When you take Firewatch's melancholic, back and forth narration, add some open-world exploration and plunge it several hundred meters below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, you get Under the Waves.
Stan, a professional diver who is embarking on a long stint as a deep sea engineer, is assigned tasks, goes out in your personal submarine to work on some rusty underwater equipment, and returns to a cosy life support pod on the seabed to recharge both the day and your existence on the surface.
The underwater setting creates a significant difference, instantly making me think of Camp Santos' excellent story game, Firewatch.
You are in complete control of where you take your personal sub. There are reefs and wrecks to discover, as well as hidden passages to discover during exploration. See a fish shoal in the dark, turbulent waters of the North Sea for a while. New conversation topics and materials you can use to craft new items and tools.
Being underwater allows you to essentially ignore ladders and stairs in a genre where you are usually limited to walking or jogging between objectives. It removes a lot of the fear from exploration.
Parallel Studio CEO Ronan Coiffec, who worked on Life is Strange and Remember Me with Dont Nod, said the company wanted to immerse the player in the narrative in a way that works for them.
We imagine someone seeing [a playthrough] and the YouTuber they're following is just going from mission to mission. Maybe they're passing by a cave entrance or a nearby wreck, and we're seeing the viewer thinking What about me? I'd like to explore that area. So I think by allowing the player to experience the game for himself.
There's just enough force and drift when gliding between stations to keep swimming precise and smooth, but otherwise swimming is smooth and precise. Outside in open waters you can feel the push and pull of the waves above, buffeting your submarine from side to side as you try to dock it. This is who will be included in our roundup of the best submarine games when it comes out.
Its a world you want to see, too. The muted colour palette and grainy film effects also bring you in mind of classic Cousteau, with briny deep sea blues punctuated by pops of primary colours courtesy of the techno-futurist 70s setting. Its not a particularly subtle visual reference Stan even wears a bright red, ribbed beanie like the iconic oceanographer, but it's perfectly executed.
Under the Waves is a slow-burner, pensive, and blue like the aquatic world Stans retreated to, but the demo closes with a hint for whats to come. Shortly after nodding off, Stan awakes on a strange, moonlit highway deep beneath the sea. It's an impossible scenario, and just before you can truly ignore it a blue whale soaring past.
Under the Waves is ticking a lot of the same boxes for me, while Stan awaits him in these dreamscapes or out on his daily tasks for the first time.