November 24, 2020

Die Nite

Are people who control the game

In Other Waters Review – The Life Aquatic

Beyond the reef, the shelf drops away into the turquoise haze of the open ocean....

Beyond the reef, the shelf drops away into the turquoise haze of the open ocean. I find myself surrounded by golden-peaked pillars aglow with the shimmering petals of sunlit life. Bright green webs of twisted tendrils extend from pillar to pillar, forming a writhing network of bridges for the feathery, fern-like creatures who patrol and maintain them. It’s a spectacular, awe-inspiring scene. Yet it exists mostly in my imagination, its wonder shaped by a handful of single-sentence descriptions and a simple two-colour contour map. In Other Waters does so much with seemingly so little, emerging as a masterclass in prudent, minimalist storytelling.

Dr. Ellery Vas is a xenobiologist following in the wake of her partner who disappeared while researching extraterrestrial life on the ocean planet Gliese 667Cc. Stationed at her partner’s abandoned lab and equipped with an AI-controlled diving suit, Vas explores the depths in search of answers. In a disarming inversion of the typical human-AI relationship, you play the AI; Vas sets the objectives, often conferring with you, but it’s your job to plot her course, gather samples, and run tests back in the lab.

The setup allows Vas room to breathe as a character. As you guide her maritime expedition, she provides intermittent narration. She pauses to marvel at new sights, thinks out loud as she works through possible theories, and occasionally confides in you her doubts and fears. Conversation may be sparse, and your ability to respond is limited to the odd yes or no answer, yet it’s perhaps all the more affecting because of it. The two of you are strangers at the outset, but Vas’ wariness at revealing her innermost thoughts to an AI gradually washes away as she realises, despite your reticence, that you understand her predicament–in the process unearthing a memorably multi-layered character. It’s a friendship forged in aquatic isolation, one quiet line at a time.

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