The first time I booted In Other Waters I spent nearly ten minutes without being able to do anything. It was quite a dilemma, because going into it blind as I had (the only thing I knew was that other members of IGT looked forward to playing it at some point), I hadn’t had any context nor did I know what to expect. [Editor’s Note: That was the Chief and she is still jealous as hell that she couldn’t get two copies] Once I started moving however, and realised what I had gotten myself into, I found myself hooked. As a story driven title I cannot reveal the twists and turns of it, not through image nor through text, but I can still speak to its quality. So please, allow me to do just that.
One of the things that you must know before I talk about In Other Waters and this might seem like a bit of a segway is that I have Aphantasia, throwing around such a term in a game review might be a bit presumptuous but I’ll save you the trip to Wikipedia and just tell you what it means, I can’t visualise. If I hear a story, or remember something, I remember it more as a vaguely worded description or a feeling rather than an image, and being told that people can remember things visually, from faces to trips, and that they can imagine longly worded descriptions of a book always shocked me and made me a bit jealous. Why do I bring this up? Because besides a very simple user interface all you get are dots to represent the world and a companion that narrates and describes what’s around you.
It can take many forms, it can be that the dot rapidly approaching you is a curious little creature or it can be that simple lines in the screen are canyons. Exploring the world of In Other Waters is a slow, tentative experience, and one that you would think having only text I would be unable to enjoy, but the truth is, I did enjoy it.
It’s the interactions and character more than anything else that made it for me, much like one of my favorite games of all time, Life is Strange. What really kept me going is the character displayed by people as you dive deeper. That depth that reveals itself through weakness and doubt, and the fact that you are there to see or read them makes you care about them. In Other Waters managed to do just that in just a few short hours, and while I couldn’t exactly see in my mind’s eye what it was that was described, I felt compelled to keep going just the same.
But that’s just the story and as a game a more pressing question might be in your head. You may be asking yourself: “How does it play?”, and that’s something that, just like the story and presentation, is handled in a very unique way.
As I said earlier at first I did not really understand how to move nor what I was doing because it was so unlike anything I’ve ever played. In In Other Waters you don’t control the character in a 2D or even 3D space but are met with a single screen. That’s it, one screen and the entire game is played from there. Designed like an interface for a diving suit, all you can do at first in the game is scan the surrounding environment and look for which way to go.
It sounds boring and very mindless, the fact that all you do is scan and choose a direction and yet, such a simple action held me and made me perform it with a thoroughness not unlike that of a real scientist. Thoroughness is somewhat of a theme with my experiences with In Other Waters as even when other elements are added, which happens not too long into the story, I performed them with deliberate considerate movements that reflected the determination that would have me push forward in a more action oriented game such as one by Platinum Games or Capcom
Though I’ve played plenty of games with a scientist as a main character, I have always felt that it rarely portrayed the noble art of furthering human knowledge in the most realistic of lights. Whacking headcrabs with a crowbar or dating an androgynous Commander Shepard [Editor’s Note: they’re a solder not a scientist, also you don’t date them, you are them] are, let’s face it, not in the purview of an usual scientist. In Other Waters reveals and displays what I, having chosen the social sciences as an area of studies, can only imagine what the day to day of a biologist to be like. Indeed, while collecting samples, analysing them, and making a hypothesis based on observable behavior, the character you spend the most time with (though not the one you play as) displays the thirst for more knowledge that propels science forward.
As the game advances you’ll start to find light puzzles to solve and will have to deal with limited resources as in a deep sea of an alien planet oxygen and energy are low. With a game that so often felt lowkey those elements in the back of my mind added an extra layer of consideration to my movements. You can use biological samples to produce a little bit of energy or oxygen, but perhaps those samples would better be used manipulating the environment around you (which is displayed in dots and lines). It’s never so pressing that it gets in the way of the story and forces you to restart (not when you practice good management of those resources) but it adds even more to the game.
I don’t like to consider myself a harsh critic as every game has something worth pointing out as positive and I just give my honest opinion, but I didn’t have to dig for compliments. I enjoyed In Other Waters. As a story driven game it excels, and the unique presentation reveals that, while flashy graphics and complex animations do make for a good presentation, sometimes all that is needed is a solid idea and a good story. The Seal is definitively a given.
A review copy was provided by the developers
Mcportugalem has awarded In Other Waters the Indie Gamer Team Seal of Approval