In Other Waters is a narrative game about a xenobiologist studying a new planet’s ecology by exploring the flora and fauna of its oceans. The further you dive, both in the waters and the story, the darker the ocean becomes.
The xenobiologist Ellery Vas is stuck without navigation in the middle of an alien ocean and in a moment of panic, she calls out to an AI for help. You play as her freshly activated AI and work together with Ellery to explore the ocean and use an array of tools and gadgets to catalog the wild plant life and interesting creatures that reside there. How you interact with everything may seem more meaningful or bland, depending on your disposition.
While most would likely love to interact with this environment in glorious 3D, In Other Waters uses a mostly text-based narrative, combined with a minimalistic vector-graphics approach to deliver its story. The story itself is relatively linear, with the game giving you little chance to retread your steps and explore beyond its bounded guidelines of exploration for Ellery within the waters. Interaction is confined to the sometimes arduous process of using the controls that both house the map that you are using for guidance and offer you the tools to interact with your environment. It may look like a futuristic radar system, and essentially it is, offering you the ability to scan and view the local life through a top-down map and plot your course accordingly.
Each interaction within In Other Waters takes an effort that is inherently complex by design. Simply moving around requires you to scan and locate a node to swim to, and then pressing the button to swim there, confining your movement to straight lines. Scanning also reveals the marine life around you and you can then lock onto them with the right stick to hear a description of the point of interest from Ellery.
As you explore you are using up some form of energy, whether it’s your available oxygen or the energy reserves that power your suit’s ability to move. Some toxic environments can strain your available oxygen and you will also have to avoid paths that take you through swaths of dangerous plants. You can replenish these levels at one of the stations found scattered throughout the ocean by using up the extra samples that you grab during your travels. It may seem like an unnecessarily difficult chore to even play the game with these alternative control methods that stray away from the traditional, but the excellent writing in the game makes that chore worth it.
Dialogue is the lifeblood of In Other Waters, and since Ellery is a biologist, her descriptions of the marine life all around her further accentuates the beauty found on this planet. Poetic descriptions of each plant or animal found demonstrates her love for her research and the attention to detail to catalog it all. Once you get back to your base, you can store and analyze any samples you retrieved to further document and learn about the alien ecology and its purpose in this world. You can also read Ellery’s journal that documents her journey or simply get ready to dive back in.
In Other Waters provides a short but sweet dive into the ocean of possibilities on an alien planet that holds dark secrets beneath its waves. Controlling Ellery and her tools honestly can seem like a page out of Warioware at times, with odd and sometimes unusually complex processes that turn collecting samples into a chore — especially since there is no formal tutorial. The dialogue and descriptions hold purpose in a wireframe world that is visually restrictive, but through flavorful text, they broaden your mind’s eye and its ability to render simple shapes into complex creatures and veritable forests of plant life.
If you love to read science fiction and you’re looking for something unlike anything else you’ve ever played before, In Other Waters will do the trick. Otherwise, this dialogue-heavy ‘swimming simulator’ may be a bit too alien for your tastes.