We’re in the Golden Age of Gaming Beneath the Waves

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It took a very, very long time for substantial bodies of water to become usable in gaming. Many early developments would have puddles for scenery or block off the map where water would stand. Of course, in one of the most classic video games, Frogger, if you hopped into the water, you lost a life, or your run completely ended. That was a game in which you played as a frog!

Water levels hold a special place in the hearts of gamers. Some love them, others loathe them. To be fair, early water levels could be a mixed bag. Donkey Kong Country, the Croc series, Tomb Raider II, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, Super Mario 64, and Spyro 2 all let you delve into the depths, and while some offered a fun change of pace, others were hampered by elements like how the controls altered to suit the new environment.

Right now, thanks to powerful development engines being readily available to indie and major game studios, games that take place either partially or entirely under the waves can be very well made. In fact, it’d be fair to say that we’re currently living in a golden age of games with the underwater theme, with mechanics and adventures being top-tier already.

The allure of exploring under the waves

Oceans and large bodies of water have always posed problems to human storytelling. We don’t do well under the waves for very long, we’re not equipped for it, and we all know of the far superior denizens of the deep that can easily get the better of us. So, a product that lets you explore, adventure, and even just survive underwater offers a special appeal to us. It can’t really be done well in other types of media, but it certainly can across gaming.

Players don’t even need to be off adventuring on a save-the-world journey for an underwater setting to offer a great amount of appeal in a form of game. This is most clearly demonstrated in casino gaming, with platforms veritably teeming with underwater slots. In fact, sea-going slots boast such a great amount of appeal that the leading free spins bonus offer available gives 30 free spins for the hit slot Deep Sea. Being tied to Deep Sea and all of the anglerfish and glow worms to be found in it has certainly given the bonus more appeal beyond just the high count of spins. Of course, these kinds of games can only go so far in hands-on gameplay, and there are plenty of fully-fledged video games that push the boundaries of what’s possible. Beyond Blue is a grand example of this in a real-world setting.

That said, it’s certainly tough not to be enchanted by the sci-fi and fantasy underwater settings of Subnautica, Subnautica: Below Zero, and Mythic Ocean – all of which launched in 2018 or later. Perhaps the biggest success over the last year, though, has been Dave the Diver. Here, you go on deep-sea adventures while running a sushi shop. The excellent indie game boasts an Overwhelmingly Positive overall score on Steam from over 86,000 reviews.

Bigger, better, and more diverse underwater games on the way

Excitingly, one of the most well-crafted underwater video games is getting another sequel. The next Subnautica is currently being built on Unreal Engine 5, and the developers have been quick to clarify a few things after publisher Krafton broke the news. Loads of news will arrive in 2024, but Early Access will begin next year, and while the game will get continued updates like Subnautica, there won’t be season passes or a multiplayer focus.

Also on the way, from Corncrow Games AB, is an even more terrifying adventure into the deep. Subnautica certainly creates tense and scary moments, but with Deep Dark Sea, you’ll get to see what it’s like to explore an ocean floor inhabited by creatures seemingly plucked from the imagination of H.P. Lovecraft. The steampunk adventure is said to lean heavily into building atmosphere and tension in the darkness and is currently in the early stages of development.

Creating a game set underwater offers a grand challenge, but if done well, it can certainly create a unique adventure adored by gamers. Perhaps following the success of some huge indie outings, even more developers will follow suit.

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