Tag Archives: Exploration

Prey: Mooncrash review

Prey: Mooncrash is a very clever and highly enjoyable melding of first-person shooting and exploration with Rogue-like death and replay. It manages to create an entirely fresh experience in the Prey universe. Moreover, it’s fantastically compelling.

You are tasked with entering a simulation and reliving the desperate escape of five individuals that are trapped on the lunar base with Typhon enemies. Much like the core game, the Typhon come in a variety of forms, including the Mimics which morph into different objects to deceive and scare the hell out of you, and bi-pedal forms known as Phantoms. Some additional, new forms are also present in Mooncrash, including a tentacle spewing egg and a terrifically named ‘moon shark’. Dealing with these enemies, either through combat with whatever weaponry you manage to find – melee and projectile – or through environmental hazard manipulation, sneaking, or your very own Typhon abilities and skills provided by implants, is the order of the day.

Indeed, there’s a wealth of options as to how you choose to engage, or avoid, conflict, and the same can be said for progressing through the moon base. Multiple paths are available with different obstacles to traverse, whether these are locked doors requiring pass cards, hacking skills, passwords gained by reading notes and emails or the computer terminals, let alone the environmental hazards and enemies. However, a big change with Mooncrash over the core game are the five characters you control.

To begin with you’re limited to a single character, but as you play his unique escape attempt you gradually unlock the additional characters. This can occur when you discover their corpse for the first time, or by achieving the specific story objective for a character. These objectives are present for each character and revolves around one of the five available escape methods, such as using the escape pod, flying out on a shuttle, etc. Meanwhile, additional objectives are also available for each character, should you feel the need to put yourself in great danger and uncover more of the plot.

With the Rogue-like addition of skills carrying over even after death, and the environment maintaining a persistent state for each cycle, after a dozen or so attempts you’ll have the whole cast ready to go, allowing you to use the abilities of different characters to help pave the way for the others. The ultimate goal is the have a perfect run; where all five characters manage to escape during a single, unbroken cycle. However, achieving this is anything but simple.

Determining which characters can do what is largely a case of trial and error and is discovered simply by using them. However, understanding the base layout and what activates what, takes some exploration, and the more you explore the more dangerous it becomes. This isn’t only because of the random spawning of enemies for each cycle but also because of an imposed time limit. The simulation technology you’re using is unstable, and the longer you remain in it, the more unstable it becomes. This instability is measured in levels, and as each level is reached, new enemies spawn and become more aggressive. It’s a clever mechanic that adds urgency and threat with an effective randomness; it’s Rogue-like at its best.

And indeed, it’s these Rogue-like elements that make this such an interesting experience. Items and enemies surprise you with different spawn locations each cycle, the environment also changes throwing unforeseeable obstacles at you, all the while your cast of characters are gradually getting stronger, your knowledge of the base is increasing, and those five escape plans and their order begin to reveal themselves. Pair this with Prey’s environmental storytelling, intense combat and terrifying enemies, and you’ve got a tremendously unique and engaging package.

Prey’s core mechanics of exploration, limited ammo and health, and horror would make figuring out how to achieve each characters’ escape frustrating due to the amount of times it causes your demise, but due to the Rogue-like qualities of skill retention and a semi-persistent environment, it makes this a unique and entertaining experience that’s hard to put down.

Thanks to Bethesda for supporting TiX

Morphite review

It’s No ‘No Man’s Sky’, but it doesn’t need to be.

Morphite is Blowfish Studios’ mobile-come-console exploration game, which puts you in the shoes of Myrah, a girl who explores the galaxy, against her mentor’s wishes, in search of the titular Morphite; an item with immense power, both creative and destructive. It also has links to Myrah’s past. The expositional mouthpiece is Kitcat, a robotic cat. Kitcat is the show stealer, no doubts.

In Morphite you’ll explore dozens of planets, with each acting like a small Metroidvania environment in which you’ll shoot monsters and solve puzzles to obtain key items and progress the story. As you play, you’ll discover new ways to upgrade both Myrah and her ship – which criminally doesn’t have a name. Upgrading is done mainly via vendors and space stations. Upgrading your armour is a must, for a while at least, as it grants access to new planets; those that are too hot or cold are restricted at first. Upgrades require currency, these chunks are obtained via looting chests, killing monsters and destroying other objects on the surfaces of the worlds you explore. The chunks are complimented with resources which are obtained by picking harvesting mineral nodes found scattered around the various landscapes on the numerous planets you’ll find yourself visiting.

