In Other Waters Review – An alien ocean waiting to be explored

Reviewed April 5, 2020 on Nintendo Switch

Platforms:

PC, Switch

Released:

April 4, 2020

Publisher:

Fellow Traveller

Developer:

Jump Over The Age

Sometimes a game completely catches you off guard. On first glance, In Other Waters from developer Jump Over the Age and publisher Fellow Traveller looks like a cool sci-fi exploration adventure, with a few puzzle elements and a mystery to solve. It looks calming, methodical, and simple – but under the surface drifts an apocalyptic queer love story, ecological terrorism, corporate greed, and some of the most cathartic storytelling I’ve experienced.

Expecting lots of deep-sea spelunking and armed with the first threads of emerging narrative, I dove into In Other Waters’ strange oceanic planet ready to help xenobiologist Ellery Vas with her underwater studies. Ellery has come to Gliese 677Cc, a former mining planet stripped bare of any life, to search for her research partner Minae. She immediately finds a busted old diving suit with an unusual AI control system – as the player, you control the suit’s systems and take on the role of this AI, moving Ellery around the oceans of Gliese 677Cc and monitoring her status.

Pretty quickly Ellery discovers that Gliese 677Cc is, in fact, full of marine life, and the bulk of the gameplay has you guiding her through the oceans to collect samples for her to analyse. You control the suit through a complex navigational interface. To move Ellery, you scan a point of interest with the right joystick, then align the suit correctly with the left joystick, before activating the suit’s boosters. It took a long time for me to get used to the controls, and my first hour with In Other Waters was a little frustrating as I struggled to get to grips with the awkward system. Once mastered, however, there is a slow and methodical satisfaction in zipping Ellery around the various underwater biomes, scanning strange creatures and collecting plant samples.

You need to monitor the suit’s fuel levels, which deplete gradually as you explore, and can be refueled by converting research samples into energy. Some biomes can also contain toxic areas or creatures that deplete Ellery’s oxygen levels, which can also be topped up by injecting your precious samples into the suit. With only nine slots in the suit’s inventory and every sample providing a specific amount of fuel or oxygen, you’ll quickly find yourself prioritising which samples to keep for analysis at Ellery’s base, and which ones you can destroy to keep her alive. Some samples have practical uses as well, such as the “singspores” which you can deploy to remove obstacles from Ellery’s path. There’s a delightful sense of flow in organising the suit’s inventory, immersing you in the environment as you strategically manage your samples depending on Ellery’s position.

It’s clear even after playing a few minutes of In Other Waters that the universe is lovingly crafted by an experienced writer. Developer Gareth Damien Martin has flexed his worldbuilding skills in creating this diverse oceanic planet, with creatures and ecosystems feeling alien yet believable. With such a simple, minimalistic visual design, Martin’s descriptions of the environment spark the player’s imagination – playing In Other Waters is like reading a novel, relying on your own mental recreation of Ellery’s descriptions of the world. It’s very clever, and the exceptional writing is supported by sound designer Amos Roddy’s atmospheric soundtrack.

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“Both a beautiful and incredibly brutal take on humanity”

To avoid spoilers, I won’t delve deeply into the game’s narrative. It is heavily discovery-focused, with mysteries unfolding throughout Ellery’s gradual exploration of the planet. I will, however, applaud In Other Waters’ depiction of a queer relationship. You gradually uncover more about Ellery’s partnership with Minae through her diary entries, and it is so encouraging to see queer representation in a completely new context – I haven’t been this invested in a fictional relationship since I played through Always Sometimes Monsters. I was also really affected by the games’ returning themes of ecological sustainability and corporate accountability – it’s at times both a beautiful and an incredibly brutal take on humanity. The game’s climax is particularly spellbinding and an exemplary blending of gameplay and narrative.

Playing on Nintendo Switch, I experienced a few issues that may not be present in the PC version – namely, text in handheld mode is tiny and incredibly difficult to read. I also ran into some performance issues with occasional stuttering and framerate dips. However, it is nice to see that touchscreen controls have been implemented flawlessly.

In Other Waters is not trying to be a grand adventure. The main story takes about six hours to finish, with plenty of extra research samples to collect if you want to complete Ellery’s taxonomy notes – which you will, as the writing is immensely satisfying to any sci-fi nerd. It’s a game meant to be enjoyed like a novel, cosily consumed over a rainy weekend.

8

Great

Positive:

  • A depiction of a queer relationship worthy of applause
  • Powerful and unique storytelling
  • Soothing audiovisual design
  • Satisfying "collectathon" gameplay

Negative:

  • Controls take some getting used to
  • Tiny text size
  • Minor performance issues

I absolutely loved my time with In Other Waters. I’m itching to dive back in and fully complete Ellery’s taxonomy logs, and I can’t wait to grab the companion book for more worldbuilding and lore. Despite a few mechanical flaws, I highly recommend In Other Waters for anyone looking to immerse themselves in an alien world for a few hours.