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A bit confusing but the story stays afloat, September 8, 2022
This is a story-centered game about returning to an old passion after it slipped away. It follows a protagonist whose view of an ideal life is to live and work on a ship with a close crew. Though the past never guaranteed this lifestyle, a change in life circumstances may make things brighter than they were before.
This is also a ShuffleComp game. It incorporates song lyrics into the radio that the captain listens to on the ship. Not particularly novel but still works.
Submerge begins with the protagonist (I believe they are unnamed) seeing Mira after a long absence. Mira is the ship that was once the protagonistís home and workplace until it sank. As they set to work with restoring the ship their mind relives flashbacks. Most of the gameplay takes place in the past.
The game has some brief moments of interactivity such as deciding on which part of the ship to examine or choosing how to respond to another character, but it does not go further than that. While none of these choices influences the outcome of the scene or the gameís overarching story, it does add some variety. Expect gameplay that focuses on story rather than player choices.
Story + Characters
The downside was that the story was hard to follow. Even after playing the game four times, I still cannot confidently summarize its key plot points. The flashbacks, though interesting, made the order of events difficult to grasp. There are two story elements that appear in the narrative. The first is about the protagonistís personal life struggles, while the second covers their experience with their fellow crewmembers on the Mira.
Protagonist: The game does not explain the name or gender of the protagonist. My guess was that they were male, but I do not want to be too hasty in assuming that. I think the story would have been stronger with more attention to protagonist details. What we do know about their story is that they (Spoiler - click to show) lost their job and got in trouble with the law over drug possession. They were assigned to a parole officer with whom they often conflict with. Life deteriorated. Then Leslie, their significant other (spouse, perhaps?), leaves them as the eviction notices and unpaid bills accumulate. But they have already been passionate about the sea. Their best memories are of being employed on a fishing ship. But when (Spoiler - click to show) that disappeared, they feel into despair. Or at least, I think this came after their experience with Mira. Like I said, it was hard to follow.
Crew: When it came to the second story element about Miraís crew, the game skimps on detail. The gameplay frequently mentions a handful of characters, such as Jamie or Wendy, but we are never really introduced to them. There seems to be some resentment about the shipís captain. He was slipping in his leadership abilities due to alcoholism, leaving the crew feeling undervalued and overworked. Then (Spoiler - click to show) a storm changed everything. The ship ran into a coastline of sharp rocks. Wendy was swept overboard, and apparently drowned. Everyone else survived but had no plan of what to do next with their lives. I assume this is when the protagonistís life spiraled down.
The ending is a bit vague but the gist of it is that (Spoiler - click to show) the protagonist runs into Alex, a former crewmember who brings up the idea of regrouping with old acquaintances to retrieve and restore the ship on their own funds. Once completed the ship could open opportunities for self-employment, or simply just provide a sense of closure. The game ends with the protagonist agreeing to this idea and looking forward to a new change in life. Ultimately, I liked aspects of the story and its core messages, but its content lacked substance. It had all the signs of an emotionally charged story but fell short.
The game has flashbacks but not the type where the game says, "10 years ago..." Instead, flashbacks are represented by background colours. They pulse in and out in a dreamlike manner, almost like a passing thought. These colour coded backgrounds try to organize the narrative a little more. Pale blue background for the protagonistís memories with their crewmates on the Mira, light blue green for memories about their own living situation. They fade out and return to the protagonistís present-day reality of repairing the ship. These scenes are shown in a dark navy-blue background. Occasionally this is paired with changes in text colour. I have seen lots of colourful backgrounds in Twine games, but few experiment with fade in or transitional effects. I like the gameís use of this technique because to creates a daydream feel.
Submerge is an interesting game but not a particularly memorable one. If anything, its visual effects are the most distinguishing part. Nonetheless the game presents a detailed story and is reasonable in length, about 15 minutes. For me, replaying the game was more inspired by the visual effects rather than experiencing the story. I do not think that this will be the case for all players. Though it is a confusing story it is also an emotional one with the theme of a protagonist trying to land on their own feet after a negative chapter in their life. With that, I encourage players to give this a try.
The game's visuals and subject matter has faint similarities to the Twine game Tangaroa Deep which also features a marine setting (though with completely different gameplay mechanics) and the use of backgrounds with blues and greens.