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Highwater Review – Flooding, Fleeing, and Fighting

Highwater game screenshot, Large Battle
Highwater Review – Flooding, Fleeing, and Fighting
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Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Sony PS4, Sony PS5, Android, Microsoft Xbox, Windows PC, Steam

Game Name: Highwater

Publisher: Rogue Games

Developer: Demagog Studio

Genre: Action, Adventure

Release Date: March 14th, 2024

Highwater by Demagog Studio

In Highwater, an ecological catastrophe has caused massive flooding. People have formed groups to scavenge for resources in order to survive, growing increasingly at odds with each other as resources get scarcer.

Our protagonist Nikos, finds himself in this dangerous world, living day by day, trying to survive but also hoping for a better future.

Highwater game screenshot, Family

Alphaville is an enclosed city inhabited by the rich and upper class, and there are rumors it’s planning to launch a rocket to relocate and live on Mars. Our protagonist, hearing word of this, makes it his mission to sneak aboard the rocket ship.

Hell of Highwater

Highwater’s narrative setup is engaging. Elevated by the world’s lore, the setting incorporates so many details and hints of things happening, many of which are real-world allusions to recognizable themes: corruption, war, climate change, and classism, to name a few.

All the bits and pieces, like newspaper headlines and book summaries scattered throughout the world, that shape this game’s setting form a larger picture of what’s going on.

The main plot, however, is very much focused on our protagonist’s journey, rather than the heavy poignant themes alluded to by the setting.
Nikos’s effort and drive to escape his situation feel bittersweet; he lives with a group of peaceful people who care about him but still feels the need to get away.

This aspect of the narrative is tragic: the world is so broken and horrible to live in that people and relationships aren’t enough. That said, Nikos’s motivation to leave feels underdeveloped. He wants to escape but is so quick to leave everything else – including his found family – behind.

It doesn’t help that the game’s secondary characters are undeveloped. They’re one-note characters along for the ride. If Highwater had more character moments, it would have benefited the main story.

Highwater game screenshot, Combat Gif

Highwater also sidesteps its heavier themes with a lighthearted tone that comes across as joyous and sometimes even downright comedic. You’d think that this tone would clash with the heavy themes, but in an\ time where apocalyptic and natural disaster media is parodied, the jovial tone feels surprisingly normal. Just don’t expect a main plot that deals with many of the heavier themes it hints at.

Fishing for a Fight

Plot and world-building aside, most of Highwater is spent on combat. In the game’s turn-based system, characters can only move a certain amount of spaces each turn, and can attack certain spaces based on their weapons, some of which also have special abilities or status effects.

Combat isn’t too difficult but does require you to think a bit. Knowing when to attack with different characters is important. For example, with a fishing pole you’ll be able to do damage as well as pull enemies toward you. A different character gets another turn immediately if she kills someone during her turn.

Combat relies heavily on smart character positioning and choosing the most effective sequence of maneuvers. Thankfully, it’s also open enough to allow some different approaches. There isn’t one correct way to tackle each sequence, meaning you’re free to experiment a little bit. Overall, the combat system is just deep enough to be engaging throughout the game.

Highwater game screenshot, Newspaper

Scenes and Sea Shanties

Visually the game employs a vibrant cel-shaded art style, with bright colors making scenes like vegetation growing on ruined structures or the way the water shimmers while driving the boat look even more striking. Although this world is ruined by severe flooding, the beauty sprinkled throughout makes the dour setting feel less depressing.

Highwater also features a varied soundtrack of the kind of original indie tracks you might expect to hear on Bandcamp. It’s a nice mix of somber and quirky songs that do a fantastic job of setting the mood for game sequences.

Many of these songs feel as if they were created by artists within the game’s setting, with some of them even containing lyrics that reflect life in this submerged world. It makes the whole experience of playing Highwater more immersive. It’s such a smart and novel choice to do a soundtrack this way!

The Verdict

Highwater gives a glimpse into the lives of people surviving in a world changed by a massive, life-altering catastrophe. It has some engaging combat that can be a lot of fun, and while its main plot isn’t particularly enthralling, its setting is gripping.

I’d recommend Highwater to anyone who doesn’t mind a more lighthearted romp around a world in shambles.

Highwater is available via the Nintendo eShop, Sony PlayStation Store, Microsoft Store, Google Play, and Steam.

Check out the official trailer for Highwater below:

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