In Other Waters review: wonderfully placid exploration

Life is a bit tough right now, as you’ve no doubt noticed. A good chunk of the planet is stuck at home, thousands of people are dying, whole industries are in peril, and there’s no knowing when it will all end, or what the world will be like when that happens. As a freelance writer and editor, I’ve found work much harder to come by as businesses scale back their operations – and at the same time, with the schools being shut, my working hours have been chopped in half while I take care of my four-year-old son.

On the positive side, all this has given me the impetus to shake things up a bit and seek out new clients – hence my articles for The Guardian and LADbible recently. But at the same time, it’s now a constant struggle to get enough work in to cover the bills, and it’s very difficult to write creatively with all the worries going on in the world right now. There’s not much time to relax, either – my time is almost entirely spent on childcare, working or trying to find more work.

But I’m glad I took the time out to play In Other Waters. Video games are like a beacon of joy in this coronavirus-riddled world, and In Other Waters is like a soothing balm against the terrors going on outside.

How best to describe it? The closest I can think of is Subnautica, but where you can’t actually see the world you’re exploring. Set a couple of hundred years in the future, the game places you in the shoes – well, metallic canister, actually – of an AI attached to the diving suit of one Ellery Vas. Ellery has travelled to the real-life exoplanet of Gliese 667Cc in search of her ex-lover, and is shocked to discover a world absolutely bursting with life – the first time humanity has ever come across alien life forms.

But as an AI attached to Ellery’s suit, you can’t actually see these aliens for yourself – you can only read Ellery’s descriptions of them, and that is really where the game’s magic lies. As a xenobiologist, Ellery describes these life forms in minute scientific detail, and I was greedily lapping up every description, desperately trying to imagine what this strange flora and fauna looks like, and how it all fits into the planet’s ecology. It’s a case of flipping the old TV adage of ‘show, don’t tell’ on its head – and it turns out that ‘tell, don’t show’ works incredibly well. After all, your imagination conjures the best pictures.

The game sees you scanning life forms and points of interest while manoeuvring between nodes on the undersea map, occasionally stopping to grab samples of the xenoflora. Some of these samples can be used to power your suit or provide oxygen, but generally you don’t have to worry too much about keeping an eye on the dials. A few parts of the game will see your oxygen meter tick down fairly quickly, but for the most part this is a serene game of exploration at a wonderfully sedate pace – just the tonic for these troubled times.

I loved exploring Gliese 667Cc, gathering information on the weird, fungus-like aliens that call this planet home. If you can scan enough individuals of the same species and collect two separate samples from them – say a root and a stem – you’re rewarded with one of Ellery’s sketches of the life form. This is one of the high points of the game, the moment when you can see whether your internal picture of this particular alien matches up with Ellery’s meticulous diagram. It’s wonderful. In fact, I would be happy if this was the entire game, but there’s a great plot laid over the top of it all – which I won’t spoil here, suffice to say that Ellery’s search for Minae reveals some alarming secrets.

My only real quibble with In Other Waters is that I wanted more. I finished the game in around eight hours, during which I took the time to complete all of the entries for all of the species – and I didn’t want it to end. I wanted more species to discover, more secrets to find. I want more time to explore this alien ocean, more time spent in this serene, strange world. But at least it was a brief respite from the troubles of the world outside.

In Other Waters was developed by Jump Over the Age and is available on PC, Mac and Nintendo Switch. We played the PC version.

Disclosure statement: review code for In Other Waters was provided by Evolve PR. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.

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