Under the Waves is a narrative adventure game that takes players on an emotional journey to the depths of the ocean and the human psyche. Developed by the French studio Parallel Studio and published by Quantic Dream, known for story-driven titles like Detroit: Become Human, Under the Waves aims to deliver a poignant tale of grief, loss, and redemption.
In this review, we’ll dive beneath the surface to explore what this melancholy underwater title has to offer. Set in an evocative 1970s retro-futuristic world, Under the Waves puts you in the role of Stan, a deep sea diver working for the mysterious UniTrench corporation. Still reeling from a family tragedy, Stan takes an isolated job maintaining underwater oil rigs, only to find his mental state deteriorating as disturbing visions begin to haunt his waking life.
Blending open world exploration, survival mechanics, and an emotional narrative, Under the Waves promises a compelling adventure. But does it deliver an experience that sinks or swims? Read on as we submerge into Under the Waves’ depths to examine its story, gameplay, technical achievements and shortcomings. With its rich underwater setting and heartfelt themes, this title aims for an impactful journey. Let’s dive in to see if it succeeds.
Splashing Around the Open Seas
Under the Waves invites players to explore its expansive underwater world at their own pace. As Stan, you have the ability to pilot your submarine Moon around the seafloor and navigate tight cave passages. Controlling Moon feels intuitive, with basic controls for moving forward, reversing, drifting, and boosting. The slower speed creates an overall relaxed vibe as you take in the tranquil beauty of the ocean depths. Outside of Moon, Stan can swim short distances himself before needing to refuel his oxygen tank. This slower method allows intimate access to admire the setting’s details.
As Stan completes his daily tasks assigned by the UniTrench corporation, the gameplay centers on maintaining oxygen supplies and solving environmental puzzles. Oxygen functions as a timer during claustrophobic sequences inside decaying sea rigs. You’ll need to scour rooms to locate spare oxygen sticks and vials to stay alive. While thrilling at first, the lack of real danger reduces the stakes. Even when the clock is ticking, you’re rarely at risk of suffocating before finding a way to replenish.
More rewarding are the light puzzles that have Stan manipulating machinery to progress further into facilities. With little hand holding, solving these problems through clever observation feels satisfying. Less enjoyable are the crafting mechanics, which seem excessive when Stan can complete most missions without complex preparation. Finding resources to cook up equipment upgrades that are barely essential turns collecting into a chore.
Between daily tasks, side activities provide welcome breaks from the story. You can discover Stan’s lost journal pages, photograph sea creatures, and search for hidden treasures. These detours encourage roaming the open waters at your leisure. However, clunky controls plague both exploration methods. When navigating tight spaces, the game often switches Moon’s controls to be inverse of swimming, leading to frequent accidental crashes. Out swimming, Stan’s movements feel loose and imprecise. Technical hiccups like clipping through the terrain also rear up occasionally, disrupting the underwater immersion.
While piloting snags and crafting stagnate at times, Under the Waves succeeds most when letting players soak in its aquatic ambiance. Lack of real danger means you can bask in the freedom of its seascapes. As an emotional journey, Under the Waves comes alive more through its visuals and audio than its gameplay systems. Technical issues float to the surface, but do little to dampen the overall joy of exploring its lonely oceans. With improved controls and puzzles, its open world could captivate even further.
A Melancholy Tale of Grief and Redemption
At its heart, Under the Waves tells an introspective story of one man overcoming profound personal tragedy. Haunted protagonist Stan grapples with immense grief after the death of his daughter Pearl. To escape, he takes an isolated job for the shadowy UniTrench corporation. However, isolation only causes his sorrow to fester, leading to disturbing visions bleeding into reality.
Through Stan, the narrative thoughtfully explores the complexities of the human psyche. Flashbacks flesh out Stan’s loving relationship with his wife Emma as they grieve the untimely loss of their child. Stan’s refusal to properly face his emotions drives a wedge between them, captured in strained long-distance radio chats. Their dissolving bond humanizes Stan’s poor coping mechanisms.
By escaping out to sea, Stan’s unresolved trauma manifests through chilling nightmares and hallucinations. As these grow more vivid, the line between dreams and reality blurs. Stan’s mental state mirrors the dark oblivion of the ocean depths, creating a melancholy atmosphere. Even small comforts like playing guitar become sources of anguish. Under the Waves leverages its setting as a metaphor for Stan’s inner turmoil.
The emotional core is enhanced by commentary on corporate exploitation of the oceans. UniTrench’s shady motivations are apparent in its environmentally harmful activities that Stan enables. His work has dire consequences realized in the game’s later chapters. This narrative turn feels fittingly impactful yet muddled in its messaging.
Under the Waves partners with the real eco activism group Surfrider Foundation to promote conservation. While admirable, frequent info dumps about pollution and habitat destruction awkwardly break Stan’s immersive perspective. Explicit themes around protecting marine biodiversity are better conveyed through the game’s rich environments, not forced dialogue.
Despite some heavy-handed writing, Under the Waves spins a poignant redemption story. Stan’s journey of clinging to isolation before confronting his demons head-on is relatable and cathartic. Even small story choices have emotional weight thanks to the strength of the melancholic atmosphere and Stan’s sympathetic characterization. While not perfect, Under the Waves’ sincere themes around grief and human connection ultimately shine brighter than its minor narrative missteps.
- Also Read: 20 Best FPS Games You Need to Try in 2023
A Feast for the Senses
Under the Waves immerses players into its melancholic underwater setting through evocative visual design and an enchanting soundtrack. While not without flaws, its overall artistic presentation brings its world to life.
