‘Under the Waves’ is a sad but relaxing oceanic adventure

Good, grief.

Quantic Dream

Parallel Studio’s Under the Waves is a calming game. Between the cheers and jeers from Crash Team Rumble players (possibly employees) nearby, I was diving. Diving deeper and deeper into the inky blue, chasing a jettisoned shipping container as it bounced off rocks, spilling soft toys and revealing a mysteriously abandoned submarine hidden deeper still. While I might have been relaxed, I also felt a little unsettled.

First announced at last year’s Gamescom, in Under the Waves you play as Stan. And he doesn’t seem to be in a good place. My demo started on the third day of his placement at an underwater living pod, but I know (from the game’s synopsis) that he’s down there quite literally to get away from it all. He appears to be grieving the loss of his daughter, but it’s only lightly touched on during these opening parts of the game. Stan seems unsettled and twitchy in bed (and facially twitchy in general – hopefully his face will settle down with more time in development).

At the start of the demo, Stan wakes with a piercing headache and picks up a call from what I assume is an offshore coworker called Tim. He reveals that the living pod’s oxygen mix is out of whack, likely explaining the sore head. Tim even added that a previous worker failed to flag his headaches, and by the time the rest of the dive team, the worker had started hallucinating. (And, of course, Stan gets his own hallucination moments very soon after.)

Under The Waves
Quantic Dreams

While you’re able to walk around your oxygenated living quarters, most of the game is spent in the ocean, either diving with a limited amount of oxygen (which can be replenished using oxygen sticks) or while steering your own deep-sea vehicle, which can cover ground quicker and help conserve oxygen.

In a nod to the reality of ocean waste, spent oxygen sticks will float where you leave them. These can be collected and converted into plastic. Throughout the game there will be machines and crafting blueprints so you’ll be able to make your own items (like more oxygen sticks) from plastic, metal and other materials found floating or left on the ocean floor. (Parallel Studio have partnered with Surfrider Foundation Europe to support its ocean preservation aims.)

While the ocean floor is attractive and interesting, the man-made features have a retro-futuristic design, like an alternate future that’s… in the past. Like Prey or the more recent Deathloop, the anachronistic combination, somehow works.

Stan is equipped with a scanner, making it infinitely easier to decode instructions from Tim and other objectives. You’ll still have to pay attention though, a little like Firewatch. When Stan heads out to fix the oxygen issues, you’ll have to trace the route of several pipes, noting the broken ones based on their red bulbs. The scanner doesn’t simply do everything, but it does ensure you’re at least headed in the right direction.

In a lot of ways, whether it’s the story yet to be revealed or the uneasy tension that is touched on regularly, it reminds me of Firewatch, even if it’s all set undersea. While this is developed by Parallel Studio, it’ll be published through Quantic Dream’s new Spotlight arm, focused on new developer IP. Quantic Dream has created several games, including Heavy Rain and Detroit: Become Human, which placed a huge focus on narrative and storytelling. For developer Parallel Studios, it seems a good fit.

Under the Waves launches on August 29th.

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