Highwater Adventure Explores a Post-Apocalyptic Flooded World

Reviewed On
Nintendo Switch
Available For

Climate change is one of those things that we’ll never be able to escape. While some video games may be an escape from the existential dread that is manmade climate disaster, Highwater doesn’t shy away from this by engulfing players directly in a post-apocalyptic world that’s been flooded.

Set in a future where climate disasters have already occurred and much of the livable landmasses in the world are deep underwater, Highwater takes place in territory that’s immediately familiar but still different enough to be exciting to most players. What kicks off the story is that there’s a rumor the ultra-wealthy have decided the planet is no longer habitable and are going to some kind of settlement on Mars. Your protagonist Nikos is tired of a life of scavenging for whatever morsels are left, sparking the idea to sneak aboard a rocket to reach Mars and leave his water-logged life behind once and for all.

You’ll primarily spend your time in Highwater controlling Nikos as he drives his raft from place to place, helping the locals or stealing supplies for your own survival. Food, fuel, and other things necessary for survival become more scarce day by day, as humanity flocks to the roofs of skyscrapers in lieu of having dry, habitable land. A lot of your time outside of combat is going to be spent riding around in your raft exploring, using a rudimentary compass to establish your direction while listening to fun indie music and news updates that expand your knowledge of the world.

After docking your boat, you can explore land masses like the tops of skyscrapers while on foot.

Wandering around will let you speak with NPCs and find newspapers and books that will give you backstory and lore about what decisions turned the world into its current state. It will also allow you to find new equipment that you can use during the turn-based strategy combat segments of Highwater. Exploring is very simple and easy to do, and the controls should be instantly familiar with anyone who has played a third person adventure title.

Combat in Highwater should be quickly recognizable to anyone who has played a tactical turn-based RPG previously. Each character gets an action and can move once per turn on the grid for the battle map, but you typically won’t want to trade blows when outnumbered and outgunned by raiders. You can equip new weapons that give you access to higher damage, the ability to stun, and things of that nature. But what actually makes combat in Highwater interesting is the large number of environmental obstacles and traps you can use to your advantage.

A lot of battle encounters in Highwater can be solved as if they’re puzzles, which has the convenient side effect of making you feel smart when you’ve discovered how to properly utilize a trap to damage or disarm a foe. Some traps and wildlife can outright remove troublesome enemies from combat entirely. Luring an enemy near a shipping container and then trapping them in it so they can’t chase after you is still a win when your goal is to survive after all!

The number of different interactable objects in Highwater is really what helps each new combat encounter seem interesting because a lot of strategy RPGs introduce elements that are effectively just challenges of using your characters and their skills to clear a battle. Introducing objects like bookshelves that you can knock over on top of enemies, or using abilities that push/pull foes into the range of man-eating plants can go a long way toward making combat a simple venture even for those who don’t commonly play strategy games.

The visuals of Highwater have a very clean cel-shaded look to them, and the backing soundtrack from your raft has quite the eclectic mix of tracks from a future version of Spotify that you may love some of the songs but hate others. The visuals sell the bleak, flooded environment very well, and everything is stylized well enough that the graphics don’t ever look boring.

A single complete playthrough of Highwater should clock in at around six to six and a half hours, which is just long enough that the turn-based combat featured heavily in it doesn’t ever turn stale. Highwater wouldn’t be a good recommendation for somebody looking for a title with lots of extreme action and combat, though there are plenty of explosions and electrocutions to be had in it if you can appreciate its combat system. The message behind Highwater, coupled with its melancholic atmosphere, does a lot to make it an interesting experience if you enjoy third person adventure titles with turn-based strategy battles.

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