No good can come from going in the sea. Even just dipping your toes runs the risk of crabs and other weird creatures rubbing up against your feet, but the further you get in the worse it gets. Sharks, jellyfish, the Kraken — it’s bleak in there.
Under the Waves is set almost entirely underwater, and while it’s not a horror game, it is deeply unsettling at times. The ocean makes an excellent setting thanks to its inherent vastness, and how wildly alien it is for us land-dwellers. There’s an incredible atmosphere to this game, a sort of constant sense of impending doom coupled with occasional, odd moments of beauty.
The story revolves around Stan, who goes on a one-man mission deep underwater at the behest of an almost-certainly terrible corporation. He’s glad of the opportunity because his personal life is in turmoil, and the ocean floor seems like a good place for him to get away from it all. Over the course of his time there, we find out more about him, why he’s there, and what it is that’s eating away at him.
Even though Stan is in frequent conversation with a colleague on the surface, this is a tremendously lonely game. There’s a lot of swimming in dark areas, keeping an eye on the comically inadequate oxygen tank to make sure we don’t drown, occasionally eyeing a fish or a seal or something more sinister, and then heading back to home base to sit, alone, looking depressed.
Under the Waves falters frequently on the technical side, and even though you can complete it in less than 10 hours, we came across numerous ugly glitches. One time our quest markers disappeared, so we couldn’t finish a quest and had to restart. Another time we got an error message every time the game auto-saved, and we experienced numerous crashes, too.
But the soundtrack is excellent and perfectly complements your lonely swimming, the atmosphere is thick, and the occasionally wondrous moments are suitably awesome, in the literal sense. While you spend most of your time swimming alone in the grim dark of the sea, the moments where you find a sunken wreck or a friendly octopus act as a kind of catharsis, and always feel special.