Under the Waves is as close as you're going to get to Firewatch under the sea

Big in 2023: Under the Waves
(Image credit: Quantic Dream)

It was the weighted walking that sold me on the fantasy. The slow, ponderous movement, as protagonist Stan struggles to navigate a rusting facility Under the Waves of the North Sea. One foot placed precisely after the other, a sharp exhale after every action; the underwater pressure on Stan's slumping shoulders is palpable, even from the lingering distance that the camera keeps. Deep sea diving doesn't seem like the easiest career choice out there, but as we learned in genre-stablemate Firewatch, a change of scenery can be cleansing for the soul. 

I still wonder whether the comparison to Campo Santo's legendary narrative-driven adventure is a fair one to draw, even though my mind began to automatically trace lines between them as I played Under the Waves. I think it may have been the abject beauty of its world that set me down this path. There's something awe-inspiring about seeing naturalistic landscapes rendered in this way; only lightly inured by human interference, the ocean floor appears almost alien. 

Perhaps it was the silence that did it. The crushing, absolute isolation. Stan is surrounded by so much life, but it's difficult to see him as more than a deep well of grief – one that could crack at any time, the poison spilling out of him and throttling the ecosystems surrounding him. You shouldn't let your career become your identity, but Stan's position as a professional diver, sequestered beneath the waves for a week while working for an oil company, seems almost poetic.

I want to step back for a second and take stock of the picture of Under the Waves that I've sketched out for you so far. Okay, so I've made it sound slow, silent, and appropriately awe-inspiring. I suppose that's all true, but it doesn't quite capture the essence of the experience. Firewatch could just so easily be dismissed, but once you let your mind loose in the wilds of Wyoming, it transformed into something all-encompassing. I suspect the same will be true of Under the Waves. 

Exploring the depths

Under the Waves screenshot

(Image credit: Quantic Dream)
Big in 2023

Big in 2023

(Image credit: Big in 2023)

Big in 2023 is the GamesRadar+ guide to the most anticipated games of the year. Join us all throughout January as we explore the biggest upcoming video games of 2023, and the developers making them.

Beyond the cautious spatial navigation and sullen storytelling, there's a smartly structured narrative-adventure game – one which contains some keenly created mechanics to keep you conscious of your environment. There's a light crafting system in the mix, which you'll use to top up your oxygen reserves while exploring outside of your submarine. Developer Parallel Studios promises a vast seabed will be open to you, where the ambience of the ocean becomes a gentle soundtrack as you explore caves, salvage waste, navigate wrecks, and stitch together threads of an unraveling psyche.  

It's when Stan is wearing his wetsuit that Under the Waves pulls off one of its neatest tricks, as it lets you switch seamlessly from walking to swimming. There's a true sense of verticality here, which opens up the ways in which you navigate the seabed and the made-made structures that adorn it – I hope Parallel Studios makes true use of this concept, leveraging it for more than flipping switches and circumventing ladders. 

There's a lot to like about Under the Waves, even in this early-development demo that does little more than carve out a frame for the adventure. Would more comparisons help you get your head around it? I can say that it requires more physical input than Firewatch or Everybody's Gone to The Rapture, but less than something like The Outer Wilds; its world is as aquatically appealing as Subnautica, but less dangerous, and far more beautiful. 

Maybe comparisons don't work for a game like Under the Waves. I'm not saying that it's doing anything truly revolutionary, that you haven't seen before in other narrative-driven adventures, but there's a quality to its composition that's hard to ignore. I couldn't say whether that's a result of the input from publisher Quantic Dream – the Detroit: Become Human studio is consulting on storytelling and sharing its technical expertise – or merely a drive within developer Parallel Studios to just fully submerge us in this exploration of grief and gratuitous beauty. Either way, I'm excited to take the dive.

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Under the Waves is one of our most anticipated new games for 2023. The adventure game is set to launch on PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X, and Xbox One later this year.

Josh West
UK Managing Editor, GamesRadar+

Josh West is the UK Managing Editor of GamesRadar+. He has over 10 years experience in online and print journalism, and holds a BA (Hons) in Journalism and Feature Writing. Prior to starting his current position, Josh has served as GR+'s Features Editor and Deputy Editor of games™ magazine, and has freelanced for numerous publications including 3D Artist, Edge magazine, iCreate, Metal Hammer, Play, Retro Gamer, and SFX. Additionally, he has appeared on the BBC and ITV to provide expert comment, written for Scholastic books, edited a book for Hachette, and worked as the Assistant Producer of the Future Games Show. In his spare time, Josh likes to play bass guitar and video games. Years ago, he was in a few movies and TV shows that you've definitely seen but will never be able to spot him in.