You have a fair few gadgets at your disposal, from grenades to a robo-pet. These tools will allow you to approach each location with a degree of freedom; you can choose to just go in phasers-a-blazing, killing any wildlife in your way, or you could – if you upgraded your shields and/or scanner – tank the damage from hostile animals and scan them for valuable data. This data can then be sold to upgrade your items further.

This circular approach sums up Morphite nicely, as, like a circle, Morphite doesn’t stray from the formula it establishes very early on. This isn’t a necessarily bad thing, as we have to remember that Blowfish made Morphite as a mobile title first, with console following.

As I stated at the beginning – It’s No No Man’s Sky, but it doesn’t need to be.

Thanks to Xbox and Crescent Moon Games for supporting TiX

Tacoma Review

Tacoma is going to be a very difficult game to review and score. It will probably be the shortest review I am going to write since joining TiX, as I can’t go into too much detail about the story in fear of giving you any spoilers. And, most importantly, the day after finishing Tacoma, I am still not sure how I feel about it.

Tacoma is the latest game from Fullbright, a very small team of developers whose past game, Gone Home, was extremely well received when released on PC, and has since been ported over to Xbox One. Both Gone Home and Tacoma are examples of games which have been given the somewhat harsh moniker of “Walking Simulators”, which are short, story based experiences.

Tacoma is a story, set in 2088, about six astronauts who are based on the Lunar Transfer Station Tacoma, 200,000 miles from Earth. You play as Amy Ferrier, a contractor assigned by the stations owners, the Venturis Corporation, to enter the abandoned Tacoma station to retrieve AI data from each of its sections and retrieve the physical processing module of ODIN, the station’s AI.

As you explore the station you use an AR device to witness the events that have befallen the crew, leading to the Tacoma becoming abandoned. Using the AR device you are also able to investigate the crew’s personal logs and emails, to see their individual thoughts and messages home. All these AR sections play like video clips, giving you the ability to forward, rewind and pause events to gain all the AI data needed. During these sections you discover codes which enable you to open new areas of the space station. Also dotted around are various objects, which when manipulated can earn you some nice easy achievements.

When you first encounter the AR mechanism its a little bit confusing, as there are markers at various time locations on the bar. But when you realise that they are colour coded, and each crew member is also colour coded, then the objective becomes clear. Each AR sequence can also be split, with the crew members splitting off and having their own conversations, which means the sequences have to be played through multiple times with your focus on different crew members.

The story is by far the most immersive element of Tacoma, especially the back stories and emotional moments witnessed in the various emails and messages sent between the crew, and between their families back home. Just by witnessing these moments, and by reading letters or notes left in drawers, you feel a bond and form emotional attachments to the characters, so much so that you really root for their survival.

The design of the space station Tacoma is also superb. You do feel like you are on a living, breathing space station, where a small group of people live and work. The simple additions of areas like Laundry Rooms and Kitchens, although not the most exciting areas, make it feel realistic. Each area of the station is connected via a hub, where there is no gravity, so you have to manoeuvre being weightless. From the hub, getting to each individual area is done via a long tube with a mechanical lift, which positively reinforces the feeling that you are on a space station. Each area has gravity, so it’s back to walking!

Tacoma is short. I am going to get that right out in the open. It is really short. All in all, to get every bit of content from this game will take about three hours. And that’s it’s biggest flaw.

When the game is about to finish, I was expecting it to move to a new location, or tell me that there has been a mistake and that there was a whole secret area to investigate. But there wasn’t. It was Game Over (man). So, apart from mopping up achievements for the full 1000 Gamerscore, that was it. The achievements are also pretty easy to get, but you will probably need a guide as most are secret and you may not naturally do some of these things whilst playing.

The shortness of Tacoma is the reason I am still unsure what rating to give it. Tacoma is a great piece of storytelling, in a fairly new, inventive way, but it left me feeling a bit empty afterwards. It just didn’t give me enough. I wanted more story, I wanted to see what happened afterwards. I wanted more history of both the crew and the Venturis Corporation.

