On a strange planet in the distant future xenobiologist Ellery Vas finds herself with an old and mysterious dive suit, a planet that should be devoid of life teeming with it…just not on the surface, a missing colleague and an incredibly strange AI that appears to have no idea what it’s doing. It’s you. You’re the AI. In Other Waters from Fellow Traveler and Jump Over The Age thrusts the player into a mystery on several levels as the AI that wakes up with Dr. Vas on this planet. Together the two of you explore Gliese 667Cc and follow the clues of Vas’ missing partner Minae Nomura left to uncover the mysteries of this planet and uncover secrets that have been deliberately buried.
At heart In Other Waters is a sci-fi mystery novel meditating on the nature of symbiosis and how what humans do shapes a planet. Were this a movie we’d be seeing stunning visuals worthy of a deep ocean documentary narrated by David Attenburrough through Ellery’s eyes as she desperately tries to uncover how she ended up on Gliese 667Cc, what big government conspiracy disappeared her friend and what is wrong with this weirdo AI.
As the weirdo AI you not only have to help Ellery travel around the ocean and keep her safe, as her trust in you dips every time you let her run out of Oxygen, but also get to know her and through her, the world. As the game progresses you begin to learn more of what happened to Earth and who Minae is to Ellery – they’re totally girlfriends – and why this planet is so important.
In this atmospheric cerebral game the mechanics are almost entirely controlling a dashboard and moving around a topographical map of an alien ocean. Ellery can see the wonders of this ocean but you are just an AI and can only experience it through abstract lines and beautiful description from a passionate scientist. There’s a steep learning curve with the controls and the beginning of the game can be frustrating as you learn to use them. There’s only a limited number of tasks you can do, scan the area, sample specimens for analysis and deployment to see their effect on the environment and move around however there’s not much initial instruction.
Now, In Other Waters does assume a certain amount of game literacy from its players. However, once you get the hang of the dashboard and of controlling the suit the game becomes incredibly entrancing. You slowly begin to live up to the Intelligence part of Artificial Intelligence using collected specimens to alter the terrain allowing you to reach previously blocked areas and learning more about this world. It’s just you and Vas, puttering around the ocean slowly and methodically with occasional bursts of excitement, very similar to how research works in general. Although most scientists don’t have such a beautiful soundscape to work within, enhancing the ethereal atmosphere.
With the gameplay and visuals this simple In Other Waters relies heavily on the writing to move the story along and keep the player engaged and it absolutely delivers. Even through the slow slog of collecting samples and the frustrating times where there’s not quite enough instruction to figure out what to do next (for example early on in the game play you reach a dead end and it wasn’t entirely intuitive that what you needed to do to move on is keep collecting samples of specimens until Ellery indicates that you’ve collected enough to analyze), wanting to know more about the mystery keeps you going while you’re brain wraps itself around what the game is asking of you.
Unfortunately, in handheld mode on the Switch, it can be hard to read the text, especially when you are back at base and going through logs or reading updated taxonomies and the text is delivered in big blocks rather than the couple lines at a time from Ellery while you’re exploring. A way to zoom in on the text similar to how you can zoom in and out of the map would be a helpful addition. For those who after finishing the game can’t get enough of the story there is a companion book set decades after the story – and not recommended to be read before finishing the game – as another scientist comes to Gliese 667Cc with Dr. Vas’ notes and sketches.
The timing of In Other Waters release is strangely relevant. Of course, exploring an alien ocean as an AI is nothing like working in a laboratory doing medical research but a lot of the thinking and thought process of research in general is reflected in this game and the message of how we can’t do things along and need to take care of each other and our planet, while always relevant, hits harder at the current moment.
The sampling and testing and retesting and experimentation to see how cells react to stimuli and the slow frustrating plod to an answer is very reflective of real world research. The game also examines bias and teaches some science literacy for the player who cares to read through all of the notes. When you come back to present day earth hopefully it’s with fresh eyes.
A beautifully crafted atmospheric narrative-driven game, In Other Waters, dives deep into the life of a scientist uncovering a mystery in the only way she knows how; trial and error, observation and data collection. While initially a steep learning curve once the player has immersed themself into the game and figured out the mechanics it’s a mesmerizing game that’s hard to put down and hopefully leaves players with a new understanding of the world around them.
In Other Waters will be available on PC, Mac, and Nintendo Switch now.
In Other Waters
A beautifully crafted atmospheric narrative driven game, In Other Waters, dives deep into the life of a scientist uncovering a mystery in the only way she knows how; trial and error, observation and data collection. While initially a steep learning curve once the player has immersed themself into the game and figured out the mechanics it’s a mesmerizing game that’s hard to put down and hopefully leaves players with a new understanding of the world around them.
A queer FilAm SFF, hockey, food and beer loving geeky Chicago denizen who spends too much time on the internets. Good thing none of you can judge. On twitter as semirose spouting nonsense 20/7