DAVE THE DIVER is the Russian Matryoshka doll of games, even though MINTROCKET is a South Korean developer, as it offers gameplay and systems within systems the more time you spend with the game. At its core, it is two things: an underwater exploration RPG and restaurant management sim. These two things don’t have much intersection, but they go together swimmingly. DAVE THE DIVER is a unique and refreshing experience that combines exploration, puzzle-solving, and stunning visuals that’s nothing short of incredible and is one of 2023’s biggest surprises and best games.
DAVE THE DIVER does an exceptional job of weaving an intriguing storyline throughout the game. The quests are seamlessly integrated into the gameplay, guiding players through a narrative filled with mystery and discovery. As you progress, you’ll encounter ancient ruins, hidden artifacts, and enigmatic characters who provide insight into the secrets of the ocean. The narrative is well-paced, with each quest revealing new information and adding to the overall lore. The developers have managed to strike a balance between providing enough guidance and leaving room for player exploration and interpretation. There is an end to the story, but if you’ve got any lingering side missions, you can clean those up. With its prologue and seven chapters that follow, expect to spend around 30 hours with this game, and still not wanting it to end.
There are unvoiced cutscenes in the game, but they are interesting enough to pay attention to as each character has detailed things to say at any given time. There are some really funny cutscenes, too, that clearly have some K-Pop influences when a new character or thing is introduced. Sometimes these repeat, but I never got tired of experiencing them that were that good. Not only is the list of characters you encounter long, but they are equally complex and varied. This is a game that relishes in connections and conversations, and doesn’t miss an opportunity to let characters just go and go.
There’s a day-to-day life you’ll cycle through. Mornings and afternoons are dedicated to dives. Here is where you’ll work towards advancing the story, but you’ll also need to use this time to collect fish. The open-world underwater environment has a lot to discover. As the titular character, your mission is to uncover the secrets of the ocean and complete a series of quests scattered throughout various dive locations. You’ll be swimming through beautifully crafted underwater environments, interacting with marine life, and solving puzzles. The puzzles range in complexity, from simple pattern recognition challenges to more intricate tasks that require careful observation and critical thinking. There’s a healthy balance in them being challenging and accessible, ensuring players are engaged without becoming frustrated.
Once you’re done with your dives for the day, it’s time to prepare for dinner service in the evening. You’ll assemble your menu for that night, and begin taking customers when the sushi restaurant is open. You’ll pour drinks for customers, deliver food orders from the kitchen, and clean-up their messes. Over time you’ll hire staff that’ll help you do this, because the restaurant will becoming increasingly popular, as well. The two halves of the game congeal in pleasurable ways, and ensure you’re not doing the same thing for too long.
While the game is rather chill, there is combat. You’ll encounter hostile marine life, and pirates that threaten the docile marine life. There’s even silly, yet entertaining boss fights that have simple systems to defeat that manage to put a smile across my face. Dave has a melee weapon, a harpoon gun, and even a sniper rifle to use while underwater. Oddly, the game only lets you attack left or right. Given that you’re in water, I expected the game to let you shoot in all angles without any kind of impediment. That’s really the only drawback to the combat, but once you get into the rhythm of things, it’s easy to adjust Dave to be in the right firing position.
As you progress the story, it will become necessary to make some upgrades. The game makes this easy, as there’s an app on Dave’s phone (among many others as you work through the game). You can purchase upgrades to the diving suit to go deeper, the air tanks to hold air for longer and to have more life, and the harpoon gun for more damage. While underwater, you’ll come across new weapons, see them enough and you’ll have a blueprint you can craft that weapon to dive in with. Weapons can even have elemental properties like poison, electricity, and even fire (somehow). Along the way, Dave will be given new tools, at first it’ll be things like the knife and harpoon gun, and then later it’s flash lights and blacklights to access the different biomes. This is a game that is constantly doing and showing you new things, and by the end, Dave is becoming a Swiss Army Knife himself.
Oxygen is health DAVE THE DIVER , run out of it and you’re dead. There’s also the aforementioned conflict with aquatic and human life, but the main villain is your greed. You’ll always wanting to find that one more thing, or collect the final fish for a quest, but your air will likely be low, and close to death. If you do die, you’ll only be allowed to keep one item from your dive and then you respawn. Death is rather defeating in general, but losing out on what might be a lot of food or quest items is a sullen experience, to be sure.
There so many systems to this game, and even tens of hours later you’ll be unlocking new mechanics that manage to surprise and delight. It’s incredible how MINTROCKET managed to keep things exciting after all that. Then there’s all the mini-games that are played through the phone. It’s a marvel that it doesn’t rely on its already existing systems for dozens of hours, it is constantly refreshing and revitalizing itself.
There’s a multitude of secrets and collectibles hidden throughout the game. As you explore, you’ll encounter hidden caves, treasure chests, and rare marine species to discover. These optional objectives provide additional incentives to dive back into the depths and explore every nook and cranny of the underwater world. There’s an incredible attention to detail in the marine life behavior. Each creature feels lifelike, and their interactions with the environment and each other are realistic. From the playful dolphins that swim alongside you to the elusive sea turtles that shy away, the ecosystem feels alive and dynamic. It’s a joy to witness the underwater world unfold as you explore deeper.
The game also features a photo mode, allowing players to capture stunning screenshots of the marine life and scenery. It’s a wonderful addition for those who want to share their underwater adventures with friends or simply enjoy the beauty of the game’s visuals. The photo mode further adds to the immersion and serves as a testament to the attention to detail in the graphics.
One of the first things that struck me about Dave the Diver was its breathtaking visuals, blending 2D and 3D in really clever ways. The game features stunningly detailed underwater environments, complete with vibrant coral reefs, schools of fish, and mesmerizing bio-luminescent creatures. The attention to detail is remarkable, making each dive feel like a plunge into a living, breathing ecosystem. The lighting effects and water physics further enhance the immersion, creating a truly realistic experience. There’s no support for ultrawide monitors, but it does create a nice border instead of black bars that helps maintain immersion. I also never encountered any bugs or technical issues while playing, which is a testament of the Early Access period it went through before releasing.
The soundtrack is equally enchanting, with a soothing and atmospheric score that perfectly complements the underwater setting. From the tranquil melodies that play while exploring to the more intense tracks during challenging encounters, the sound design increases enjoyment for the overall experience.
My PC Specs:
– Microsoft Windows 11 Pro
– Intel Core i9 13900K @ 5.8GHz
– ASUS ROG RYUJIN II 360 ARGB AIO Liquid CPU Cooler
– G.SKILL TRIDENT Z5 6000MHZ 64GB (32×2) DDR5 RAM
– ASUS ROG Strix GeForce RTX 4080 16GB GDDR6X
– WD_BLACK SN850X M.2 (4 TB)
– LG UltraGear 34GP950B-G (21:9 Ultrawide @ 3440×1440)
Like the ocean itself, there’s so much depth to DAVE THE DIVER , as there’s more that’s hidden beneath the surface. The stunning graphics, mesmerizing sound design, and well-crafted gameplay combine to create an unforgettable experience. Whether you’re a fan of exploration games or simply have a love for ocean games, this is sure to captivate you for dozens of hours. Prepare to have your expectations blown out of the water, as it constantly introduces new and exciting things right up until the end. DAVE THE DIVER is a treasure of a find, so take the plunge on what is one of the best games you’ll play this year.
A Steam code was provided by the publisher for review purposes