And, unfortunately I came across a few bugs. At times the framerate drops a lot, and this mostly happened when travelling to different areas of the ship. On one of these occasions it also caused the game to crash, so it’s not perfect in its performance. This even takes place when the game starts with the message “Press A to start”, and you press A and nothing happens, so you keep pressing A until finally the game catches up with the first press of A. The bugs are not game breaking but are definitely frustrating.

So, this is my dilemna. Should you play Tacoma? Yes, without a shadow of a doubt. But, if you are like me, you’ll come away with a slight sense of disappointment, as you’ll feel a bit cheated on what time you spend for your £15.

Thanks to Xbox and Fullbright for supporting TiX

Nevermind review

Nevermind provides an interesting and eerie opportunity to see into the minds of four very different individuals, and help them overcome trauma. It’s part walking simulator, part puzzler and part horror, although the latter largely puts you in a position of unease rather than fright. And the three gameplay elements meld together splendidly to create a unique and fascinating, albeit short, experience.

You are a psychologist who’s been newly hired at a very advanced medical facility. Here doctors don’t just talk and listen to their patients but also delve deep into their minds, thanks to technology that maps and then allows you to explore their subconscious as if you are really there. It’s a neat idea and one that opens up huge possibilities for story-telling, but in Nevermind it’s merely a framing device for some eerie and perspective shifting exploration and puzzle solving. That’s not to say it’s dull, far from it, but there’s a spark of Portal genius here that’s unfortunately not acted upon.

One thing that’s missing from the Xbox One version however, is the biofeedback element. This would take data from a variety of third-party biofeedback devices that are available right now, and the game would change depending on how stressed and fearful you were. It sounds a like a great concept, but one that isn’t realised for Xbox One. However, what’s here doesn’t feel like it’s missing anything, and it’s still a great experience.

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A tutorial level helps ease you into the experience, following the familiar tale of Hansel and Gretel, but before long you’ll be experiencing the subconscious minds of four patients who have suffered some kind of trauma in their lives. Whilst exploring their mind it’s up to you to find 10 photographs which represent key memories, five of which are false. In order to cure your patient you must gather these memories, figure out which ones are true, and put them in the correct order. Afterwards, you can revisit their mind to try and find other memories, which are important for you to understand their story fully.

For the most part you’re walking through locations that represent real locations in your patient’s lives. Much like a dream, these warp and change as you explore them, with doors leading directly to a completely new location or even back to one you’ve recently visited but having gone through a transformation. It’s cleverly designed, with things often changing drastically simply when you turn your back, featuring some powerful imagery that invokes myriad feelings and helps put your patient’s trauma into perspective. It’s a little bit scary too, with some excellent sound effects and music, sparing but deliberately used to bring locations and events to life. However, whilst it’s certainly looking to invoke an emotional response from you, it’s not looking to outright frighten you.

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It’s meant to be eerie but don’t expect any jump scares, instead it means to tap into your empathy and place you in the mind-set of the patient. And it works too; the framing device of delving into the minds of these people is immersive, making it feel like you really are exploring someone’s subconscious. Meanwhile, some terrifically detailed visuals with high quality textures, a wide colour palette, effective use of lighting, and the added sound effects, music and weird imagery, is remarkably effective at putting you in their shoes. As such, if you pay attention to what is being said and shown to you, figuring out the trauma and what’s a real and fake memory in the photos is fairly intuitive.

Jumping back into your patients minds to further explore and find those fragments of memories to allow you to fully understand them, are a little more abstract and far less gamified than the rest of the experience. It makes them tricky to find if you’re searching for them specifically, such as for achievements, but if you do come across them naturally, they enhance your familiarity with the patient quite effectively.

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However, it’s not entirely smooth sailing through the minds of your patients, some slow-down kicks in frequently as you’re looking around, making the controls suddenly sluggish. There are occasions where this is done intentionally, such as puzzle sections or to help invoke a feeling related to your patient’s trauma, but when it happens outside of these moments it threatens to break the immersion. Fortunately, as frequent as it is, the overall experience isn’t hurt by it, it just feels odd when it does happen.

