This might sound paradoxical, but I like to think of myself as being uncreatively imaginative. Which sounds super weird, right? Those are two concepts you’d think are inexplicably linked; the ability to imagine and create.
See, I don’t really consider myself all that creative. Which can sting, sure. It’s often praised as a necessary skill for a writer, but I would say that it doesn’t necessarily fit me. I can’t mentally conjure up worlds and languages, alien flora and fauna at the drop of a hat. What I can do is take those suggested concepts, those creative ideas, and weave them into something more understandable. I can imagine how they fit together, how they interact with one another and maybe use them to tell a story.
I think this is the reason I’ve felt such a connection to In Other Waters because it’s a game that provides the player with many suggestions but only ever asks you to fill in the blanks. It’s a game about subtle storytelling and world-building and if you’re willing to put up with some of its more plodding moments and dive deep into its undersea world, you’ll find that there’s plenty to appreciate.
On the surface, In Other Waters presents itself as a thoroughly simple game. You play as an AI implanted into a diving suit and your goal is to basically follow the orders of your pilot, a man desperately searching for a rogue scientist who’s holed up somewhere in an alien ocean. This all means that you see everything as an AI, with a binary dialogue system in place to prompt some sort of relationship between you and your pilot and everything else is just a series of blips and lines on a screen. If we’re going on presentation alone, I’m sure plenty of people would be turned off by how minimalistic In Other Waters is, however intentional it may be. As you progress through the story, which actually goes in some fairly interesting directions if you give it a minute, you’ll realise that your main job is to research your environment. Slowing traversing across the ocean floor, diving down into caves and rushing through powerful currents by sacrificing your oxygen supply, in an effort to scan and sample all the organic life that’s surrounding you.
Which is largely the bulk of the game when you’re not following your orders and progressing the story. While it doesn’t sound like much, I was enamoured by it. The simple aesthetic and visual design lends itself to the imagination, with every new piece of lore and description building a more complex image of the world you’re swimming around in. While the actual dialogue can be hit or miss in terms of how effective it is at capturing the characters involved, the bulk of the game often boils down to reading up on the information you’ve been able to bring back to base camp. Each entry feels like it was ripped out of a scientific journal, making the world of In Other Waters feel remarkably genuine and real despite the fact that you never fully get a chance to look at it in its entirety. It’s a world that’s clearly been meticulously planned out as the organisms surrounding you interact and rely on one another…at least, you know that they do. The dots that symbolise these aspects obviously don’t convey much but after reading up on your data, it comes so easy to imagine everything working in harmony. For a game that purposely makes its UI so bland and banal, it’s incredible how beautiful it all is.
Having said that, it’s very clear that In Other Waters isn’t for everyone. It’s a niche title aiming to do something for a particular audience. It’s slow and contemplative, often to an extent that feels self-indulgent. There is plenty of reading to done and because most of it unfolds in such a way as to resemble scientific journals, you’ve definitely got to be in the right state of mind to fully appreciate it. Those looking for a story that’s direct in its narrative will be disappointed by In Other Waters, but those players looking for a world to simply lose themselves in will find it in the alien ecosystem that’s seemingly been ripped from reality. Beyond the reading, your interactions are obviously limited and while there are improvements to your initially slow movement speed, this is a game that feels more like a visual novel than I think it intends to. If that’s what we view In Other Waters as, an elaborate visual novel, it certainly offers more robust interaction than others in the genre, but it’s still a game that’s certainly not relying on exciting gameplay mechanics as a priority. You’ll either love that or hate it.
Which basically goes for the game in it’s entirety. In Other Waters is a marvellous experience, but only for the right player. It’s certainly not trying to appeal to the broad market but rather hones in on an audience that will appreciate it and gives them everything it has to offer. It’s a unique if somewhat slow experience that knows exactly what it’s about. This isn’t the sort of game that can just be recommended; there are caveats to it. If you’re the methodical type that enjoys discovery, science, biology and slow, thoughtful story then I think you’ll end up adoring In Other Waters. If you’re none of those things, you’ll probably still enjoy the game, but as a solution to your insomnia.
Last Updated: March 31, 2020