In Other Water’s captivating story, slow yet rewarding exploration, and serene visuals and music make it the perfect game for these stressful times.
In Other Waters arrived at the right time. I was playing the nerve-wracking Doom Eternal for a few days, and the next game on my list is Resident Evil 3, the intense Survival Horror remake. In Other Waters is the perfect contrast to these games.
You traverse a blue-and-yellow alien ocean, methodically collecting, analyzing, and documenting alien life forms. It’s a relaxing, zen-like experience, full of wonder, slow exploration, and soothing music – and it’s precisely what I (and probably you) need right now.
Making a Connection
In Other Waters follows Ellery Vas, a xenobiologist exploring an alien ocean where her partner went missing. To Ellery’s surprise, she discovers an ecosystem teeming with life. With the help of a mysterious AI attached to her advanced diving suit, she records her findings and even uses them in her search-and-rescue mission.
But you don’t play as Ellery; you are the mysterious AI.
You are a “mysterious AI” because no one knows who (or what) you are, or where you come from – not even you. With no memories or even a purpose, Ellery is your only connection in this alien world, and you are hers. You two are stuck together and must work closely if you want to find some answers.
While your relationship is not at the center of In Other Waters, interacting with Ellery is what makes the story more relatable, more human. But it is also a reminder that this story isn’t your story – you are just along for the ride, literally. But the game is so well-written and captivating, it doesn’t really matter.
Throughout your journey, you start piecing together what happened to Minae, the missing partner. Frankly, that part of the story won’t be what pushes you to keep playing, since you don’t really know either Ellery or Minae. The secrets of planet Gliese 667Cc, however, are much more interesting to uncover.
Or you can focus instead on completing the game’s extensive taxonomy of aquatic alien life by exploring and collecting samples.
Intro to Xenobiology
Exploring the waters of Gliese 667Cc, scanning alien life forms, and cataloging them is my favorite part of In Other Waters. It’s relaxing, and lets you take an unfamiliar setting and organize it into something you can understand.
Also, samples are used to solve environmental puzzles in cool ways. You can use them to clear a path through corals, or even oxygenate the water around you so don’t have to use your suit’s reserve oxygen. These puzzles aren’t particularly challenging, but the game never outright gives you the solution to any problem. You have to study and familiarize yourself with the various samples you can collect in each area.
These samples are also crucial to managing your suit’s power and oxygen levels. In Other Waters isn’t a survival game, so you don’t have to keep a close eye on your stats at all times. These elements of resource management are mostly there to add a sense of urgency when appropriate.
As far as collectibles go, collecting samples and adding them to the game’s taxonomy actually enriches your experience.
The Taxonomy is a detailed list of all the animals, fungi, and plants you encounter. It provides you with plenty of engaging text to read about the appearance and behavior of the creatures you discover, plus any theories Ellery might have on their place in the ecosystem. If you complete a creature’s entry, you even get a neat little sketch of it, which finally lets you visualize what all those yellow dots really look like.
A Blue and Yellow Ocean
Since you play as an AI, you don’t see the world through human eyes. Instead, you rely on various sensors and Ellery’s vivid descriptions. As a result, the world around you looks less like the alien ocean you might find in games like Subnautica, and more like a collection of yellow blips and bloops. But those are some of the nicest-looking blips and bloops I’ve seen.
In Other Waters looks terrific, mostly thanks to its stylish UI and complementing color schemes. Most of the environment is tinted in shades of aqua (how appropriate), while everything noteworthy is highlighted in bright yellow. It just looks really, really lovely.
Color plays a significant role in both setting the mood and communicating information to the player. The friendly aqua and yellow scheme gives way to sickly greens and oranges when the water around you is toxic, and dark blues and reds when diving deep into the unknown. Each area on the map is characterized not only by the creatures that live there but by its colors as well.
Lost in the Depths
Speaking of a map, I really wish In Other Waters had one. It’s easy to get lost when exploring Gliese 667Cc, and the only place you can see where you’re supposed to go is back at your base. It wouldn’t have been an issue if the simple act of moving around wasn’t such a cumbersome process.
Pro tip: if you’re playing In Other Waters on the Switch – use the touchscreen in handheld mode. That’s really the only way to go. Once I started doing that, the game became 10 times more fun.
Otherwise, there are just too many buttons to press just to take a simple action. Moving from one point to another takes around four buttons, and if you want to collect a sample when you get there, that’s another five. Frankly, it’s exhausting.
While navigating the world is a bit too slow and often unnecessarily awkward, it gives you the time to appreciate the weight of every action. You can also take the time to read Ellery’s detailed and beautifully-written descriptions of every new area. However, on the rare occasions when you need to move fast to avoid running out of oxygen, it can (and does) get annoying.
In Other Waters is a peaceful and immersive underwater adventure. It looks and sounds great, and exploring its alien ocean is both rewarding and captivating. The UI, as stylish and informative as it is, does little to streamline your actions and often gets in the way. At least on the Switch.
But if you need a break from all the daily stress of social isolation, demon-slaying in Doom and paying the bills in Animal Crossing – In Other Waters is what you need.
Developer: Jump Over the Age
Publisher: Fellow Traveller
Release Date: Apr. 3, 2020
Our In Other Waters review copy was provided by the publisher.Some of our posts include links to online retail stores. We get a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Don't worry, it doesn't cost you anything extra.