The original Submerged was a remarkable game, if a divisive one. It set out with the singular goal of crafting a relaxed yet thought-provoking experience, as you explored the submerged ruins of a climate change-affected city and played witness to a bittersweet story of survival and togetherness. Some found it boring, or that it fell short of its abundant ambition, but for others—myself included—it hit just the right spot. A peaceful respite from the real world that also encouraged reflection on it.
In a lot of ways, Submerged: Hidden Depths feels like a direct response to the first game’s harsher critics. It presents a bigger, more detailed, more beautifully-realised world to explore, with more things to see and do. It’s still a combat-free, failure-free experience, but with more of a puzzle-solving touch to the game design. The usual “bigger, better, more” approach to sequels might sound like the worst thing you could want for a game as meditative as Submerged, but Hidden Depths manages to do that without ever losing sight of what made the first game so special to begin with.
It’s still a game that, first and foremost, is about the relaxed exploration of a beautiful (if solemn) world, as you boat and climb around the ruins of a sunken city in search of answers. This time around, you’re looking for the mysterious seeds that will help cleanse a strange corruption that’s running through the plant-life, but the specifics of what you’re actually looking for are almost tangential—what makes Submerged tick in the moment is that simple, satisfying loop of nautical exploration, Uncharted-style climbing, and plentiful opportunities to bask in the bittersweet wonder of this world. That remains fundamentally at the core of Hidden Depths, too.
The difference is that, now, there’s a bit more to that exploration. The ruins you climb are still mostly linear, with clearly-defined paths, but they have more opportunities to step off the beaten track in search of diary snippets that flesh out the backstory or tokens that unlock new cosmetic options for your character. A light puzzle touch means you sometimes have to find a way to open the path forward before you can climb it—these puzzles are never challenging (nor are they meant to be), but they do a good job of making that navigation feel a little more involved. There are collectibles to find, too, like ancient relics lost beneath the waves and flowers that you can use to decorate your home base.
The story picks up pretty much where the first game left off, with siblings Miku and a now-healthy Taku searching for a new place to call home, and finding themselves drawn to another sunken city covered in corrupted plant life. It’s a place full of its own mysteries—not least of all, why an infection on Miku’s arm seems to resonate with this corruption and give her the unique ability to heal it—but, like Submerged before it, Hidden Depths is less about a roller coaster of twists and turns and more about using its minimalist narrative style to help establish mood and theme.
Hidden Depths is Submerged but with more of it, and with much higher production values, too. The fairly simple character models of the first game give way to far more detailed, higher-fidelity ones here, with a lot of attention on facial expressions. The ruins are more varied and intricate in their designs, as are the many animals you encounter along the way. But perhaps most impressive of all is the water: crisp and clear, sometimes a little murky when it needs to be, with the sort of reflectivity that lets a late afternoon sun just drench the whole world in atmosphere. I’m not normally one to go on about “good graphics”, but Hidden Depths is so clearly built with the aim of retaining the same general art style and mood of the first game but with the polish dialled all the way up.
It works because, as much as it’s a “bigger, better, more” approach to a sequel, Hidden Depths it never feels excessive or like it’s just about pushing bigger numbers for the sake of it—a trap that far too many sequels fall into. Everything here, from the more pristine visual finish to the way the relics you dredge up help paint a picture of the world that was, helps to build up that atmosphere that made the first game so captivating: peaceful, serene, a little melancholy. There’s a serious warning tucked just beneath the surface, but it’s also a game that wants you to just enjoy being in the moment and find a piece of peace. It’s that atmosphere that made Submerged so memorable, Hidden Depths never loses sight of that.