Review – In Other Waters

Now this is something you don’t see everyday. There aren’t many games that give me such a hard time when I try to describe them like In Other Waters does. This is one of the most different and unique games I’ve played in years, but as you may already know, this doesn’t always result in an actual fun experience. So where does In Other Waters stand? Is it a revolutionary artistic achievement? Is it an overrated title that reeks of hubris? The actual answer is: neither. It’s just alright. Considering its overall concept, that’s already way more than I could have ever expected from it.

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They just look like dots to me.

By its title alone, as well as its “box art”, you may think that In Other Waters is a game like Abzu or Subnautica. You may think it’s another underwater exploration game. You would be equally right and wrong by thinking this way. Yes, it is a game about exploring a water planet in search for new extraterrestrial lifeforms and it does feature some survival elements like Subnautica. But it’s not exactly a visual game, nor will you take direct control of the exploration.

In Other Waters is a game in which you control an artificial intelligence tasked to guide an explorer inside a remote-controlled scuba diving suit. It’s the explorer’s duty to research the depths of the world you’re currently investigating, but it’s the AI’s job (in other words, your job) to guide her from one point to another, as well as collect samples, investigate your surroundings with a radar and manage her suit’s resources, namely oxygen and power. It’s a weirdly effective between somewhat tense somewhat elements and laid back casual experiences, because there isn’t violence in here, nor is the game difficult at all. It’s all about absorbing its story, which is actually quite interesting.

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The screen gets darker if you’re inside a cave. Now that’s immersion.

The weird thing about In Other Waters is that you don’t exactly see anything I just described in the previous paragraph. All you’ll ever see during the entire game is a radar screen. Your explorer is just a little blip on your radar. So is everything else besides the terrain. There is some fantastic artistic direction in here, don’t get me wrong, but it is a visually tiresome game. There’s just so much you can do with a story told through a radar. Just like an old Atari game, you’ll need to use your imagination in order to picture what’s actually happening, so that will either be a pro or a con to you. The soundtrack, on the other hand, fits perfectly with the setting. It’s calm, serene, and filled with underwater sound effects. Make sure to play this game with your headphones on.

The gameplay is also very confusing at first. Besides the radar located at the center of the screen, you need to constantly pay attention to a ton of buttons, graphs, secondary radars and additional screens representing your inventory, your suit’s oxygen and power levels, the explorer’s notes, an extra radar you need to doodle with in order to locate and collect samples, as well as a small textbox in which the story will actually be told. In Other Waters does a really poor job in teaching you everything you need to do and how to do it, and that will be demotivating at first. I actually ended up liking the gameplay quite a bit after finally learning the purpose of every button and screen. The fact that the entire game can be played with the Switch’s touchscreen ended up being very immersive, weirdly enough.

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You can zoom the interface out in order to improve the overall sense of immersion, but it will also make the act of pressing buttons onscreen way too complicated.

In Other Waters definitely doesn’t do a good job of engaging you right from the get-go with its radar-like visuals and confusing interface. However, if decide you to stick with it, you’ll end up being rewarded with a surprisingly interesting story and a gameplay loop that’s way more immersive than I could have ever imagined. It’s not a game for everyone, as it’s slow-paced and visually repetitive, but if you’re looking for a laid back underwater exploration experience, then In Other Waters wouldn’t be a bad choice.

 

Graphics: 4.0

It’s basically like constantly looking at a radar. All you’ll see is impressions of terrain and dots. Just like an old Atari game, you’ll need to use your imagination in order to picture what’s actually happening in your head.

Gameplay: 6.5

There is a myriad of buttons and screens you need to constantly press and manage at all times, and the game does a terrible job at teaching you all of its features at first. Once you figure out how everything works, it does become quite interesting, especially since the touchscreen controls actually provide a little bit of immersion.

Sound: 7.5

A very calm and serene soundtrack coupled with some underwater sound effects. It fits the game’s mood perfectly. Play this with headphones.

Fun Factor: 6.0

It’s a very niche title that doesn’t manage to engage you right from the get-go. Its visuals might be unattractive to some and its gameplay is confusing. If you decide to stick with it though, you’ll be greeted with a surprisingly good story.

Final Verdict: 6.0

In Other Waters is available now on PC and Switch.

Reviewed on Switch.

A copy of In Other Waters was provided by the publisher.