In Other Waters Review: Beyond the reef, the plank falls away in the turquoise haze of the open ocean. I find myself surrounded by golden pillars that glow with the glittering petals of the sunlit life. Bright green webs of twisted tendrils stretch from pillar to pillar, forming a winding network of bridges for the feathered, fern-like creatures that patrol and maintain. It is a spectacular, awe-inspiring scene.
Still, it mostly exists in my imagination; the miracle is formed by a handful of one-sentence descriptions and a simple two-tone contour map. In Other Waters does so much with seemingly so little that pops up like a master class incautious, minimalist stories.
In Other Waters Review: About
- Platform: Nintendo Switch, Windows, Mac OS, Macintosh
- Developer: Jump Over The Age
- Publisher: Fellow Traveller
- Genres: Adventure game
- Release Date: April 3, 2020
In Other Waters Review: Official Trailer Video
In Other Waters Review: Gameplay
Dr. Ellery Vas is a xenobiologist following her partner, who disappeared during her investigation of extraterrestrial life on the ocean planet Gliese 667Cc. Stationed in her partner’s abandoned lab and equipped with an AI-powered wetsuit, Vas explores the depths in search of answers. You play the AI in a disarming reversal of the typical human-AI relationship; Vas sets the goals, often in consultation with you, but it is your task to chart her course, collect samples and perform tests in the lab.
The arrangement offers Vas room to breathe as a character. While you accompany her maritime expedition, she tells intermittently. She pauses to marvel at new sights, thinks aloud as she reviews possible theories, and occasionally entrusts you with doubts and fears. Conversations may be scarce, and your responsiveness is limited to the odd yes or no answer, but it may affect it all the more. You two are strangers at first, but Vas’s caution in revealing her innermost thoughts of an AI gradually washes away as she realizes, despite your reluctance to understand her predicament.
Likewise, the overall design has an elegance in that it communicates a lot of information in very few words. Visibility on your travels is limited to a bathymetric map with hydrographic features drawn in clean lines and navigation points marked when you activate the local scanner. Vas is a diligent note-taker, and her short written descriptions of each location bring these points to life in a remarkably vibrant way.
The textual imagery effectively combines with the map’s subtle palette changes – the warm greens of the shallows blend into the vibrant blues and yellows of the deeper waters before giving way to the blacks and reds of the darkest depths. Add in the obscure, ambient buzz of the sea and the soft rumble of the wetsuit’s propulsion engine as you head to a new destination, and In Other Waters delivers a richly immersive audiovisual experience that belies its spartan aesthetic. It is quite an achievement.
The minimalist construction extends to your interactions with the world. Scanning reveals the closest nodes you can travel to via the point-to-point motion system. It also explains all the life forms you can click to have Vas study. Each unique encounter with a specific life form contributes to her observations until she can correctly identify and catalog them. There are also unique monsters to collect, often hidden in corners of the map, that add to the deep taxonomy of this alien ecosystem and reward the time it takes to track them all.
All of this is accomplished through an interface that begs to play with. Intriguingly unlabeled buttons, dials, switches, scopes, and sliders fill the screen not so much as gracefully, teasingly puzzling features with perfectly stylish shape. Unobtrusive tips for tutorials light up the dashboard when you need to use each part, but there’s plenty left to decipher. Just as Vas confronts the unknown on her journey and has to speculate and experiment, test her hypotheses, you too will see and interact with a very tactile, symbolic interface until you finally have an intuitive understanding of how it all works.
In many cases, the mysteries coincide; Vas’s quest for an understanding of the life forms she encounters reflects your rumor about the best way to continue. After all, the themes and mechanics of exploration and scientific methods are consistent everywhere and intertwine. While primarily a story-driven game, there is a slight undercurrent of resource management that flows through every outing from the ground up. By taking samples and investigating marine life, you can extract the strength and oxygen you need to maintain Vas’s wetsuit on longer trips.
However, certain environmental risks deplete these resources faster. At the same time, you need some specific samples to pass through otherwise inaccessible regions; both scenarios serve to gently spur you on to at least consider the limited inventory while you prepare for each prepared expedition. Even though failure is not a criminal offense here – Vas will be taken back to base via a drone if you no longer let her get oxygen – having to monitor your use of resources builds up tension. It promotes the feeling of trepidation as you set course unknown waters.
In Other Waters review expertly develops its central mysteries, trickles the revelations in a way that feels natural, and sends you to inspect the corners of the map in a way that doesn’t feel artificial. As you steadily learn more about what Vas’s partner was up to on this strange planet, and you begin to understand the plight of humanity yourself, the mystery builds to a confident conclusion – one that satisfies yet continues to realize that some questions be more tempting if you leave them unanswered.
In that sense, the story reflects the reluctance that runs throughout the game to deliver a stylish, confident, and utterly engaging adventure that shows time and again how it can do a lot with seemingly very little.
In Other Waters does so much with seemingly so little that pops up like a master class incautious, minimalist stories.