Indeed, Nevermind is a clever, revealing and fascinating exploration of mental health. The characters that make up your patients are believable and brilliantly voice acted, the locations and puzzles you explore are crafted to represent and encapsulate the trauma of the patients splendidly, and figuring it out and experiencing perspectives that you might not have otherwise experienced is highly satisfying and intriguing. There’s certainly a ‘what if’ niggling disappointment at how much more this kind of concept could be explored if narrative was more what the developers wanted to focus on, but that’s not what Nevermind is about, and what it does focus on is very well-crafted.

Thanks to Xbox and Flying Mollusk for supporting TiX

Claire: Extended Cut review

The horror genre. It’s not really my bag, films or games. I have a tendency to switch my emotions off or second-guess the scares. It was with some trepidation that Claire: Extended Cut from Hailstorm Games landed in my inbox. Would this be another in a long line of titles that didn’t quite make the scare-grade, or would this be a definite case of trouser Code Brown?

Claire is a small child, lost and alone in a nightmare created by her own imagination. Or is she? The title starts you off wandering either left or right through what seems to be an institution of some kind. It’s probably supposed to be a creepy house, but it feels more like a psychiatric ward. This may or may not be on purpose. In the scene, there are only scattered shafts of light, with creepy shadows making fleeting appearances on the edges of your vision. Then, when you get to a specific point, everything changes.

You come around after a dream, that old chestnut, in a hospital, at the bedside of your mother. Searching for coffee, and let’s face it, who doesn’t, its time to become explorer once more in this vast building.

Apart from this brief section where you seem to have a definite life goal, I got rather lost and confused with Claire. This may have been the whole point as the game progresses from calm hospital wandering to lying face up on a gurney, staring at some hideously dripping creature. From this point on, the game is choc full of rooms to explore, a torch to keep lit, and a strange dog that appears from nowhere, helps once and doesn’t seem to do much else afterwards.

Claire

Let me rewind a little. From the start, its clear that Claire is a handheld console port. The scrolling rooms you’re placed in are two dimensional, with blocky, dark graphics. This enhances the game mechanics slightly, especially when glitchy jumps to scary scenes are about to go off, but other than that, I found the visuals to be dark to the point of being pointless. Having a theme in a horror game is fine, as long as players have that little bit of hope dangled in front of them. Claire doesn’t really dangle that hope. The story, along with the graphics, are a little bit of a confusing mess.

What could be the reason for this? It simply jumps around too much, placing you in another situation of wandering left or right through doors that might be locked or with nothing particular to find. It’s also easy to lose focus and not catch that critical clue for what to do next due to the tedious dialogue . That might come across as brutal, but it’s exactly how I found it.

There was a certain emotional disconnect with the lead character for me. She’s concerned for her mother, but you’re not sure why. She had a puppy that seems to have manifested itself in the darker parts and again, you’re not sure why. She has homework and a caffeine addiction. I can sympathise with that, perhaps. As you wander around the hospital, looking at the map frequently, there’s a definite sense of nothing happening. You can open cupboard doors, boxes, and even toilet stalls as you go around and you may be lucky enough to find batteries for your rather pointless torch, or an energy drink to stop your heart from beating too fast (surely that’s going to do the opposite?). After a while it all begins to look the same. It all begins to feel the same and you end up doing the same things.

Claire

There are folk to help in Claire’s personal nightmare, and it would appear that the point of your wandering around is to find specific things in order to decide how to help these folk. This takes the form of picking from a list of actions and it is unclear if choosing one of the other options will define a different outcome. Regardless of this, the obtaining of said items and the puzzles you may have to solve to get them, don’t make it any more satisfying to deny them to the folk out of spite. It seems a little bit of a pointless exercise.

The audio in-game compliments the settings you’ll be exploring, although you can’t help imagine that a little less audio would have made the game work better as a horror spectacle. The toilet doors squeak, the dog growls when something nasty is near and you can hear Claire’s heartbeat quicken. The ambient music is OK, but could do with being turned down a notch in order to make more of the settings and themes in the game.

Claire

Overall Claire: Extended Cut is a fair stab at porting a handheld console title from the small to large gaming screen. That being said, it does have its flaws, not least being the bizarre disconnect from the main character to the gamer. It suffers from this and its lack of direction to the point where I’ve seen scarier episodes of Most Haunted. I applaud Hailstorm’s efforts in trying to create a retro-inspired title, however, and there’s a good deal of potential in Claire: Extended Cut, but like the lead character’s homework, it fails to make the grade.

