How many games have you played where the protagonist is encased in a mechanized suit of some variety, assisted by an AI companion? How many of those games entailed blasting through hordes of alien life? In Other Waters makes a couple of significant departures from this setup. The player character is not Ellery Vas, the xenobiologist combing an alien sea for signs of life, but rather the mysterious AI which operates her diving suit. Furthermore, as you may have guessed from Dr. Vas’ profession, your goal is not to destroy the alien life you discover but to study it and investigate the disappearance of her former partner. So how does this inversion hold up? Is there a fun game lurking in this nonviolent trek through the enigmatic deeps?
- What is In Other Waters? It’s a narrative game with heavy emphasis on exploration, text descriptions, and dialogue. Traverse the oceans of Gliese 677Cc to analyze its life and uncover some answers.
- Reviewed On: PC
- Developer: Jump Over the Age
- Publisher: Fellow Traveller
- Release Date: April 3, 2020
- Website: https://fellowtraveller.games/games/in-other-waters/.
Suit Up, Dive Down
Given that your character doesn’t possess eyes or ears, visual information is conveyed to you through the use of a HUD supplemented by text descriptions in the form of Dr. Vas’ observations. Traversal of new areas is achieved by scanning the environment for clear vectors and traveling from one point to the next. You can take manual control to quickly move from one explored point to another, but for the most part your journey is measured and methodical.
There are no larger-than-life action setpieces, and even moments where life support systems undergo strain and threaten to fail are accompanied by a pervading sense of calm. You aren’t on the edge of your seat, rather — and fittingly given the setting — you are dealing with an ever-building pressure, whether that comes from toxic waters or a draining power supply. No split-second maneuvers here — it’s a series of calculated choices that will carry you through hazards to a cathartic sigh of relief.
Overall, In Other Waters is characterized much more by observation and problem-solving than by navigating dangerous situations. You will observe the features and behavior of the local flora and fauna, collect samples, and devise ways to traverse the environment with various gadgets. Mechanically, the game is about surveying one’s surroundings, making efforts to catalogue and comprehend one’s findings, and overcoming adversity as it presents itself along the journey. The process of managing the diving suit and ensuring Dr. Vas’ safety is slow-going but satisfying in its own way. It has the quiet sort of appeal that comes from watching the crew members of the Nostromo go about their tasks in Alien. The design of the game succeeds in presenting various interesting aspects of assisting a xenobiologist exploring an alien world.
This success mostly translates to harmony between gameplay and narrative. The mechanics — whatever their relation to actual scientific processes — immerse the player in the work of a scientist, while the writing paints the world to make you see why that work arouses such passion in the story’s principal characters. There’s a deeper emotional core driving the story than a passive interest in alien wildlife. And interestingly, at a number of junctions, In Other Waters encourages you to define the AI you’re playing, to comment on its personhood or outlook by answering yes or no questions posed by Dr. Vas.
That said, many questions boil down to “Do you think x happened?” or something similar, and the interactions between Dr. Vas and your AI player character feel like they could have been explored more thoroughly. Beefing up the dialogue mechanics or at least including more instances where you make a choice about your character would have solidified the game’s themes about artificial intelligence and its implications. As it stands, these ideas feel somewhat scattered and unfocused, especially given the mechanical and narrative emphasis on other themes like greed, hubris, and environmentalism.
Did it for the Themes
The story of In Other Waters has a way of holding your attention. From the first, you are taking samples, making observations, and picking up the trail of Minae Nomura, Dr. Vas’ missing partner. You wind up pulling on this thread that gradually doles out meaningful information, plot developments, and complications that deepen the mystery. Early on and well past the midpoint, the game is paced deliberately and effectively.
Unfortunately, things start to come apart somewhat by the ending. Without going into spoilers, there wasn’t enough work done on the finale to evoke the emotions that the developers were clearly going for. The game’s sweeping themes and intended impact get boiled down into statements by the main character. Given the format of the game, it is understandably difficult to strictly adhere to the “show, don’t tell” rule, but nonetheless the ending monologues come across as blunt and heavy-handed.
However, the game’s overall narrative thrust remains a positive one. Even though they’re a bit obvious, In Other Waters explores themes relevant to modern life, particularly where corporate greed and climate change are concerned, and it poses the somewhat depressing question, “do humans even deserve to discover other life?” Furthermore, the relationship between Ellery and Minae is handled well, and the twists and turns of your pursuit of her have a way of keeping you guessing what will happen next.
Tying it all together is the soundtrack, which drags you into the setting and holds you there. The music is calm and almost ethereal, occasionally bordering on the sinister, and at key plot moments even pulling on your heartstrings. The writing is already good, particularly where descriptions of the environment are concerned, and it’s elevated by the excellent soundtrack considerably.
Zoom Out: Verdict
Aesthetics and Atmosphere - 8/10
Narrative and Themes - 7/10
Mechanics - 7/10
Pacing and Polish - 6/10
In Other Waters is an atmospheric, emotional journey that struggles to stick the landing. While the mechanics, aesthetics, and writing work in tandem to convey the wonder and struggle of working as a xenobiologist (or an AI helping one), the ending feels rushed, and too many themes are outright stated for the audience.
- Emotional story and vivid descriptions
- Audiovisuals, especially the soundtrack
- Subtly satisfying mechanics
- Too much telling, not enough showing
- Ending feels rushed
- Certain themes, particularly those concerning AI, feel underdeveloped