Under the Waves: we tried the new adventure published by Quantic Dream

Under the Waves: we tried the new adventure published by Quantic Dream

Under the Waves

The maturity of a development team is not measured only by evaluating the quality of its products, but also by how the entire company stands towards the market. From this point of view, we can say that the Quantic Dream studio is going through a moment of strong growth, which sees the French company also take on the role of publisher. They are in fact the production label that supported Parallel Studio in the publication, and in part of the development, of Under the Waves, a narrative game with strong environmental connotations presented during Gamescom 2022.

During the fair in Cologne we got to try Under the Waves, and then chat with Ronan Coiffec, Game Director at Parallel Studio and one of the minds behind the game. We also remind you that the release of Under the Waves is scheduled for next year for Xbox and Playstation consoles, and for PC on the Steam and Epic platforms.

Narrative incipit and inspirations

Under the Waves demo played focused on Stan's first day of work Under the Waves is a 3D adventure game featuring a strong narrative component. The story follows the life of Stan, a professional diver who decides to take a very lonely job: living in a monitoring station at the bottom of the North Sea, a kind of underwater caretaker hired by a large oil company. The adventure is set in the 70s, or rather, an alternative version of that decade given the much more futuristic drift, suggested by the type of equipment available to the protagonist.

The demo we were able to play retraces Stan's first working day, telling us how he got into the station. Here the diver, dressed in a suit similar to that of a diver, crosses the power plant on the seabed on foot, activates some generators and comes into possession of Moon, the small underwater vehicle made available by Stan's employers. . Having reached his destination and familiarized himself with the rooms of the housing unit, which from that moment on will become home, Stan tries to contact a woman, who does not answer the phone, forcing the man to leave a message on the answering machine. "I miss us, I miss you, and I miss ..." We hear him say in a broken voice. It is clear how such a radical choice of life, which forces the protagonist to a total estrangement from the world "on the surface", can only be caused by a great pain, so great as to convince Stan that the best way to feel good is to isolate oneself from world.

When we ask Coiffec to tell us how Under the Waves was born, the Game Director explains that Stan's story was born years ago. At the time, the developer was still studying at the art academy himself, and had written this short story for a school project. Coiffec subsequently began his career in the video game industry, meeting the other two founding members of Parallel Studio along the way. After a while, the mind and heart returned to that prototype created at university and the clean and improved version of that project is the same that we can see today in Under the Waves.

How come they did you choose the sea as a setting? Coiffec's father was a sailor, a profession that led the developer's family to live all their childhood in front of the sea, particularly in the Brittany area. When one day an oil tanker spilled liters and liters of oil badly due to a failure, devastating kilometers of coastline, Coiffec promised himself that he would take better care of the environment during his life. "Since the early prototypes of the game, I felt the need to tell a story about the impact of man on the ocean. The event I witnessed marked me in some way and this is also part of the soul of Under. the Waves ". The title will therefore follow the private events of the diver protagonist, leading the player along a profound existential reflection: on our lives, on their fragility and the loneliness that surrounds us, while integrating a strong element of environmentalist denunciation. For this project, Parallel Studio and Quantic Dream have partnered with Surfrider, a non-profit association committed to safeguarding and preserving the oceans.

Stan wears a very iconic red cap If watching the trailer the red cap Stan seemed familiar to you know that it is no coincidence, because the muse of Parallel Studio was the oceanographer and director Jacques-Yves Cousteau. "After all, one of the leitmotifs of Under the Waves is nostalgia and those who love the sea cannot fail to remember with affection Cousteau's splendid documentaries". The element of nostalgia actually runs through numerous artistic choices of the title, starting with an impalpable visual filter to simulate the grain of an analog film. The mix of advanced technologies with 70s design is what manages to perfectly tie narrative, setting and gameplay together, a consistent amalgam that keeps all the constituent elements of the title strictly interconnected.

Gameplay and mechanics

Stan inside Moon On the gameplay front, with Under the Waves we are faced with a linear and not at all complicated motion gaming experience, which however has some peculiarities. The first to consider is how the setting slightly subverts the traditional rules of exploration. Stan's diving suit is equipped with weighted boots, which allow him to walk on the ocean floor: this generates a very strange animation of the protagonist, where his movements will not, for obvious reasons, be fluid and natural. On the contrary, Stan moves forced by a minimum effort, with a jerking and a bit clumsy step, which at the beginning could be a bit confusing the player. To remind us that we are on the bottom of the ocean, and that therefore it is normal for the character to move like this, there are numerous particle effects, with bubbles here and there, as well as a particular refraction of light, typical of the light that passes through the water.

