I used to abhor water levels in video games. It started with Super Mario Bros., and the dodging of bloopers partnered with the slow, floaty movements. But games like Soma and Subnautica taught me that water can be amazing, terrifying, and extremely fun to explore. That’s why, when I found out about In Other Waters, I knew I had to give it a shot. Even with its minimalist design, it promised great mysteries, and answers to those mysteries, if you were willing to keep going deeper.
In Other Waters is a an adventure game with a heavy emphasis on exploration, but with an interesting twist: the entire perspective is that of an instrument panel. Everything is extremely minimal—the ocean is represented by a topographic map, flora and fauna by blips, and your UI looks like a complicated speedometer. This makes controls a little obtuse when you first come across it. Instead of a tutorial, or even a guide, you are requested by your human operator to perform functions. There was quite a bit of fiddling before I even discovered how to move.
Strangely, there’s a bit of charm to the fiddling aspect of In Other Waters. It feels like you’re manipulating a machine you’re not quite familiar with. It’s slightly unintuitive, and that’s probably by design. Unfortunately, I found myself struggling with the controls all the way up to the last few hours, which exacerbated the slightly sluggish pace of the gameplay.
In order to move to any location, you have to scan it two ways: a general scan, and then a precision scan. This goes for most things in the game, from flora and fauna to messages left behind for you to discover. But the scanning to move bit is what really gets tedious after a while. Though the delay in moving is used to a bit of an effect later, where oxygen is running low, or toxic substances threaten you, I wish the movement was a little more streamlined. On top of that, despite its heavy emphasis on exploration, you’re stuck navigating only to certain nodes.
There are no enemies in In Other Waters, unless you count the aforementioned hazards. The only other enemy you have is time—oxygen and power runs out, so you have to explore with a purpose. You can collect samples for various reasons, including cataloguing purposes, but one of the most important is for resource replenishment. Some samples are better for restoring oxygen, and some for power. You can also take samples back to your base to study.
In Other Waters has no in-game art, except for the instrument readout. But it still does a good While it does a good job invoking general nautical feel through color and sounds. I really felt like I was exploring an alien world, even if some of it was up to my imagination. Despite the immersion In Other Waters managed, I never felt as vulnerable and scared as I did in Soma or Subnautica. But In Other Waters did manage to invoke the same sort of drive for exploration, and to discover the truth.
It turns out In Other Waters’ minimal art style does not hinder its ability to tell a good story. Its story is told through simple mechanics, and these minimal graphics. It doesn’t hurt that the writing is superb , and really helps create a mental image of these undersea mysteries you’re only able to see a topographic representation of. Animal are blips, and vistas are mere paragraphs—but the imagery the in-game text invokes is substantial and sometimes haunting. There are scenes I have very clear mental images for, despite having no art associated with them. I won’t get into any spoilers for the story, but it had me curious from beginning to end. I really loved the journey, but I do feel like the ending felt a little flat.
Completing In Other Waters feels like a linear path, but there is some possibility of continued play past when the credits roll. That isn’t to say that you go in a straight path in the game itself. You will have to find upgrades to proceed, so it has a bit of a backtracking metroidvania feel. And for completionists, there are things to find off the beaten path
In Other Waters ends up feeling like a bit of an experiment in game design and storytelling, but it’s a successful one. Great writing coupled with good sound design and a wonderful soundtrack make for a pretty compelling and immersive experience, even if the graphics are lines and dots.
In Other Waters is available on April 3rd for Windows and Nintendo Switch.
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