After finding critical success with both Golf Club Nostalgia and The Cub (two games which I admittedly have never played), developer Demagog Studio have now brought their previously mobile-exclusive Highwater to PC and consoles. It’s set in the same universe as their previous games too, though there’s less golf or platforming and more turn-based battling this time around.

Check out some screenshots down below:

Highwater takes place in a world that has suffered through the effects of climate change and found itself completely flooded, with it slowly becoming more uninhabitable as its resources dry up. For the rich, this hasn’t been a problem, with them setting up a home in a prestigious locale known as Alphaville, but everyone else has had to find a way to live by scouring the waters and making the most of the dryland that remains. Alphaville had been helping out the poorer folk with resources, but after formulating a plan to leave Earth and settle on Mars, have left them high and dry. Thus, protagonist Nikos tries to find a way to escape this poverty and get on their rocket to try and escape the devastation left behind on Earth.

Needless to say, it’s a somewhat harrowing tale that kinda hits close to home given the threat to the climate that we could end up facing in real life, but Highwater never takes itself too seriously. There’s plenty of room for humour in the situations you find yourself in, whilst the characters are buzzing with personality and seemingly living their lives as normal… well… as normal as it can be when everything around you is flooded, that is. It’s a quirky narrative then, but it does balance itself out with the occasional dark moment and eco-driven messaging to ensure it remains engaging throughout – even IF its slower pacing can drag things out at times.

As you’d expect in a video game taking place in a flooded world, a lot of your time in Highwater will be spent navigating the waters in a boat. You’ll sail between the small islands that remain, with your main objectives laid out clearly. Whilst it might seem like you have a vast sea to explore, Highwater doesn’t really take an open-world approach, with optional exploration kept to a minimum for the most part. Don’t get me wrong, there are times where you’ll get to uncover some collectibles off the beaten path here and there, but it’s pretty linear. But hey, with the world showing off its most wondrous sights when sailing the waters, you won’t mind too much.

“Highwater is an intriguing adventure that offers a good balance of storytelling, exploration, and combat across its gorgeous world.”

When on land, you’ll spend a lot of time exploring your surroundings, interacting with other characters to learn more about the world and their stories, gathering collectible remnants of the world, and partaking in battles against those that wish to cause you harm. The combat offers turn-based strategic action that sees players moving between tile-based areas as they look to defeat the enemy threat. It’s straight forward for the most part, with players able to move and perform an action each turn, whilst the position of each character plays into both their combat and defensive efficiency. However, things are spiced up by your character’s equipment, which allows them to use different abilities with varying effects. There’s a big emphasis on using items in the environment to your advantage too, with plenty of hazards to inflict damage on your foe (or even to yourself if you’re not too careful).

It’s a simple combat system that doesn’t evolve too much throughout the game’s fairly short runtime (I beat it in around four hours), but it does introduce a few little mechanics to keep things interesting. Some enemies will fight each other, there are objectives to complete in combat, or you may find yourself in a situation where a battle takes an almost puzzle-like approach where there’s an obvious solution in order to succeed – again, it’s nothing you wouldn’t have seen before, but it does enough to keep combat feeling fresh and interesting.

One thing I loved about Highwater was its presentation, with the world design and visuals wonderful throughout. It embraces a watercolour-style aesthetic with a cel-shaded twist that makes for some gorgeous sights in game, with the post-apocalyptic landscape a surprisingly luscious one to be a part of. The audio design is absolutely on point too, with the Highwater Pirate Radio station that plays alongside your journey bringing with it a wonderful variety of tracks as well as some intriguing narration that details the world.

Check out some screenshots down below:

I enjoyed my time playing through Highwater with its blend of ideas giving it a unique flair, though it does have some flaws. The game could feel a little bit slow-paced at times, especially in exploration or when waiting for your turn in combat, whilst the UI isn’t particularly engaging. The game started off as a mobile-exclusive and it tells, especially with the awkward controls when navigating menus. The combat might be too simple for some too, especially in some encounters where there’s less reliance on using your smarts to survive and instead simple see you going through the motions. Again, it’s a short game so it’s never a big problem, but it might underwhelm those who are used to more nuance and depth from their strategic turn-based combat.

Highwater Review

Highwater is an intriguing adventure that offers a good balance of storytelling, exploration, and combat across its gorgeous world. Whilst I wouldn’t necessarily say it excels in any aspect of its design, it does more than enough to ensure that its fairly short adventure is enjoyable, whilst the visuals and audio design stand out as a highlight of the game.

The UI could do with a bit of work and the pacing could be a little bit off, but these issues don’t prevent Highwater’s adventurous peek into the dangers of climate change from offering a uniquely entertaining experience.

Developer: Demagog Studio
Publisher: Rogue Games
Platform(s): PC (Reviewed), PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch