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Quantic Dream

Under The Waves Hands-On: A mystery in the depths that deserves to be solved

We had the chance to experience the opening moments of Under The Waves and got hooked by the submarine vistas and sense of wonder.

Under The Waves Hands-On: A mystery in the depths that deserves to be solved

A few days ago, we were invited to try the opening moments of Under The Waves, a new title developed by Parallel Studio and published by Quantic Dream. While we knew that the game is an “ecological underwater adventure”, we didn’t quite understand much about the gameplay or what we would be doing on a moment to moment basis.

After playing for barely more than 20 minutes we now believe it deserves as much attention as many of the biggest games of the year, if not more… Unless you suffer from Thalassophobia .

Life is better under the sea

Under The Waves is set in a techno-futuristic 1970s in which you play as Stan, a diver hired by a big oil company to stay in an underwater station for as-of-yet unclear reasons. As we played, we were presented with a calm protagonist, certain of his abilities and hopeful that his first day on the job will be perfectly all right, but as he descends into a flooded station wearing nothing but a diving suit, things seem eerie and wrong… thankfully, this isn’t a horror game.

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Perhaps conditioned by a recent wave of top-notch horror games, we kept expecting something to go wrong as we explored the dark, underwater facility we were dropped in. But you play as a capable, calm diver, and are almost always accompanied by your contact from the company on the surface, who seems to be an old friend. Their conversation is realistic and calming, with him guiding Stan through the process of restarting the generators and lighting up the place.

A few moments later, you’re introduced to what is one of the main features of the game. As we had been slowly stomping through the water, the fact that you can simply lift off and swim freely through the depths came as a bit of a surprise. And it’s something that is difficult to explain, but it feels fantastic and liberating. Your movement is quicker than simply walking, and there's almost no restrictions on which way to go. Of course, you’re limited by your oxygen and are not supposed to stay out there forever, but the freedom you’re given is enough to get you excited about exploring and trying to find treasure and resources.

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Speaking of, there seems to be a lot more game to Under The Waves than we originally expected. As we traveled through this opening area we were met with prompts to gather items strewn about in the facility: from metal and plastics to the discarded containers of the oxygen refills used to extend your time. A developer that was present during the session explained to us that this is part of the ecological message Parallel Studio wishes to convey with the game. But it also seems to hint at us doing much more than just exploring.

There’s a whole world to explore out there

After a short trek, you’re presented with your very own mini submarine, and after undocking it you’re allowed to enter it, and simply drive off towards what is going to be your main operations base, a small underwater habitat that contains Stan’s personal belongings, and to which I’m told we’ll be returning after each day of watery exploration. But the sub is what really captured my attention: if simply swimming was exciting, the submarine is a thing of wonder. Its controls are very simple, prompting you to either accelerate or brake, and that propels you forward in whatever direction you’re pointing at. However, after exiting the facility and travelling through a small canyon, you’re hit with the realization that you’re actually out in the open sea.

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The murky depths of the sea floor expands to the horizon, and while you can’t see far ahead there is a beauty to what you can see and explore. A calm, soothing soundtrack pushes you forward, always maintaining a sense of wonder that makes you want to take the sub and go off into the distance. We eventually reached the base and continued with the opening story, but were assured by the developers that there will be exploration every day, with treasures and items to collect.

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All in all, the experience that we got with Under The Waves left us wanting to find out more about the game. Focused mainly on the message they want to convey and the story of the protagonist, one of loneliness, self-isolation, and overcoming trauma, the game also comes packed with a beautiful world. There’s quite a bit of suspense going on with the story, and even when there’s no enemies or direct threats, there’s a sense of dread that lingers around at every moment.

Parallel Studio has touted the title as a “poetic” experience, and we can agree to that. Under the Waves is coming in 2023 to PC, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS4 and PS5.