Under the Waves Review | Games Rants
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Under the Waves Review | Games Rants

Under the Waves is a narrative-driven adventure game from developer Parallel Studio, published by Quantic Dream, about the overwhelming power of grief and its effect on those who fail to face it properly. The title quickly gets to work emotionally investing players in its story and setting, introducing them to a vast and beautiful undersea world. Over the course of its nearly seven-hour playtime, Under the Waves delivers a stunningly emotional experience, with gameplay that immerses fans in both the emotional and physical isolation of its lead. While the title is worthy of players’ time, technical issues and some forced messaging mar Under the Waves’ overall experience.

Under the Waves follows Stan, a professional diver who has suddenly undertaken a job for Unitrench, a deep-sea mining corporation. The job sees him travel between a series of techno-futuristic sites, making adjustments to equipment according to a daily list of tasks. Early on, players learn that Stan is running from the ramifications of a traumatic event, the death of his daughter Pearl, which has thrown the lives of him and his wife, Emma, into turmoil. As time goes on, the suppression of his grief and the isolated nature of his situation begin to take their toll on Stan, leading to a series of nightmarish visions to creep their way into his waking hours. Soon, the reality of these visions and the true nature of his daily tasks combine, forcing Stan to make a series of life-altering decisions that will have a profound impact on the people and places he holds dear.

Under the Waves boasts some of the most beautiful underwater visuals that the medium has ever seen. Every inch of the title’s North Sea setting is given life by its flora and fauna, which the title grants players ample time to experience. Players spend a considerable amount of time traversing the dark vastness of the sea, as Stan is tasked with venturing through caves, trenches, and undersea wreckage throughout his various Daily Tasks. Alongside these tasks, Stan can satisfy optional photography objectives by getting up close and personal with the ocean’s occupants, some of which lead him to rare collectibles and deepen his backstory.

Under the Waves Deep Sea Visuals Dreams

To navigate Under the Waves’ undersea setting, Stan utilizes the Moon, a single-occupant deepsea craft. The controls are rather intuitive, with simple forward, reverse, drift, and boost settings, and featuring gaming’s standard inverted-vertical control mechanic. In order to effectively plan their exploration, players must manage the Moon’s fuel, which can be refilled mid-journey by finding fuel tanks or crafting them before leaving the Life Module, Stan’s base. When space gets too tight, Stan can use his diving skills to venture forward himself, offering a slow, but effective means of exploring every nook and cranny of Under the Waves’ 1970s setting.

Once players reach their objective, Stan is forced to venture on foot into Unitrench’s massive facilities. In each facility, players are tasked with maintaining Stan’s oxygen level while solving a series of puzzles. While none of the puzzles are particularly challenging, requiring players to simply perform or properly time a button press, Under the Waves offers very little guidance, leaving players to work out their solution as Stan’s oxygen relentlessly depletes. Managing to prepare enough fuel and oxygen to get to each objective, satisfy their maintenance tasks, and then make it back to the Life Module is an important part of Under the Waves’ core gameplay loop. However, all is not what it seems in the deep sea, and Stan’s mental health soon threatens his ability to manage these mechanics and satisfy his tasks.

Under The Waves Life Module Emma

Unfortunately, Under the Waves‘ close-quarters sequences are marred by technical issues. Unlike the title’s open-sea exploration, on-foot sequences lack technical polish, with animations occasionally causing assets to clip or disappear. This is particularly evident at the end of each day, as Stan is given free rein to engage in recreational activities, like playing a guitar and hitting a punching bag. Each is accompanied by a rhythm-based minigame, but the animations make them very difficult to time properly.

Additionally, objects tend to disappear or become unaligned during Under the Waves‘ close-up animations. One example sees Stan go through the animation of picking up and playing the guitar without the asset ever moving. With the instrument still propped up next to him, Stan strums dead air with each successful button press, until the player exits the mini-game altogether. Luckily, Under the Waves‘ story keeps players invested in seeing these nights through.

Under the Waves Dreams of Pearl

During his first few days, Stan establishes a routine, grabbing a cup of coffee, fulfilling his tasks, then heading to the Life Module to speak to his wife. These discussions begin to inform the player of just how suddenly Stan departed on his journey, with Emma feeling abandoned to grieve alone. While Emma appears to be grieving properly, Stan is not – a truth that manifests through nightmarish dreams in which he encounters the spirit of his daughter, in the form of a jellyfish, before being attacked by a mass of hostile organisms. Near the midpoint of Under the Waves, the emotional toll of Stan’s dreams and reality combine, ushering in a series of disasters.

Under the Waves Waking Nightmares

The intersection of Stan’s dreams and reality leads to Under the Waves’ most impactful moments. As his will to see Pearl increases, Stan’s inability to discern reality ushers in Under the Waves’ secondary narrative. The title’s ocean is filled with waste and debris, which Stan recycles to craft items. However, his continued work for Unitrench, amidst a mental health crisis, soon leads to an ecological disaster.

In creating these elements, Parallel Studios partnered with The Surfrider Foundation, a real environmentalist group that focuses on preserving the world’s oceans. Should players clean the ocean and recycle their own waste, they can earn Trophies or Achievements, which feature the Surfrider designation. The major events of Under the Waves‘ narrative greatly overshadow any good that Stan, and the player, have done for the ocean, allowing the title’s secondary narrative, focused on humanity’s exploitation of the ocean’s natural resources, to portray a traumatic tale of its own. Unfortunately, Under the Waves sees its two traumatic narratives duel for players’ emotions, rather than combining to present a singular message about humanity’s inability to face harsh truths, and its impact on the environment.

Under the Waves delivers an incredibly emotional story about grief and its ability to manifest in the realities of those who attempt to evade it. While the title’s main narrative is powerfully effective, its secondary focus on environmentalism, fueled by a real-world partnership, diminishes the overall impact of the experience. Though its close-up visuals and optional objectives are marred by technical issues, the core of Under the Waves‘ gameplay is enough to keep players engaged in its mandatory tasks. The story of Stan is one many fans will resonate with, as it captures the difficult thoughts that accompany grief. Unfortunately, Under the Waves doesn’t quite deliver a gaming experience deserving of such meaningful concepts.

under the waves

Under the Waves

Parallel Studio’s Under the Waves follows Stan, a submarine diver on a mission in the North Sea. As the ship reaches new depths, strange phenomena start to occur that also reflect Stan’s psychological state of mind. An adventure game with a focus on exploration, Under the Waves tells a personal tale dealing with grief.

Under the Waves is available now on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. Game Rant was provided a PS5 code for this review.

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