Developed By: Jump Over the Age
Published By: Fellow Traveller
Release Date: 03.04.2020
Everyone plays videogames for different reasons. Some play to adopt a different role, be that of a hero or villain. Others play for a personal challenge against a series of predetermined obstacles or players online. Then some just play to escape. It’s games like In Other Waters that provide that escape in a perfect getaway to an extraterrestrial world, capturing the mystery and beauty of an alien ocean with profound minimalism.
With technical-looking UI and a single lens from which to operate in the world, you play as the AI of an underwater space suit. After some shuffling of your memory, you wake up to find a new owner, Ellery Vas. In search of her missing partner Minae (and her captivating research), you’re tasked with helping the xenobiologist follow the clues that lie behind not only Minae’s disappearance but of the mystery in the ecology of the great ocean planet. The interface you use to unravel the story of both at first glance looks as foreign as the caverns and ocean floor you explore, but you soon pick up on its quirks. The buttons on the controller are mapped to act as buttons on the panel of a futuristic submarine, and it’s satisfying to swing between them whether it’s to scan the surface for alien life or pick up samples for the lab.
These simple actions of research, exploration, and collection make up the core gameplay as you guide Ellery with your lens through the expanse of rock outcroppings and stalk forests. Like the gameplay, the world is fairly uncomplicated visually speaking, but that’s not to say it’s any less beautiful. From a top-down viewpoint, you wander through what is essentially a stripped-down geologic map of blue, green, and yellow. Aquatic life you encounter are dots, sometimes solitary and sometimes in great numbers, their movement revealing patterns of the living or of strong currents from another edge of the sea.
The imagery invokes a powerful use of negative space that depicts a vast, unexplored world. Your only companion inhabits the suit. Her occasional remarks about the search for Minae or her notes on the surrounding environment are meant to keep your company, and they do a good job of putting you in the shoes of a lonely scientist who observes the world with a critical eye. You connect the dots as she does, while the process shapes endless sea through the details in her journals and observations. These descriptions are complemented by the eerie, yet beautiful soundtrack of dissonant ambient music that ebbs and flows like the tides around you. Besides the captivating and mysterious text-based story, the mood set by the atmospheric sound of water and the hypnotic score was easily my favorite part of the game even if I lost track of what I was doing. It is an experience to play, and a relaxing one too, combining fear of the unknown with the joy of discovery.
There are samples to collect from the wildlife, with each new turn of your radar-like tool unveiling more information on its existence. While you’re free to move about and collect what’s available, the game isn’t necessarily an open world. It remains linear in how it follows the path of its narrative. Even so, it’s hard to label this game as a specific genre. Adventure or mystery comes to mind, but like the strange feeling it gives you as you lose yourself in its ambiance, it avoids any rigid description.
With the small feeling of scientific discovery it often generates, In Other Waters is the kind of indie gem you hope to find without looking. It’s simple but effective color scheme and gorgeous selection of ambient music fill the space around you. The cosmic sounds of an alien ocean amplify that emptiness to create a fresh experience. The rest is like reading good sci-fi. In that sense, In Other Waters will surprise you and take you to a place you’ve never been.