Exploring an alien underwater world from the comfort of your home is the goal in this relaxing new indie treasure.
If you’ve only started to pay attention to video games since being locked in your home, you may be surprised to discover just how diverse they can be. Sure, many of them are loud, furious affairs that involve only shooting or punching, but there are plenty out there that take a less frenetic, more contemplative path – especially coming out of the so-called indie scene. Small independent developers, freed from the tyranny of having to make smash hits, can afford to experiment and In Other Waters typifies that approach.
In Other Waters boasts very little in terms of visuals, mostly just a map and some vector-style technical drawings, and all its dialogue is conveyed via text. Yet it still manages to look and feel utterly distinctive, and to conjure up a mystical underwater world in the imaginations of those who play it.
Story-wise, it’s pretty inventive: you play an unnamed artificial intelligence which has somehow assumed control of a futuristic diving suit, in which resides Ellery Vas, a xenobiologst, who has been summoned to a planet called Gliese 677Cc by his friend and colleague Minae Nomura. In Other Waters opens with you taking control of Vas’s diving suit, so you must work out its capabilities and how to master its quirky control system.
You soon discover that the suit can hold samples of marine life and deploy them (via dragging and dropping on the touchscreen) on anything you find in the ocean. You can then summon a drone to take it back to Minae’s partially functional base, where samples can be analysed. Movement is somewhat laborious, as you can only follow a point-to-point path; movement points being revealed when you deploy the suit’s scanner.
The overall effect is to create a slow-moving, contemplative and soothing vibe, as Vas starts to unravel the secrets of the alien flora, fauna and microbes, which – even though described only by text and drawings – are clearly unlike anything found on Earth. Soon, puzzles start to emerge: Vas must work out how to upgrade the suit so that it can negotiate areas where the current is strong and, above all, he wants to find out what has happened to Minae.
Various samples collected from the exotic biology have specific effects, such as persuading thick stalks to move out of Vas’s way or causing stalks to grow on mini-underwater islands, thereby sheltering the suit from the currents. This means you have to pay close attention to the conversations you have with Vas, or head-scratching is likely to ensue.
The music and ambient sounds deserve a special mention, since they generate an evocatively calm aura, but there is plenty of subtle ebb and flow within the game. A change-up occurs when Vas works out how to head to a new area of ocean in pursuit of Minae, but finds it oxygen-depleted and inhospitable; luckily, the suit automatically returns Vas to base if it is in danger of shutting down.
Typically for an indie game, In Other Waters isn’t massively long – you wouldn’t expect it to be, for not much more than a tenner – but it proves to be absolutely ideal self-isolation fodder. Effectively, it functions as a catalyst for your imagination to whisk you off to a mostly serene and utterly fascinating underwater alien planet, where you will find some of the most soothing, ASMR-style escapism imaginable.
If your self-isolation environment turns out to be annoyingly hectic, In Other Waters should prove to be the perfect, calming antidote to that. It will certainly open your eyes to the wondrously diverse joys that indie games can offer.
Gamers have long been aware of how cathartic, and good for mental health, cleverly designed games can be. Now is the perfect time for those who, for whatever reason, never played games to discover that, too.
In Other Waters Nintendo Switch review summary
In Short: Minimalist adventuring that’s original, clever, and soothing – and a perfect example that gameplay and atmosphere is always more important than high-tech graphics.
Pros: Engrossing atmosphere created by only the most minimal of visual elements. Beautiful music and slow, intelligent gameplay.
Cons: Sometimes only hints when it should steer you more insistently. Some elements only work with the touchscreen.
Formats: Nintendo Switch (reviewed) and PC
Publisher: Fellow Traveller
Developer: Jump Over the Age
Release Date: 3rd April 2020
Age Rating: 12
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