As a child the ocean scared me, and if I’m being honest there’s still a bit of residual fear as an adult. I’d go to the beach with friends or family and just feel intimidated at how endless it all looked. What was under the surface that I couldn’t see? What monstrous sea creatures called the dark and crushing depths of the sea their home?
I remember once, I went about thigh deep into the water, when something slimy brushed up against my leg. Immediately I panicked and bolted for the safety of the sand. I didn’t care that it might have just been a harmless bit of seaweed. That moment ruined the sea for me. The fact that something unknown had touched me was all the justification I needed that the ocean was meant to be feared.
Under The Sea
So it was pretty impactful when Samudra’s opening scene was basically my nightmare. Trip, the protagonist, is sinking to the bottom of the sea. As you fall deeper into the abyss, you begin to notice your surroundings. Bottles, cups, masks, gloves, wardrobes, washing machines, and broken TV’s. The contents of multiple junkyards are exactly what we see on our way down to the ocean floor. And unfortunately this pollution is not limited to this opening scene. The floor itself and most of the landscape we explore is littered with this waste. It’s bleak, and what makes it all the more upsetting is that it’s rooted in reality.
Trip is one of the helmet-wearing survivors of a world that’s been decimated by climate change. Resources and animals are scarce. And the only place left to find resources to survive and possibly to exploit is the ocean. Trip is, for some unknown reason, sinking down into its depths. From the ocean floor he sets off on a journey back to the surface. Along the way he encounters huge sea creatures, some friendly and some eager to take a bite out of him. Trip explores giant factories meant for consuming every resource the ocean has to offer. He navigates through crashed planes, ancient temples, and sunken cities and every bit of it adds to the sad story of this world without even seeing much of the surface.
The visual storytelling is simple but effective. Although Samudra isn’t a particularly lengthy game, Trip goes on one hell of an adventure. I think it comes down to the variety of locations. The scale of the ocean that I had feared as a child is brought to life beautifully in Samudra. Especially in moments when the camera pulls back from Trip to reveal the monumental backgrounds. He ends up being this little speck making its way across a post-apocalyptic ocean.
Trip’s journey across this ocean is interrupted quite often by environmental puzzles. These make up the bulk of the gameplay so to speak. There are a variety of things that will end up halting your progress. From natural blockages to more synthetic obstacles. As you progress puzzles are accompanied by other dangerous sea creatures or helmet and business suit wearing humans. While this does elevate the challenge, the puzzles in Samudra are hardly challenging. In fact most times it comes down to memory games, timing, or picking optimal routes to flip switches in factory puzzles.
While I may have personally preferred some more challenge. The puzzles are designed really well in terms of pacing. Things always move at a reasonable pace and you’ll hardly every be bogged down in one place for too long. It helps that level design synergizes with the puzzles to create simple but fun environmental puzzles.
It’s a Beautiful, Ugly World
Samudra is gorgeous, every frame may as well be a wallpaper at worst and a painting at best. Even when the screen is filled with more rubbish than ocean, I can’t help but appreciate the artwork. The sheer amount of pollution and ruin was bewildering. It does a brilliant job of illustrating just how bad things are down in the depths of the sea. As well as how scary the leviathans that occasionally stalk you can be. Some of these monsters were simultaneously beautiful and terrifying.
The visuals were also really helped by the unintrusive UI. Mid game, the most that you will end up seeing are button prompts and images replacing dialogue. Speech bubbles will pop up above characters’ heads filled with a warm yellow/orange neon. These communicate or indicate that a button ought to be pressed pretty soon.
To accompany the visuals we’re treated to some pretty solid music, along with some wildly soothing ambient ocean noises. You know, that calming muffled underwater sound. This underwater ambience is always audible under the soundtrack that often consists of piano and beats. A lovely combination. The beats often take on a more industrial feel when in the human-made factories. You’ll be hearing this soundtrack quite often. However, one of the recurring side characters is an octopus that strums their guitar whenever you come across them. With each visit they also seem to add another instrument to their collection. Between the one-octopus band, and the story’s own climactic musical pieces, the selection of music is relatively diverse.
I’m Afraid It’s Good
The entirety of Trip’s journey are my fears realised. Being cast down to the bottom of the sea. Preyed upon and chased down by a number of huge sea creatures, and what was basically a post-apocalyptic world to boot. And yet, Samudra was still a really enjoyable experience that was, if nothing else, a treat for the eyes. Plus partial proceeds go to the Indonesian environmental activist circle. So supporting the game means supporting the cause of environmentalism.