Thanks to Hailstorm Games and Xbox for supporting TiX

Review

Back in December we previewed the Rouge-lite, RPG, tower defence, survival game Dungeon of the Endless, and it certainly made a good impression. However, for how enjoyable, clever and compelling it was, copious amounts of bugs kept ruining the experience and causing frustration. However, three months later and Dungeon of the Endless has hit digital shelves, and wonderfully the bugs are all gone.

Dungeon of the Endless combines mechanics and themes from tower defence, RPGs, and survival games to craft an experience that challenges you tactically, encourages risk for potential reward, pits you against swarms of enemies in frantic, heart pounding combat, and even hints at an intriguing story. It’s a wonderfully varied package that makes it appealing to a large audience.

It doesn’t, however, teach you it’s mechanics very well. The tutorial is somewhat hidden away amongst in-game menus, and it’s text-based when/if you do find it. However, with a little trial and error things become clearer. Fortunately, despite this lack of introduction and a wealth of nuance, it’s all fairly intuitive.

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Having crash-landed on an alien planet and penetrating deep into a not-so-natural network of caves, you take control of a pair of survivors and must uncover the procedurally generated dungeon made up of rooms filled with mysterious architecture and technology, find the exit, grab your escape pod’s crystal and climb to the surface 12 floors up. But of course it’s not as easy as that, as each floor is also full of monsters. These beasts are discovered randomly as you unlock each door to each new section of the dungeon, and also have a chance to spawn in any discovered but unpowered rooms. In order to limit the monster spawns and protect your party of survivors and the escape pod’s crystal, you need to use your resources to power rooms and then build defences, support modules, and resource generating nodes.

As you explore each level you’ll also encounter venders selling equipment to boost your stats – such as attack, defence and HP – as well as treasure chests also housing equipment, abandoned technology that has a chance to grant you more resources, and other characters eager to join your party and escape to the surface. Indeed exploration can be a rewarding thing, however, with monsters spawning randomly each turn and the dungeon being procedurally generated, there’s always the risk of biting off more than you can chew.

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Finding other characters allows you to modify your party, adding new member until you have a full set of four and even allowing you to switch out members if you find someone more suited to help you survive and escape the dangers ahead. Meanwhile, spending resources wisely to not only defend you, your crystal and your resource nodes, but also to level up your characters, encourages even more risk as you feel compelled to gain every piece of equipment and all possible resources to better prepare you for what’s coming on the next level. It’s hugely entertaining and immersive.

Meanwhile, research crystal can also be found on each level and through them you can enhance and upgrade your defences, resource generators, support modules, and even power generators, which all help to combat the growing threat of enemies on each level and better light up the dungeon to keep you safe. And as you climb nearer the surface the enemy’s numbers increase dramatically, as do their stats, posing an even greater threat.

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It can certainly prove challenging to keep on top of all this, especially playing alone and trying to manage all four characters yourself, however, with online coop available, up to three friends can join, take control of a character or two, and aid you. This is where Dungeon of the Endless truly shines, and working together to explore each level, design defence strategies and collect resources, allows for some excellent emergent storytelling, as well as oodles of fun.

Completing a play-through takes a good three hours or so, and with the large rooster of characters available, all with their own strengths and weaknesses, there’s plenty of incentive to dive back in. Moreover, different escape pods can be chosen at the start – once they’re unlocked – which modify the experience with additional challenges, all this on top of the procedurally generated nature of the title and Dungeon of the Endless possesses strong longevity.

Indeed Dungeon of the Endless is a challenging but superbly entertaining Rouge-lite adventure. The mixture of mechanics from multiple genres works together remarkably well, and the whole experience is masterfully balanced to provide a stiff challenge but one that seldom feels unfair. Now that all the bugs from the preview version have been eradicated, Dungeon of the Endless comes highly recommended.

Thanks to Xbox and Amplitude for supporting TiX

Rebel Galaxy review

Rebel Galaxy has a lot of personality. There’s character behind its art style; an aesthetic that’s visually pleasing, impressive, vibrant, and not at all based on reality. And indeed it’s this character that’s present throughout this open-world space exploration title that makes it so engaging and unique, allowing it to stand toe to toe with the likes of Elite Dangerous because it offers something different within the same space.

