover-to-cover as quickly as possible, then hunker down until the beast becomes bored and swims away before making their next dash. It’s intense, and captures the feeling of isolation and helplessness that the situation suggests. Unfortunately, it’s just ten minutes out of the entire game, and it’s been done better by other titles.

Submersed is a tragic mess of mistakes, and in addition to everything above, it’s buggy. I had several crashes, textures sometimes disappear from walls if one gets too close, and I’ve fallen through solid floors. If it wasn’t already obvious that one solid setpiece can’t prop up a mediocre game, Submersed should be all the proof that’s required.

Rating: 3 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Main Loop and published by Jaleo Indie. It is currently available on European PS4. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4 Pro. Approximately 4 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed.

Parents: According to PEGI, this game is rated 18 and contains Blood and Gore and Strong Language. There are dismembered corpses everywhere and some strong language, but other than that the game is pretty tame. No booze or drugs or nudity — just the aftermath of many, many shark attacks.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played the majority of the game with the sound off and had no difficulties. There are no visual cues to let you know when the indoor sharks are nearby, but I found that to be, at most, a minor inconvenience.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.

Daniel Weissenberger
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