Another thing Stan can do while navigating the environments is to take his feet off the seabed to swim freely: in Under the Waves gravity is never a problem, and there is no raised ledge or crevasse that they cannot be overcome with a couple of flips. This great mobility is not offered to the player for free and the price to pay is obviously Stan's oxygen supply. Oxygen cylinders are clearly mounted on the suit, which will empty over time: to overcome this problem, the stations are littered with dispensers of liquid oxygen refills. The player will always be able to know how much oxygen remains in Stan, even without calling up the hud on the screen, because he just needs to look at the color of the indicator light on the cylinders.

The underwater housing unit where Stan lives Another very precious element supplied to the protagonist and integrated into his suit is a scanner. Being an underwater setting, the operation of the scanner is similar to that of a sonar: with the appropriate button, the suit will emit an impulse capable of scanning the surroundings and revealing the conformation and morphology of the environment, whether artificial or natural. . In enclosed spaces the sonar is very useful to show the player the way to follow, but the best it gives it in the open sea. In fact, the player will have freedom of choice on how to face Under the Waves: he can decide to devote himself body and soul to the main campaign, facing one mission after another, or take time and explore the wild seabed at the helm of Moon. The animation of the sonar at sea, with the impulse that probes the seabed and its fauna, gives a sense of amazement at each activation, always revealing some small details that can escape simple observation.

In last, to significantly characterize the gameplay of Under the Waves, there is the collection of materials, which will allow Stan to create various gadgets useful in the adventure thing. We do not know how to list them all with precision but, for example, we have been told that one of the most useful objects that can be made with the use of materials is a tool capable of creating oxygen refills for the cylinders at the moment without using the fixed stations. The items that can be used for crafting are often abandoned materials, such as metals, scraps and even waste. We collected several rusty scraps and plastic bottles over the course of the demo, and we couldn't help but appreciate the choice, seeing some of that poem Coiffec mentioned in the interview. Under the Waves is a game that questions the concept of a 360 ° "circle of life", not only of mortal existences but also of that of objects, and of the new life that even scraps can find if treated appropriately. Junk literally has a value in the game and collecting it will allow Stan to expand his collection of gadgets.

Technical department and the relationship with Quanti Dream

Much of the atmosphere of Under the Waves is designed at the table Although the glance of Under the Waves is decidedly remarkable, Parallel Studio is not a huge team, quite the contrary. The full-time members are about a dozen, to which are added some freelancers but without exceeding twenty people. Coiffec tells us that the technical challenge was clearly the most difficult to overcome, but the small French team faced the test with cunning and a bit of help. To begin with, the choice to tell the story of a lonely man, literally immersed in an empty world and accompanied only by the voice of another human being (Stan will be followed by a colleague of his on the surface through a radio contact), greatly relieves the workload: fewer characters, fewer animations, fewer problems.

Secondly, Under the Waves is one of those games that makes the most of its atmosphere. The fact that the bottom of the sea is not illuminated allowed the team to wisely manage the light sources, avoiding, however, to work up to every single corner of the game scenarios. "Much of the surrounding environment is not always visible: sometimes it is shrouded in darkness, other times by a haze effect or the particle effects of the water," says Coiffec. In short, Parallel Studio has collected the precious teaching of titles such as Silent Hill or Shadow of the Colossus, milestones of video games that have been able to make necessity an essential virtue.

Quantic Dream has participated in some development phases of Under the Waves Then there is the support that Quantic Dream provided to Parallel Studio during the management phase of Under the Waves. "During the early stages of development, we had a fair choice of publishers to contact. What we were looking for, however, was not just a distribution label, but the judgment of another development team, possibly working on productions similar to ours." Coiffeur tells us, and David Cage himself attended several meetings during the development of the game. Parallel Studio and Quantic Dream therefore chose each other by elective affinity and some of the publisher's assets were shared in the development of Under the Waves. The motion capture of the game, for example, was recorded in the beautiful Quantic Dream studios, which we were lucky enough to visit recently. More support has arrived on the animation front, including that of marine fauna.

If we had to tell Under the Waves in a nutshell, we could summarize it as the union between Firewatch and Abzu. Of the first we find the strong narrative focus and the choice to focus on the story of a lonely protagonist, exploring the most intimate dimension of human nature. On the other hand, there is the beauty and love with which the French team has reproduced the marine settings and the sense of exploration and curiosity that the vast expanses of the sea arouse. Let's not forget the work's strong environmental commitment, a subject that is unfortunately dramatically current. The gameplay of Under the Waves is minimalist but functional to the gaming experience: few mechanics but well thought out and well integrated into the narrative. If you are a lover of the genre, this is a title that you cannot miss next year.


Intimate and adventurous atmosphere Technically refined Focus green DOUBTS Level design to be evaluated Risk of repetition in the scenarios Have you noticed errors?

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