In Other Waters – Review

In In Other Waters, we explore an alien ocean while searching for an old contact. Does it sink or swim? Here’s what we think.

In Other Waters is a game expressed through AI-controlled equipment. As such, it gets something about the use of equipment that has been lost in a world full of streamlining and optimisation. What it gets is that if you do it right, it’s more fun when the equipment is inelegant and cumbersome, when you need to press multiple buttons to do one thing.

And so it is in In Other Waters. Your main character’s movement could easily have been controlled by the movement keys, or by pointing and clicking. Instead, here’s how it works: you first press a scan button to find potential spots to move to. Then you click on the spot to examine it, then you press another button to chart a vector there, and then finally you hit a final button to move.

You might think this is poor design, but it’s a deliberate decision made across the UI-based gameplay of In Other Waters. Need to use a torch to burn open a door? First you need to bring up its panel, then you need to prime the torch, then you use it. There’s no reason why one button couldn’t handle all of that, but I’d rather it stay that way. In a game that depicts its world through radar pings and UI panels, it feels nice to be reminded you’re working with real equipment.

In Other Waters is a game about xenobiology, in which you guide one Ellery Vas as she searches for a lost contact named Minae Nomura. I say guide because you don’t actually control Ellery. You control her an artificial intelligence built into her diving suit, which pretty much controls everything there is to control: movement, scanning, taking samples, and so on.

Although your top priority is finding Minae and figuring out why she called you to this alien planet (and why she’s disappeared), you also have plenty of waters to explore for aquatic wildlife. It’s a world quite unlike planet Earth. You’ll encounter shimmering veils that form mazes, stalks that house an ecosystem of their own, crab-like creatures with shells made of oxygen. You don’t actually get to see them until Ellery makes a sketch, and for her to do that, you have to explore and collect samples.

The bulk of the game is supported by reading. There’s plenty to read here: every location you can move to comes equipped with a description, and every living being has multiple descriptions that you unlock by finding new specimens. Then there are, of course, Ellery’s own observations, thoughts, and comments.

All in all, In Other Waters is a chill game. It’s a perfect pre-bedtime game, what with its monotonous, rhythmic movements and its soothing colours. If you’re willing to exercise your imagination a bit, you’ll find yourself in a cosy adventure that never betrays your comfort. It’s like reading a calm sci-fi book, accompanied by mellow ambient music (composed by Amos Roddy).

That also makes it a little boring. Vast stretches of the game are spent reading the location descriptions, which all blend together into a barely varying paste. You’re encouraged to search out creatures to take samples from, but I really couldn’t be bothered. Maybe you’ll like uncovering the secrets of the turquoise alien ocean! But for me, spending a few hours unlocking fictional Wikipedia entries, all by tediously moving from spot-to-spot, was not a very engaging proposition.

I forged on with the story instead, which does a good job of hooking you with mystery after mystery. The subtle touches in the visuals, narrative, and music, all do well to impress a mood. With the right tones, words, and colour schemes, the game knows all to well how to inspire dread, guilt, relief, and of course, wonder.

In Other Waters screenshot

In Other Waters is a game that knows full well who it’s for. Its relaxing style, UI-based gameplay, and descriptive biological writing all come together to instil a sense of adventure. If that sounds of interest to you, then In Other Waters will offer you an experience you won’t find anywhere else.

Developer: Jump Over The Age
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Publisher: Fellow Traveller
Release Date: 3rd April 2020 (PC, Mac, Switch)

This review is based on a copy of the game provided by the developer. The PC version of the game was played for this review of In Other Waters.

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In Other Waters is as soothing and comfortable as its eponymous waters, particularly if you’re interested in reading about alien biology.

This Article was written by: Rahul Shirke

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