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In Under The Waves we dive right into the North Sea of the 1970s and experience a gripping story created by Quantic Dream and Parallel Studio.
Under The Waves is a 3rd-person action-adventure from the Parisian development studio Parallel Studio (White Night, Dark Days, EqqO) and the French capital-based publisher Quantic Dream (Fahrenheit, Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls, Detroit: Become Human). The game begins on March 26, 1979 as protagonist Stan Moray descends into the North Sea for his second dive. For the first time he is supposed to live in the UniTrench living module for several weeks and do routine work. This seems like the ideal situation for Stan, after all he just wants to get away from it all. But it turns out very differently than he imagined.
Stan keeps trying to get in touch with his wife Emma, but struggles with communication problems that are of both technical and emotional nature. In his nightmares, which are playable, he processes a painful fate. An incident causes Stan to doubt the good intentions of his employer and so, together with his colleague Tim, he uncovers his employer’s dubious actions and meanwhile tries to limit the negative consequences of such actions for nature. We see Stan getting more and more agitated and start to doubt his sanity, just like he does himself. The gripping story ends in two different endings, which are presented in a very binary way in a single decision.
We can move freely underwater with our mini-submarine Moon and the accessible area is quite large, although it is somewhat awkwardly delimited by an artificial net. Moon can be controlled in both the clearer third-person view and the more immersive cockpit view. Incidentally, the on-screen displays can be switched off at any time, which fits in with the cinematic presentation of the game. At the push of a button, we scan the immediate surroundings and quickly find our current destination and discover one or two secrets. In the story missions we use both Moon and our wet suit to dive through narrow canyons. Here we also solve smaller environmental puzzles, for example to increase the output power of the turbines in the refinery, of which there could have been a few more, or blow things up with mines. In addition, we can find numerous animal species, blueprints, lost submarines and fishing boats, stickers for our wetsuit, decorations for the life module and resources. We use blueprints and raw materials on workbenches in the life module or on stations for items that fill up our oxygen or fuel supply, repair our vehicle or give it a fuel upgrade or even add a laser with which we destroy oil traces. In routine missions we recover geological data by finding probes, cleaning algae from the facility or examining containers that have fallen from a cargo ship. Furthermore, we can photograph nine different animal species in photo mode – from seals to blue sharks to humpback whales. The playtime is eight to ten hours, depending on whether or not you’ll find all the collectibles.
At the time of testing, a few days after the game’s release, we still encountered some glitches. So we couldn’t complete the last routine mission in which we have to eliminate ten traces of oil, since we have already removed all the impurities before. Additionally, after completing the game after loading the last autosave, we were unable to continue a story sequence required to progress and view the alternate ending. In a few places we are confronted with graphic errors. Overall, the game cuts a fine figure technically. The controls in particular, whether in the submarine or while diving, are easy to handle and the transitions are also kept short. Only in very narrow tubes it was difficult to not get any scratches on Moon’s yellow paintwork. Luckily, you can quickly gather a lot of resources to craft some repair kits, and the reset points are very fair.
While the characters have a comic look, the animal and plant world looks more realistic. For the most part we only see Stan and root for him thanks to the good gestures and facial expressions and the fantastic dubbing (both in English and German). In some scenes, however, the lip syncing didn’t work that well. The soundtrack by Nicolas Bredin supports the claustrophobic lonely mood in the depths of the ocean. Music, atmosphere, story and last but not least the name of the mini-submarine reminded us of the Duncan Jones film Moon, however our talking on-board computer has a much lower importance and iconic personality than the AI GERTY in the film, and therefore the connection was closer to what we witnessed in Campo Santo’s narrative Firewatch as we were constantly updating Tim via the radio.
Under The Waves is a great 3rd-person action-adventure with a gripping story, dense atmosphere and tight underwater exploration gameplay. Some serious topics such as loss, depression and pollution are addressed and treated with the necessary sensitivity. Exploring the ocean is fun and the story is convincing, but apart from that, a bit of variety in terms of gameplay would have been favourable, be it a few mini-games in the life module or being able to photograph more than a handful of animal species or to find more than a couple of music cassettes, even though the monotony of Stan’s work comes across well. It’s always nice to see when video games are used for a good cause, as in this case conservation. To do this, they work together with the NGO Surfrider Foundation Europe. If you like both narrative driven games like Beyond Blue and Firewatch and the gameplay in Abzû, you should give Under The Waves a try.
A PC code for Under The Waves was provided to us by the publisher. We created the screenshots on the PC.