In Other Waters

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In Other Waters is a difficult game to summarise. It's like nothing I've played in a long time. If I were to take a stab at it, I'd say that it's a narrative focused point and click adventure game in which you are also making discoveries while researching marine biology and eco systems on an alien planet.

You play as an AI in a diving suit inhabited by Dr Ellery Vas. She has come to Gliese 677Cc in search of Dr Minae Nomura having received a message on Earth but no further communications. Together, you follow Dr Nomura's steps to unravel the mystery while discovering life on an alien planet.

In Other Waters

In order to traverse the ocean the first thing you do is scan your immediate area. This will uncover any number of various symbols each with a set function. You can then focus your scan on these individual symbols to learn what they are. For example; triangles are points that you can travel to. Every single icon you scan has unique text attached to it. An impressive detail considering the sheer number of them throughout the game.

One of the outstanding aspects of this game is the user interface. What you see on screen is pretty much everything you need to traverse the waters. I used a controller and everything on screen has a logical button associated with it. You can cycle through several suit functions, including sample taking and inventory with the left bumper. Scanning and movement have their own buttons whereas the right analogue stick focuses the scan on the individual symbols. You can tell the all the menu systems were meticulously designed to be as smooth as possible. The only times I struggled was when I was distracted and lost the flow of the process and when on the base where the d-pad had different functions to the left analogue stick.

I think it's fair to say that In Other Waters requires some patience, particularly in the first third of the game. This isn't to sound detrimental to the experience. It's very slow-paced and a little overwhelming. While you can see a fair amount of your surroundings at any one time, you can only see icons within the centre circle of your scanning range. There is no overall map while you're out in the waters. There is a full map in the base where you choose which way-station to deploy at but it's not exactly easy to memorise. Some of the samples that you collect have gameplay mechanics attached to them, notably clearing paths, creating blockades, and refilling vitals. However, the vast majority are there for you to discover and contextualise your environment.

In Other Waters

There is a kind of underlying contemplative dread as you play through the game. The way the serene ocean and its life are visualised is outstanding while the colour scheme evokes an emotive response to your immediate surroundings. The music only adds to this. It's calming when it needs to be and stressful under times of pressure. Both your own survivability and navigation in these alien waters can be a challenge but the anticipation of your next discovery is more than enough motivation to continue. The waters are daunting, the lack of a map once your away from base is intimidating and trying to remember which of your limited samples replenishes power or oxygen to your suit proves a challenge.

The game treats the player with intelligence. Each function on the UI displays the associated button (these can be removed once you're accustomed to the controls) and must of the story is discovered through the player's own curiosity. Without going in to too much detail, there is a lot to learn if you explore every route and scan every symbol. However, I found that revisiting an area proved a slightly frustrating challenge as discerning routes already taken and those yet to be explored isn't easy. On my journey, I scanned every available symbol from one point to the next. Scanned symbols turn orange from white. If there were multiple routes to go, and I only went down the one path, having scanned them all gives no visual indication of where I've not been. I had to rely on both trial and error and my memory, neither of which were always effective.

There are a number of factors in the map that really make it feel alive. The use of colour is particularly key. All living organisms are yellow and the different shades of green in the landscapes show depth. The way the yellow icons move in this ocean is a really effective method of showing the lifeforms; be it an animal darting from the coverage of plants when you get too close or a plant releasing spores. It really does add a lot of personality.

In Other Waters

You can tell this this game was lovingly put together. The companionship of Dr Vas prevents you from feeling completely alone and her writing is particularly strong. You are occasionally given the choice of an affirmative or negative response to something she asks and each time I considered my answer. I tried to be as supportive as possible to her theories and musings as I believed this venture was difficult enough without the support. Her logs are especially humanising and shed light on the events leading up to those experienced in the game. There is a great care and attention to each of the four entries in the taxonomy for your discoveries: observations, behaviour, theories and a sketch. The drawings especially are impressively detailed. Even in my limited understanding of some of the terminology I was able to gleam details (with some thanks to google) of the world I was exploring and begin to visualise what it all looked like.

In Other Waters is simultaneously relaxing and stressful. Exploring the ocean and making constant exciting discoveries is so enjoyable but there's always a sense that something bad is around every corner. It's especially daunting to start, learning the procedures and the layout of the map while managing your samples and life support (when required) is difficult, though the more you become accustomed to it the more comfortable you are on this alien planet.

Ultimately, In Other Waters is a triumph in interactive storytelling using non-conventional means. The visuals, user interface, narrative, gameplay, music and the sheer amount of detail in the game all come together to create an experience that will stay with me for quite some time.

4

In Short

  • + Simple but beautiful visuals
    + Engaging gameplay within a vastly detailed word.
    + The UI is sleek and impressive.
    + The story is rewarding.
    + The music adds to the atmosphere

  • - Can feel overwhelming until you're familiar with the mechanics.

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