Quantic Dream has made a name for itself over the last decade with storytelling adventures, a subgenre where storytelling and the way events are told and influenced are sometimes more important than gameplay. Now that they’re part of the NetEase family, they want to create more classic adventures with Star Wars Eclipse, but it’s only logical that one of their first titles to be released under the Spotlight label would be Parallel Studio’s Under the Waves, a game based mainly on the attractiveness of the plot and some thought-provoking scenes.
Loneliness as a remedy to overcome trauma
The aquatic world has been the protagonist of several successful titles, such as the recent Dave the Diver, the excellent Dredge, the Zen game Abzu, or the Subnautica saga. And what is the next game of The Chinese Room? Still Wakes the Deep is a marine-themed narrative horror game. While Under the Waves’ setting may resemble one of those games, Parallel Studio’s idea is more akin to Firewatch, and the team themselves have admitted applying that development to an environment like Abyss, the James Cameron film.
In fact, for those who enjoyed the Campo Santo game, this comparison is very accurate and obvious. Set in a slightly alternate 1970s version, Under the Waves features professional diver Stan hiding at an underwater base deep in the North Sea. We know a complicated situation is unfolding, and he chooses a destination where he wants to spend a season of overwhelming solitude, similar to Duncan Jones’ “Moon—oddly enough, “Moon” is the name of our little submarine. At first, the details of his past are a bit vague, but essentially, the situation is this: we’re about to lose touch with the outside world, and pretty soon we’re going to see strange things that suggest his troubles got here too.
This isolation is not complete, as from time to time we contact other characters via radio, especially a colleague who gives us work instructions. Obviously, this isn’t a fun retreat; we’ll be working on various everyday tasks, some planned and others unforeseen. Hence the similarities to Firewatch in that we take care of a forest and participate in some mysteries. And of course we’ll see some unexpected twists in Under the Waves, but you’d better discover that for yourself.
As usual in these cases, it’s preferable that we don’t tell much more about the plot and its twists, but we can clarify that we’re not dealing with a walking simulator like the recent Fort Solis. In fact, there’s more gameplay than in Firewatch or the usual Quantic Dream games. It’s a light-hearted adventure with a touch of survival and exploration that’s never overwhelming enough to be considered third-person subnautica, but it gives us more freedom and optional content than we’d typically find in a narrative adventure.
One way to explain what it consists of is to talk about a specific day’s chores. Stan gets up and has to investigate a routine assignment that he is given on screen. Perhaps a device has failed at a nearby facility, the current is endangering the anchors at the base and a repair is needed, or a cargo has sunk and we need to analyze the container cargo. There are many points on the underwater floor that require our presence, so little by little we will explore this map, the caves, and the shipwrecks, out of obligation or out of pure curiosity.
This exploration can be done with the wet suit or a vehicle, except in cases where the size does not allow it. But not everything comes for free, and this is where Under the Waves begins to integrate systems for resource acquisition and management of oxygen or energy. The developer has worked with the Surfrider Foundation Europe, an organization that aims to raise awareness about ocean conservation, and it sends a clear message about protecting the environment, which translates into the importance of eliminating plastic and metal waste to collect in the region. Not because it’s good for the sea, but because these resources are useful when recycled. For example, plastic is one of the ingredients to create oxygen charges that allow us more time underwater; Once consumed, Stan will throw the bottle into the sea, but you can immediately retrieve it for later use.
Of course, having this semi-open space to explore allows us to do more than is strictly necessary to get through the day. You can go out to collect algae, use the sling to find debris, or use blueprints that we can use to craft new tools. If you like this type of environment, you can lose hours without progressing in the main story, taking photos, cleaning the seabed or interacting with a playful seal; In this sense, the duration is very different – at least 8 hours, twice as long if we complete optional tasks – breaking with the typical linearity of other storytelling games.
And so many more tools to fit out or enhance the vehicle, all resorting to exploration with less pressure where possible. This underwater gameplay is inherently slow and the controls are reasonably good, although the 3D scrolling with the urgency of not emptying the tank deviates somewhat from the zen experience. This is one of the aspects that raises some doubts about the development, namely that these mechanics make it more interactive than a standard narrative adventure, but at the same time there is a risk of adding “too much complexity” to a title that tells the story mainly distributed over Stan’s nights.
There are missions with a clearly defined objective, while others force us to take a detour or solve the problem on our own without going too far from the area to be studied. If we had to be clear, we’d prefer the excessive playability to the lack of Fort Solis, but we know not everyone will be happy with errands as an excuse for the emotional story. We didn’t like that the map doesn’t mark the plans that have already been implemented and that the design needs to fix some other details, but we’d rather rate Under the Waves positively for what it tries to shape: its story and the way it is shaped is told.
A breathtaking underwater world
The protagonist of “Under the Waves” has a cartoonish appearance and can be somewhat incompatible with the slight realism of the underwater world. The criticism relates more to the lack of expressiveness, to the fact that something more or less important is done in these types of stories, but the game is colorful and has the kind of almost magical setting of underwater games, with poor visibility and distortion effects , lights and silhouettes of whales. Furthermore, this retro-futuristic world makes our small base comfortable and a safe place amidst the immensity of the ocean.
It comes with English voice-overs with no lip-synching and lyrics in Spanish, and a soundtrack by Nicolas Bredin that sets the scene beautifully without overpowering it than it should; Most of the time we listen to the relaxing sounds of the sea or the engine of our vehicle.
Narrative plays a big role in Under the Waves, but we advise you not to confuse it with other games with similar characteristics. This is an exploratory adventure that’s always at the service of the story, and while it doesn’t particularly stand out for its gameplay, it makes it more varied than an interactive movie. One could say that the ecological messages are sometimes explained a bit crudely, that there are unnatural dialogues and that a little tweaking is needed on the always complicated underwater controls, but the message, its atmosphere, melodies and protagonists will permeate much more than the garbage collection, and here this game lives up to expectations. Without a doubt, the Parallel Studio project sets a good bar for the Quantic Dream label.
We performed this analysis on the PC version using code provided by Ziran Comunicación.