This article is part of our ongoing coverage of GDC 2015. You can find more of our GDC news and analysis here.
A beautiful, melancholic piano piece plays while a boat slowly drifts towards the ruins of an old building that's sticking out of the water. Foliage covers its fascia. The boat bumps up against a ramp, and one of the occupants, a young girl, gingerly clambers out carrying the other: a small boy who's clearly injured.
She lays him down tenderly on a slab of stone with just a blanket as comfort, and it's obvious what she needs to do: find some kind of medical supplies to help alleviate his suffering.
She clambers back into the boat, and begins her search through the ruins of a flooded city.
And so begins Submerged, an open world exploration game that was on display at the ID@Xbox event at GDC 2015, where some 25 new indie games were shown – many for the first time. Created by Uppercut Games, a trio of Australian developers who've previously worked on the console versions of Bioshock, Bioshock 2 and XCOM, Submerged follows the adventures of a young girl on a mission to save her brother – which involves exploring a roughly half square mile ancient submerged city, although you quickly realize that this "ancient" city is actually from our time, and that therefore the game is set some time in the future.
What's immediately apparent is that Submerged is gorgeous. From the superb water effects to the highly detailed, crumbling city covered in foliage, the game is visually spectacular. As I begin my travels around the city, I'm struck by how serene everything feels. This is an empty world filled with beauty – clearly post apocalyptic, but where nature is thriving and the remnants of human civilization slowly crumbling.
The game does give you a basic breadcrumb trail to follow, but for the most part you're left to your own devices to figure out what to do and where to go. I headed towards a building that the camera seemed to highlight, and ended up clambering up the front, using window ledges and dangling foliage to make my ascent. It wasn't particularly difficult in terms of skill requirement – there didn't seem to be much danger of me falling to my death – but what was tricky was figuring out how to get to the top - and indeed where I needed to go. This is more of a puzzle/exploration game than an arcade game, where the onus is on the player needing to figure out what to do, rather than worry about making critical pixel-perfect jumps.
Unfortunately, I didn't have a whole lot of time to spend with the game, but the 20 or so minutes I did play highly intrigued me. It's clear that Submerged offers a fascinating world to explore, and it's a beautiful game that feels somewhat reminiscent of the likes of Journey and Shadow of the Colossus. I can't wait to play the finished version – which will likely arrive sometime after the summer on Xbox One.