The standout achievement is the jaw-dropping environments. Vast open ocean vistas convey the lonely tranquility of the deep sea, brought to life through the game’s handcrafted art style. Swaying kelp forests and vibrant coral reefs teem with life. Crumbling sea rigs encapsulate industrial decay. Each area feels distinct, from labyrinthine caves to the remains of a coastal village. These breathtaking seascapes are the true stars.
Complementing the environs is a retro-futuristic 1970s aesthetic. Stan’s submarine Moon looks straight out of a 70s sci-fi film. UniTrench facilities dazzle with sleek neon-blue holograms and circular control panels. Even small touches like Stan’s dive suit and equipment feel authentically crafted from the era. This artful art direction creates cohesion and enhances the uncanny atmosphere.
Less impressive are the character models like Stan himself, who move stiffly with unrealistic facial expressions that lack nuance during emotional moments. Coupled with distracting lip sync and odd pauses in dialogue, these visual issues break immersion during story scenes. Though environments stun, characters fail to match their level of polish.
Where Under the Waves finds consistent success is through potent audio design. Nicolas Bredin’s melancholic score expertly punctuates poignant story beats. Sweeping orchestral arrangements contrast the isolation of the open ocean. Haunting piano melodies echo Stan’s sorrow. Even ambient tracks provide relaxing listening outside of the game. Alongside the music, subtle ocean sounds like sonar pings and whale calls surround you, completing the illusion of being underwater.
While characters exhibit visual roughness, Under the Waves’ masterful environments, retro aesthetics, and evocative audio convey its haunted, heartfelt tale. Minor blemishes ultimately fail to undermine the sensation of staring wide-eyed at its breathtaking underwater vistas. This is a world built to envelop your senses. With some polish, its immersive qualities could truly be exceptional.
Rough Waters Ahead
While Under the Waves tries to stay afloat through its poignant story and immersive world, some leaks in its technical execution threaten to sink the experience. Over the course of playing, a laundry list of bugs rear their heads to hamper immersion. Though not game-breaking, these issues point to a lack of polish that couldn’t be patched prior to release.
The most common problems arise in the game’s audio and dialogue systems. Music abruptly cutting out mid-scene plagues several story sequences. Conversations repeat voicelines in a grating loop. The localization also feels sloppy – dialogue rarely matches mouth movements, as if it was recorded without lip syncing in mind. These glitches worsen during emotional moments, breaking the intended tone.
Visually, occasional animation glitches see characters clip through the terrain or props disappearing from the world. Underwater sections prone to a messy degree of screen tearing. While environments shine, characters and effects need refinement. Strange design choices like an unhelpful map and inconsistent vehicle controls further frustrate. Excess crafting options bloat the game with unnecessary mechanics.
Most frustrating are the pervasive quest glitches. Mission objectives sometimes fail to register as complete, requiring frustrating backtracking or reloading saves. At one point, a game-breaking bug prevented an alternate ending from triggering, forcing a second playthrough. Situations like these betray a lack of playtesting and optimization.
Problematic as they are, none of these technical flaws truly shattered the experience. I remained invested in seeing Stan’s tale through, even when forced to sit through repetitive dialogue or wrestle with uncooperative controls. However, the accumulation of small issues chipped away at my patience over time. Under the Waves’ strengths buoy it above being sunk, but its unpolished edges dredge up annoyances.
With more time in the dry dock smoothing out problems, Under the Waves could have launched in a more seaworthy state. As is, players will need to brace themselves for some turbulence on its voyage. Yet its heartfelt soul stays intact for those willing to weather the rougher waters. Despite its flaws, Stan’s personal redemption story perseveres in shining through.
An Ambitious Oceanic Tale
At its conclusion, Under the Waves leaves a lingering impact as a narrative adventure unafraid to plumb the darkest depths. While not flawless in execution, its rich world and poignant story make the journey worthwhile.
As an ambitious genre blend of open exploration, survival crafting, and an emotional saga, Under the Waves reaches admirable heights. Stan’s personal tale of loss and redemption resonates thanks to the melancholy atmosphere and strong character writing. Even when the messaging surrounding ocean conservation falters, the heart of the story remains intact.
Where Under the Waves truly soars is in cultivating a believable undersea environment brimming with life. Jaw-dropping vistas and a transportive retro-futuristic aesthetic bring its world to life through lush graphics and audio. Technical issues ranging from glitches to strange design hold it back from truly excelling.
Yet despite its rough edges, the sum of Under the Waves’ parts amounts to an impactful Slow Cinema-esque adventure. Patient players drawn to introspective tales and captivating settings will find its watery depths well worth diving into. With some more polish, its ambitious vision could truly be exceptional. For now, its missteps only mildly dilute an otherwise worthwhile descent.
Under the Waves may not go down as flawless, but its heartfelt storytelling and breathtaking underwater realms make for an impressive achievement deserving of appreciation. For players seeking a poignant, haunting journey, answers lie waiting far below the ocean’s surface.
Under the Waves
Under the Waves is an ambitious and poignant narrative adventure let down by technical issues. Its emotional storytelling shines despite gameplay frustrations. With more polish, it could have been an exceptional descent into the oceanic unknown. As is, it remains an evocative tale worth diving into for the rich world and well-crafted themes alone.
- Emotionally resonant story about grief and redemption
- Stunning graphics, especially the underwater environments
- Atmospheric retro-futuristic aesthetic
- Outstanding melancholic soundtrack
- Freedom to explore the open seas at your own pace
- Light environmental puzzles are satisfying to solve
- Impactful themes related to mental health and human emotion
- Numerous technical glitches and bugs
- Frustrating control scheme inconsistencies
- Crafting system feels bloated and unnecessary
- Heavy-handed messaging around corporate greed and conservation
- Stiff character animations and lackluster lip-sync
- Needed more gameplay/narrative polish and optimization