This article previously appeared on Crossfader
The ocean can be a terrifying place. Its unseen depths hold horrors unimaginable to the human mind, yet feared all the same. In truth, though, our distress should not stem from the things unimaginable, but those right in front of our nose. In true Orwellian fashion, SUBAERIA, an action puzzler from Illogika, paints a terrifying picture pertaining to the terrors of dystopia. Forced by rising sea levels to take refuge in an undersea realm, the last living colonies of humanity are led by a dictatorial government enforcing one singular law: might makes right.
With very distinct BIOSHOCK vibes, SUBAERIA creates a wicked and alarming undersea empire. Styx, the young woman you control, wakes up in the wreckage of her home surrounded by the lifeless remains of her family, murdered by the despot of this undersea city. This tragedy ignites a fire within Styx, leading her on a warpath to exact revenge against the overlord of Subaeria and end his tyrannical rule.
Deadly lasers? I’ll grab my popcorn
Along her journey, Styx meets a number of citizens hiding for their lives. Many of these residents offer a unique personality and backstory that fleshes out the world, such as a child trying to find her way back to her parents, or a young member of the terrible government seeking an opportunity to escape. What’s more, completing Styx’s journey once isn’t the end. SUBAERIA offers previously unseen unlockable characters with which you can discover entirely new stories all containing a variety of endings.
At its core, SUBAERIA is a puzzle game. Forgoing combat, Illogika’s newest release is all about strategy, trickery, and outsmarting the terrible machines sent to wipe you out. Equipped only with your wits and a simple drone to control, you must travel through the complex aquatic labyrinth, avoiding or destroying the automatons in your path. Overcoming these pursuers is no simple task. In each quadrant, new obstacles and enemies will force you to run, jump, and dodge with the hopes of driving these automatons to kill each other. Some challenges might prompt the player to lure an enemy into a spinning saw blade, while others may require you to act as bait for turrets, causing the guns to fire before moving out of the way and so the projectile can wipe out another droid.
Gives new meaning to the term “run and gun”
SUBAERIA complements its story and gameplay with rogue-lite elements. By providing a huge selection of rooms, reshuffling with each playthrough, a massive diversity in challenges, and, of course, permadeath, Illogika’s design prepares those playing for upcoming trials, nurturing a feeling of personal growth with each conquered problem. This procedural generation, paired with the chance to play as a number of protagonists, fosters a replayability that is so important for enjoying a game such as this.
The one weakness in SUBAERIA’s design is its camera. The isometric camera generally tries to be positioned in a way that still allows players to see where they are at all times, but alas, its placement combined with the layout of levels occasionally creates a visual blockade that prevents players from understanding, or worse, even seeing where they stand. Since the location of your avatar is often the most important factor in leading foes to their demise, the lack of any substantial solution, such as a controllable camera or more thoughtfully designed map, feels unnecessarily punishing.
Sometimes you just really need to catch the train
Despite such brief moments of irritation, these shortcomings never diminish the fun of playing SUBAERIA. An unusual convergence of rogue-lite design and a fleshed-out story, branching endings, and a “combat” system that replaces fight for flight proves that there are still new ways to implement common ideas. If you are in for the night and looking for something new to stretch your brain, then I highly recommend diving on into SUBAERIA.