Rebel Galaxy is an arcade version of the open-world space genre. You start with a basic ship and set out doing practically whatever you want: mining, pirating, mercenary work, trading, whatever takes your fancy. But in addition to this open-world universe you can explore and exploit, is a story that sees you hunt down a lost relative before being hunted down yourself for the artefact you harbour. Switching between the story and the many choices of side-professions on offer gives you an experience that’s never dull or static, with plenty to do and intriguing things to discover.

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It’s a terrific mix of linear storytelling and open-world choices that allows you to play at your own pace. Certain mechanics are kept back until you progress further in the story, so eventually you have to progress within it, but you can typically do a story mission or two and then return to your altruistic or nefarious space business.

Whatever you decide to do you’ll be doing it within a brightly coloured and vibrant version of space. Nebulas are bountiful, and stars and planets glow a myriad of different colours; there’s hardly any black to be seen and it’s a wondrous visual treat. Meanwhile, as you hail fellow pilots or converse with aliens and humans alike in bars on space stations, you’ll witness exaggerated and unique individuals with a similar aesthetic to Star Craft that’s sure to impress and occasionally put a smile on your face as you accept jobs from them, make trades, or threaten to steal their entire cargo.

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Whether you’re planning on peaceful trading or aggressive pirating you’ll inevitable have to fight off the odd reprobate, and combat is a delightful dance in the stars. Rebel Galaxy’s combat is naval based, with heavy broadside weapons and lighter point-defence turrets elsewhere. You’ll constantly need to manoeuvre to line up shots and dodge incoming fire and it’s a thrilling and entertaining experience. Larger ships move more slowly and pack a heavy punch forcing you to line up your broadside shots as accurately as possible to do as much damage as you can or even to target specific systems. Meanwhile shields will need tearing down, a perfect job for your smaller turrets, when you’re not using them with a lock-on reticule to shoot down the smaller crafts wiping through the wild black. And finally, a salvo of missiles can turn the tide of most battles, unless smart use of the limited deflector shield nullifies their damage. It’s spectacularly involved and action packed yet supremely easy to perform.

Dodging incoming fire and manoeuvring to line up shots is only half the challenge, however, often you’re surrounded by enemies and are better off fleeing or trying to separate the smaller ships from the large ones so you can pick them off more easily. Furthermore asteroid belts are numerous and popular battlegrounds, challenging you to dodge crashing into them as you fight. Using them as cover is particularly effective, and forcing enemies to engage you within these cluttered fields can often result in them bumping into a few. Wonderfully these asteroids can be destroyed as well, making the battlefield dynamic and interesting.

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Space, however, is a big place, and your warp drive and sub-light engines, even when upgraded to ridiculous speeds, still must contend with large expanses of space to fly through. It’s how it’s supposed to be up there amongst the stars, but the travel time can put the brakes on the pacing a little too hard. Rebel Galaxy is otherwise exceptionally fun and varied. Missions may appear similar to each other on the surface but once you go about completing them they often take a few twists and turns. Moreover, even a simple combat engagement can play out in a myriad of different ways. Add to this a brilliant Southern rock soundtrack and your space cowboy, Firefly fantasies can be realised with Rebel Galaxy.

Thanks to Xbox and Double Damage Games Inc. for their support

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Submerged release announced

Submerged 1Uppercut Games has announced release dates for their award-winning title Submerged. In addition, the indie studio has stated that PlayStation Plus, Xbox Gold members and all Steam users will receive a discount at launch.

Submerged is a third-person combat-free game in which you explore a mysterious flooded city and discover the beauty of desolation in vast outdoor environments. You take on the role of Miku, a young girl who has brought her wounded brother to the city in their small fishing boat. Navigate the flooded city streets by boat, scale the drowned buildings, and use your telescope to scour the city for the supplies needed to save your dying sibling. As you explore the city at your own pace, you encounter the habitat that flourishes in this colorful place and discover hidden objects that piece together the story of a broken world and a broken family.

Submerged will be released PC/PS4 and Xbox One over the first week of August.