Highwater Review – I’m Just Here For The Vibes

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Highwater Review – I’m Just Here For The Vibes

We reviewed Highwater in the wake of its big console/PC release. Here are our extended thoughts on this post-apocalyptic high-seas adventure.

It took a while but Demagog Studio's watersoaked adventure finally made it onto consoles and PCs after its initial release on mobile platforms in 2022. And while it still feels very much like a port of a title for a much smaller screen, Highwater is the kind of experience only video games can deliver.  Even if some of it flaws become more glaring on the big screen.

So here is our Review of Highwater.

*Reviewed on PlayStation 5, Copy was Provided by the Publisher*

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Image: Demagog Studio

Highwater Review

Highwater makes a lot of sense once you realize this is a port of a mobile game. Its chapters are deliciously short and the entire game is best described as lo-fi tracks to watch the world end. It's a visual feast with immaculate vibes but it falls short in its translation to the big screen. What works in short 5-10 minute play sessions in the bus or on break, doesn't hold up when you're playing through it in hour-long sittings.

But let's start from the top. Highwater is an adventure RPG thing where you boat around the remnants of the sunken city of Alphaville Waterworld style. You play Nikos, a survivor who along with his friends is planning a swift escape from what is left of our now even bluer, pale blue dot. The goal is clear, cash in all the goodwill he has accumulated with the leftover citizens of Alphaville and make it to Mars on one of the last rockets leaving the planet.

The setup is fantastic, the vibes out of this world but Highwater seems like a game restraint by its scope and initial release platform. Its world tries to sell you on a laid-back kind of apocalypse where people live in the sunken ruins of a once mighty civilization with the usual amount of warring factions and colorful characters.

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Image: Demagog Studio

Characters, moments, and locations are never given enough time to breathe. Everything just happens so fast, characters elude to events or relationships that only exist to have the plot move along at a brisk pace. This is a shame because Highwater presents a colorful, chill take on a post-apocalyptic world that I would've loved to explore more.

You explore this world mostly by boat or in small locations you get to explore. There isn't much to find but the occasional newspaper or book makes for nice collectibles in between story beats. I haven't grown bored of Highwater's greens, grays, and blues yet but I can see them wearing thin on anyone who wants to marathon this title.

Then there's the combat, a nice take on tactical RPG combat without any of the leveling and progression you usually see in the genre. You get to play as Nikos and his many friends in small kerfuffles across the city.

Credit where credit is due, while the combat system is fairly simple, each encounter is its own puzzle to solve. In an abandoned storage house you get to know over shelves while another encounter has you make use of a random bear attack. This keeps encounters fresh and memorable even if some of them take a little too long for my taste.

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Image: Demagog Studio

There's also this little issue where there are a lot of characters playable in different situations, they are not too different from each other since most encounters can be solved by interacting with your environment. I would've loved it if characters and enemies had a little more depth to them.

While these combat puzzles are fun to solve, it rarely makes a difference which character you're playing. I'd often finish an encounter with one or two characters in my party dead, but since you're only defeated if all of them fall in battle I could easily make some of them sacrificial lambs.

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A similar thing goes for its story, it has the right setup and all the tools to succeed but the characters seem so indifferent and nonchalant about the things happening around them that it's hard to be engaged. Nikos is a blank slate, barely a person besides being vaguely charming. The lack of any stakes or tonally consistent world.

The saving grace of this game which would otherwise land in the “It's alright”-bin is its immaculate vibes. Its best moments are when you navigate on a boat through the ruined city while its fantastic original soundtrack drips around in the background. I can easily imagine a version of this title that's just boating around town to the music while scavenging for resources to bring home and I think I like that version more.

And I'm not sure if that's just on me. Everything I've seen and players is good, sometimes even great but it barely stands out in the back of my mind. But when you're on that boat and Highwater Pirate Radio blares in the background, there's really nothing like it.

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Image: Demagog Studio

Highwater Score – 6/10

You might be able to tell that I'm really conflicted about Highwater.  I have no idea if and how I can recommend this game even at the 20$ USD price point. It's fine, it's inoffensive at worst but if you don't vibe with its vibe, you won't like it.

And since the game is free on the phone for anyone with a Netflix subscription, I would rather recommend you check this one out instead. It's fine on console and PC, don't get me wrong but it's clear that this isn't its target platform, and unless you really dig what it's putting up, you'll find yourself drifting in a mire of mediocrity.

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Highwater Review – I’m Just Here For The Vibes
Timo Reinecke
Has once claimed that FSH is the only job in FFXIV worth playing and stands by that firmly. Top Guy, Smart Guy, Educated Speaker. (sometimes) Writer of all things FFXIV, FGC, News, Reviews and More