In Other Waters Review
Relax, take a breath, everything is going to be OK. The world may be ending, but mankind has a future. We have a future that’s going to involve space travel, robots and lots of swimming around in the ocean. We’re going to discover things, we’re going to mine resources, we’re going to document plants. Until that future comes, however, we can play In Other Waters to see what it may look like.
During the first ten minutes of In Other Waters, you will be bombarded with information. It’s the future, and private corporations have colonised most of the known galaxy to fill mankind's ever increasing need for resources. Yet despite exploring thousands of planets with the help of robots, they’ve yet to find any form of alien life, and this is where you come in: to complete the mundane task of determining if there are any alien lifeforms on the planet you’re on.
It’s also in these first ten minutes that you are introduced to the core gameplay. In In Other Waters, you are given a map of the ocean where you can travel in between landmarks to scan what’s around you by clicking on the points. With these scans, you document the assorted lifeforms on the planet while occasionally using mini-games to grab samples of cells to analyze at your base. It’s simple, but relaxing and engaging. As the game progresses, you’ll end up feeling like an actual oceanic explorer, which is an experience that’s only available otherwise in Subnautica.
After the gameplay and story is introduced, a scientist lands on the planet which sets off a string of events that eventually has you exploring the rest of the planet to figure out what exactly is going on with this particular place. It’s impossible to explain anything more without spoiling the plot, but needless to say, it ends up being surprisingly engaging and unique. It has just enough plot twists to keep things interesting, while also remaining simple enough that those who simply want to explore can enjoy it.
The plot is made better by interactions with the scientist who accompanies you on your journey. Throughout the game, you’ll occasionally have dialogues with the xenobiologist that commands you wherein they can respond either yes or no to what they say. These conversations are often short, but they’re frequent enough to feel worthwhile while also adding just enough existentialism to keep things interesting.
This relaxing sensation is aided by the game’s graphics. You’ll spend the entirety of In Other Waters looking at a topographical map of the ocean that’s littered with dots that represent its creatures. There are no 3D models or fancy particle effects here, but these simple graphics allow players to use their imaginations to visualise the ocean. This makes for a game that, when combined with the intentional lack of voice acting, almost feels like a book to play. That’s not a bad thing at all however, because when combined with everything else in the game, the game is simply relaxing. In a time when players may be forced to do non-relaxing things in the real world, having a game that allows them to breathe is more than welcome.
All of this isn’t to say that the game is boring, though. In Other Waters has some fun puzzles that are intertwined with its gameplay. As you gather cell samples of the assorted plants that are spread throughout the ocean floor, you can use them to replenish your oxygen and to open up new areas of the map. One type of plant, for instance, causes other plants to expand which allows you to get past strong currents. Another type of plant attracts other plants which creates a breathable area around you. These light gameplay puzzles occur just often enough to keep you on your toes while also never getting in the way of the exploration.
This lack of boredom is enhanced by the game’s runtime. It may seem weird for this to be its own section in a review; it’s an all-too-common mistake of games in this genre to be way too long for their own good. Clocking in at just under four hours, however, In Other Waters is the perfect length for it to be enjoyable without it ever becoming tedious to play. There’s also more content after the credits roll for those who want it, and as a result, the game is easily able to justify its price tag.
With all of this said, it should be clear that In Other Waters is well worth purchasing for anyone looking for something relaxing to play during these trying times. With a story that’s different enough to set it apart from other pieces of science fiction, gameplay that encourages exploration and unique graphics, the game plays like a visual novel that’s actually enjoyable. Those who don’t have a great sense of imagination or those who are looking for something more fast-paced may not enjoy the game, but for everyone else, In Other Waters is one of the best games you’re likely to play this year.
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