Published on September 6th, 2023 | by Alex Novus
Under the Waves XSX Review
Summary: Under the Waves on Xbox Series X is a beautifully moving and haunting game
From developer Parallel Studios and publisher Quantic Dream, comes the emotionally charged underwater narrative called Under the Waves that takes Xbox Series X|S gamers to the depths of the ocean and all its mysteries. At its core, this third person single-player underwater adventure follows protagonist Stan a professional diver who has been employed to manage the pipes of ‘black gold’, including its daily operations and is coming to terms with his own grief as he lost his daughter Pearl a few years prior.
Although he works for a corporate organisation called UniTrench, he also needs to protect the fragility of the oceans. All this is superbly played out through cinematics and in-game moments to help progress the story. In terms of the protecting the ocean, the developers have aligned themselves with the Surfrider Foundation who add authenticity to this powerful message of environmentalism. This is a stark contrast to the fictitious and greedy UniTrench whose profits before upkeep place the underwater ecosystem in danger.
The stages of grief that surrounds Stan is not only powerful but quite moving at times as he finds solace to accommodate his deep seeded depression as far away from humanity as possible. Further, the social commentary behind the game is quite fascinating as it incorporates real-world events into the narrative and how mankind is tainting the planet such as the forest fires in Australia or the nuclear tests in the Pacific Ocean.
Although this game is set in an alternate universe, if features this retro 1970’s sci-fi element to it, including the megacorporation UniTrench who have a hidden agenda. Cue in “Mercury”, Stan’s robot companion that adds some humour into this dark story, particularly with this AI towing the company line. This nicely adds an element of distraction to the at times, disturbing content that Stan is facing.
Gameplay wise, Under the Waves is from that third person perspective that makes navigating, interacting and exploring the environment a breeze thanks to the XSX controller and it really helps with the narrative. Although there are some clunky gaming mechanics, it flows (pun intended) relatively well and there is even a crafting mechanics thrown into the mix.
However nothing is worse than seeing your oxygen levels get low that really makes your adrenaline levels kick in. Then the beauty… as humanity is tainting the oceans with oil pipes and rubbish, the sighting of the aquatic life adds to the amazing underwater diversity and can be really quite captivating at times, such as seeing a shark, a sea lion or some other undersea creature.
While there are set missions and objectives to complete, you can explore on your own accord and find treasures once lost (now found), including engaging in the various crafting elements of the game thanks to the blueprints littered through this underwater world. Also supporting the game are environmental puzzles that at times can be quite challenging and if you do get stuck, there is a scan option to help you out, including a radar which highlights important areas in this undersea world for you to explore.
Where Under the Waves excels is from its underwater world building that is stunningly recreated on the Xbox Series X that makes it quite a unique next-gen experience. There is also a unique art style used by this French based studio that uses this interesting filter with its 3D elements to bring the environment to life. Given that, the realistic sea life have been faithfully recreated and move with this real-world grace. However there are some bugs that we encountered and while some were frustrating, the content of the game more than made up for these annoyances.
Adding to the experience are the special effects (e.g. chromatic aberration) and lighting which play an important component to the game which is really makes it feel like you are underwater. Additionally the sound effects and musical composition goes hand in hand with the story that enhances your emotions. The voice acting is perfect, thanks to primary actor Ben Lambert who plays the star in this game and the emotion he puts into the character really pays off well, particularly when he is overcome by grief. This becomes even more powerful when you realise he is alone, deep under the water.
Under the Waves on the XSX is a very unique and emotional experience that may not be for everyone, especially if you have just lost a friend or loved one. While the game will only be played once due to the content, it is quite a unique and memorable title that successfully addresses how grief is handled with the backdrop of a very component game set deep under the sea. All in all, the developers should be commended on this beautiful game that really sets itself from other titles at the moment on this next-gen console.
Beautifully moving and haunting.