June 20, 2024
Explore the solitary depths of the North Sea in Under the Waves, but how deep do you really go? The Finger Guns review:

Under the Waves is a narrative-driven adventure and the latest from Parallel Studio. The studio and Quantic Dream partnered with the non-profit organisation Surfrider Foundation during the development. They’re known for their dedication to protecting and preserving the oceans, bringing a uniquely cool insight for the game and making the setting believable. Moreover, it gives an eco-conscious undertone to an already human story, all set underwater.

We all have a core memory of our first or most infamous water levels. For myself, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty had an utterly infuriating swimming section, but we have come a long way since. Games like ABZÛ, Subnautica and Silt have all dispelled the notion of traversing underwater being a chore, but there’s always room to improve. Sometimes, there is even room to get worse, so does Under the Waves keep afloat? Or sink to the forgotten depths?

Dredging up the Past

You play as Stan, a chap who has recently taken a job at an underwater oil facility, maintaining and surveying the North Sea. During the course of the game, you’ll be piloting a techno-futuristic submarine down in the depths and following orders. However, there’s more to Stan than just being a yes-man for a shady oil corporation. He is seemingly running away from something back on land, making his job the perfect opportunity to sit with his feelings.

A lot of the game’s magic is in the story, so I want to remain brief on specifics. The narrative unfurls across the several days of playthrough, with poetic imagery, some not as subtle dialogue, but impactful set pieces that make the journey worthwhile. I did have my own hurdles to get over, namely Stan’s dialogue and voiceover work. It’s wooden, lacking in variety and just has the tendency to pull you out of certain emotional beats.

With that said, the delivery of the story is, overall, well executed. Maybe a little long in the tooth during the final act, but I definitely felt more emotional than Stan by the end of it. Under the Waves deals with grief in a very elegant way. The analogies of the ocean and the process of its nature match so succinctly with the themes the game goes for, it became very easy to look past the problems I was facing.

The eco-conscious aspects of the story are subtle details, like the optional ability to pick up waste from an item you use, or peaceful relationships between yourself and the sharks that meander in the sea. It’s a non-violent game in most regards, with the overall antagonist being pollution, but the story is solely Stan’s journey.

Beyond the Sea

Maybe the malaise I have about the deep sea confused me, or the trailers didn’t show it off enough, but there’s more than meets the eye with the gameplay. Under the Waves has a potent narrative, and that left me to believe I’d be going from A to B on the journey. That isn’t the case though and I was pleasantly surprised about it.

There are some light survival mechanics as your submarine is prone to dinks and your oxygen levels are finite. You are free to explore all of the North Sea with your ship, getting out of it to collect some of the debris and rubbish polluting the ocean. The rubbish you collect can be then crafted into new items like oxygen sticks, fuel for the ship, and repair kits. I say light survival mechanics as it’s nowhere near as unforgiving as Subnautica, but it does supply a gameplay loop that scratches that checklist itch of open-world games.

The map is full of wreckages for players to discover, some ancient, others recent but all of them are explorable inside and out. Looking for a variety of collectables, picking up crafting items and taking photos, it was entirely meditative going through all the cavernous reaches. Items later in the game open up more options to do this and it’s definitely a highlight next to the narrative. The ship controls great and the swimming is on a better scale than its peers, though there are still some issues with the camera movement.

Quality Pollution

Performance on the PS5 is a bit shaky, currently. The game’s autosave feature would sometimes initiate a pop-up on the console saying it didn’t save. In the close-up interiors, there is an abundance of screen-tearing, and a couple of hard crashes make Under the Waves not flawless as of right now. Games always get a patch and I expect it soon, but worth bearing in mind if you want to pick it up and play in its current state.

Some problems that have more to do with the game are more of the finer details. During the cut scenes, Stan’s mouth doesn’t sync to the words and he looks like a puppet yapping. There are no settings to adjust some of the filters or lighting effects to make it less jarring and more approachable. Some of the quest markers are poorly implemented, leaving me unsure of what to do, how to do it or sometimes where to go. It’s not an incredibly accessible game overall and I wish there was more polish to the game.

The environments, however, look incredible. The seamounts, caverns and wildlife are so beautiful, distinct and imposing. Even as someone who has a fear of the deep sea, despite being anxious the whole time I was exploring, I could appreciate the amazing variety and lack of loading screens. The lighting, colours and particle effects all build such an amazing ecosystem to play around with.

Sunken Treasure

The music reinforces the overall mise-en-scene as the zen-like synth drones, and gentle piano passages just wash over you. There is some music that doesn’t always fit the emotional beats and sometimes the music would just halt out of nowhere. Nevertheless, the moment-to-moment with the presentation and gameplay is when the game fires on all cylinders.

I went on a journey with Under the Waves, there are some emotional crescendos, thoughtful gameplay and a wonderful presentation if you don’t look too close. With that said, there are some glaring issues with the game that really do taint what Parallel Studio is going for. It’s a diamond in the rough for sure and I’m not over my fear of the deep sea, but Under the Waves will move you with its currents.

Under the Waves is a flawed but impactful deep-sea denizen. The immersive gameplay, contemplative themes and powerful eco-conscious flare make the game a uniquely wonderful narrative adventure. Some of the finer details are uneven and taint the big picture, but you will come away moved in spite of its problems.

Under the Waves is available now for PlayStation 5 (review platform), PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S and PC via Steam.

Developer: Parallel Studio

Publisher: Quantic Dream

Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.

If you enjoyed this article or any more of our content, please consider our Patreon.

Make sure to follow Finger Guns on our social channels. TwitterFacebook, TwitchSpotify or Apple Podcasts – to keep up to date on our news, reviews and features.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.