by Robert Thomas
reviewed on PC
Journey Through A Watered Over Earth
The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human is exactly what it says on the tin, though a little bit more somber than the name implies. You'll wander through the complicated, desolate remains of what once was a great civilization in nothing but a submarine. Although the game's nature is openly similar the Metroid and Castlevania games, it has a distinct feel of the PlayStation 2 classic, Shadow of the Colossus. The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human is less of an adventure and more of a lonely and melancholy journey.
Few cutscenes exist in this Aquatic Adventure, as its narrative is told through a combination of subtle visuals and gameplay conventions, and much less subtle text pop-ups. The opening shows a space expedition going off into space, entering what looks to be a black hole. A time lapse occurs and thousands of years go by until the time stamp becomes "unknown". Then the ship reappears and flies back to Earth's surface. Conveniently, this spaceship is also a capable submarine that you control to traverse the forgotten ruins of a now-underwater Earth.
Most of the game's narrative is told to you outright through text boxes that will appear throughout the game. Although these text boxes lack grace, the rest of the game's subtle storytelling is done well, through atmosphere and tone. There are no NPC's and no shop. Nor are there any enemies besides a handful of boss battles. Earth is empty and desolate and there's nothing for you to do about it.
Metroid Meets Shadow of the Colossus
The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human is very similar to the Metroid games of old, and the games that use that formula. In order to navigate the ruins of Earth, your submarine will need to outfit itself with weapons and tools to break down barriers and get past bosses. The submarine starts with just a harpoon, but more weapons can be found as you progress. Hidden throughout the game are also upgrades to these weapons and the ship. All of these work to improve your sub in order to traverse deeper and deeper.
There are no "regular" enemies in the game for these weapons, however. You'll be using these weapons on the array of boss battles that encompass the game. Their levels of difficulty are oddly paced, with late game bosses seeming easier than earlier ones, but they all pose a challenge. You'll need to figure out their patterns and use each weapon and ability to kill them. With bosses being the only form of combat, The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human gives off a distinct Shadow of the Colossus feeling to it.
A Somber Tone
The pixel art takes center stage of this adventure. With so little going on between boss battles, you spend a lot of time staring at the screen looking for the solution to a puzzle or where to go next. Under less scrutiny, the art does a good job, but under the heavy eyes of someone trying to figure out what to do, the art's quality starts to fade. The background could have used more details to keep things visually interesting. Beyond a few areas, places start to blend together and it becomes difficult to navigate without a map. Bosses, on the other hand, seem to be where artists spent the most time. All of them are very creatively designed and visually intriguing. A giant Anglerfish who attacks you in the dark, and a technologically enhanced Manta Ray are two memorable standouts.
Aquatic Adventure's soundtrack is largely hit-or-miss. The quiet, reserved tracks that play as you explore this new, empty Earth almost feel more like ambient noise. Areas before boss battles felt tense and scary thanks to the restrained music that plays beforehand. When music was tone appropriate, it felt great. At times, certain tracks didn't seem to agree with the tone, drawing too much attention to themselves with loud volume or overdone intensity. In quiet moments of exploration, songs lost their subtlety with inappropriate techno backdrops. If the soundtracks were more tonally appropriate, they would've assisted in creating a great atmosphere.
Lacking in Subtlety
I think subtlety is what really breaks the game. Its narrative would've been an easy one to tell without any text at all. The text, written by the people who lived on this crumbling Earth before its watery demise, mostly consists of one of two things: very cliché dialogue of people losing all hope on the verge of the end of the world or over-the-top environmentalism messages that sucks you out of this well constructed world. Without those texts, the game's tone and themes would still be in place and better implemented. The soundtrack, sometimes not quite enough, interrupt a very melancholy feeling. Aquatic Adventure would benefit greatly from removing the text narrative and a lot of the music to create an altogether quieter game.
The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human attempts to create a brilliant atmosphere; a mood of a destroyed Earth, overtaken by the human civilization's own neglect. Despite the lack of people, the world seems far more at peace and far more beautiful than how it might've been had humans not died out. Unfortunately, this atmosphere the game strives to create has too many things conflicting with it. The narrative is over the top in its environmentalist messages that are laid out in text form and hit you over the head like a frying pan. The soundtrack doesn't quite know its place, and the art is passing, but fails when there's nothing to look at but the backgrounds. These sorts of things interrupt the tone, but in situations where the game's parts all work together - which is most of the time - The Aquatic Adventures of the Last Human is a subtle and solemn exploration of a new, but old world.
Good atmosphere with very interesting bosses and exploration
Poor narrative and not the best soundtrack for this game. World can be difficult to navigate