Under the Waves is a narrative undersea adventure game from Parallel Studio and published by Quantic Dreams. Whilst it is open-world, the game has echoes of the story-driven gameplay associated with the publisher’s other titles such as Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls, and Detroit: Become Human.
Players put on the wetsuit of Stanley Morey, a deep-sea diver with oil company, Unitrench. In a bid to escape personal trauma, Stanley accepts a posting to an undersea base maintaining the oil company’s equipment on the ocean floor.
The game starts with Stanley taking a submersible to his new undersea accommodation. Once aboard the base, we see that the game’s almost cartoon, stylised visuals evoke a 1960/70s vibe of cathode ray tubes and boxy computer equipment.
The game is, at its core, about a man and his sub carrying out routine maintenance work whilst dealing with his grief. It’s an unashamedly slow burn of a game designed to absorb the player into an emotional journey.
Under the Waves is open-world with mission-based progress. Tasks are set by Stanley’s topside supervisor, Tim, via radio. Stanley and Tim know each other and a lot of foreshadowing regarding Stanley’s traumatic past can be gleaned from their conversations.
Collecting trash from the ocean floor can be used to craft items helpful in the game. You’d have thought, in keeping with the game’s environmental stance, that this would be more important than it is, but it isn’t. Stanley’s exasperated monologues did guilt me into collecting trash whenever I could, though.
At the start, the missions involve visiting the various derelict installations and performing some low-level puzzles to get various bits of equipment running. There are also some photo challenges with Stanley tasked to capture a few different undersea creatures in the wild.
At any time, Stanley can exit the sub and swim about using his Scuba gear. Whilst the sub has its own air supply, when swimming players have to take care to keep an eye on their oxygen supply.
The star of the show is the vast undersea environment that players can explore from the very start. There’s a lot of fun to be had piloting the submersible discovering wrecks whilst uncovering what Unitrench is up to. The ocean is teaming with life and the ocean floor is full of nooks and crannies. It is an absolute joy to just explore the environment.
The game has been developed in partnership with the ocean environmental group, Surfrider Foundation Europe. The intentions are no doubt honourable, but the game is sometimes less than subtitle with its environmental messaging.
For a game that’s all about piloting an undersea craft and swimming about, the controls do not feel as intuitive as they should be. A lot of this I think is down to the camera which has a peculiar tilt to it whilst traversing the beautiful underwater world.
There’s no combat in the game, but hit enough rocks (or sea mines) and the sub will implode. The screen flashes up a message of condolences from Unitrench, at the same time stating that a bill will be sent to Stanley’s relatives for the damaged sub. In case you haven’t realised by then, the oil company, Unitrench, are nasty people.
I love the retro-cartoony style of the interior and the beautiful ocean environment. The submersible, as well looks great. The story is poignant and somewhat eerie, giving me vibes like James Cameron’s The Abyss. At times the pacing was a bit too slow for me, but this is more of an interactive story than an action game.
Under the Waves is almost the undersea adventure that I’ve been pining for. It’s a little rough around the edges but still looks amazing. It’s a game that will certainly appeal to fans of narrative-focused titles like Don’t Nod’s Life is Strange and KeokeN Interactive’s Deliver Us The Moon.