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When I was a kid I saw this movie infamously dubbed as ‘Madmax on water’— Waterworld, where the ocean waters had risen and covered almost all of Earth’s landmass. Even though the movie was a colossal failure and almost cost Kevin Costner his career, this trope of a ‘wet’ post-apocalyptic world was replicated a few times in various forms of media. But we rarely get a game based around this setting (we don’t talk about BRINK anymore). So when Highwater dropped on Steam, I was only mildly interested in it as the game looked very… minimalist. Well, the game does have a heart at its core. Read below for a detailed breakdown. Presenting, Gameffine’s Highwater review.

Highwater is an isometric turn-based combat game set in a flooded, post-apocalyptic world. Developed by Demagog Studios and published by Rogue Games, Inc., Highwater was released in March 2024.

The World Ends With You

If I were to summarize Highwater in a few words I would say it’s Waterworld but more light-hearted. And this is only possible because of the whimsical world Demagog Studios has crafted. The plot is not something big or extravagant; the world has ended due to a Great Climate Catastrophe, however, human civilization continues to thrive albeit teetering on the edge of war almost every day. The civilians are just trying to eke out a living while the Insurgents make life hell for everyone around in their uprising against the Alphavillians— the ultra-rich who live unscathed behind the giant walls of the fortified city of Alphaville. And because of all this chaos, the protagonist Nikos has only one goal in mind— get to Alphaville at all costs!

Along his way, Nikos meets several other characters, often getting involved in helping them in whatever way possible. This results in very light-hearted missions like picking food for someone along the way, stealing a sheep to gift someone on their wedding, helping someone cross a dangerous territory, etc. In one instance, Nikos and his gang would be walking away from an explosion in slow motion after fighting with some Alphavillians for rations. In another instance, they will be stealing a Charlie Chaplin movie reel from a pillaged theater so that some guy can live away his last days peacefully. The plot allows Nikos to use his camera to take pictures when he encounters any heart-warming moment, like a family reunion, a wedding, or just a bunch of guys singing their hearts out in the middle of the watery wasteland. All in all, Highwater does a good job of creating a post-apocalyptic atmosphere where despite desolation there is hope of survival.

Even though there’s no voice acting during the cutscenes, the dialogues are well written, and it can make you empathize with the various characters. Some lines are a tad emotional, like the part where Nikos laments the things he had to do just to survive after the death of his parents (which involved killing), how his best friend George misses his old comrades at the Workers’ Union (half of whom died due to the flood), etc. They are not deep, just well-placed, enough to evoke a warm sensation of human touch. Rarely do you get the binary option to choose a dialogue for Nikos but they don’t affect the outcome so you can roll with either option.

The world building, though not much, does a decent job via the various newspaper collectibles you find on some islands. But the thing which plays a major role in world building is the radio show called Highwater Pirate Radio (HPR). It’s run by a single jockey, who does 90% of the voice acting in the game. His voice and the messages he gives are hopeful enough to ease the anxiety of anyone trying to survive out there (much to the chagrin of the insurgents who consider him an Alphaville sympathizer). HPR is the source of local news as well, and that’s also where you find the rest 10% of the voice acting in the form of radio interviews of NPCs Nikos meets along the way. For example, at one point you hear the interview of this old lady called Nana who runs an orphanage in Hightower looking after 300 kids, and you hear about it minutes after you meet her in-game. As per her, residents of Hightower have to survive on snails, herbs, mushrooms etc, and drink only boiled and purified water as of course, the flood water is barely drinkable.

Post-Apoclyptic Survival 101

Highwater plays like an average tile-based, turn-based combat. For an indie game, it’s nothing new. But what Highwater does extra is add lots of environmental effects. For example, if a guy is standing on a rooftop, Nikos can use his fishing line to drag him down giving him fall damage instead of climbing the ladder placed adjacent to him to get near him. Similarly, shopping carts can be kicked in straight lines to damage enemies, Trees and bookshelves can be pushed to crush them (at the risk of losing the cover), etc. Throughout your journey, you get access to various weapons like a spanner, AK47, etc., and boosters like Health boost or movement boost, etc. Not all weapons can be equipped to everyone however the boosters have no such restrictions.

But word of warning, our party isn’t fixed. People enter and can permanently leave our party and you lose forever whatever weapons or boosters you’ve equipped them. There is no ‘party leader’ to be honest and it is a good thing because even if Nikos is knocked out, the battle doesn’t end; we can still use others to defeat the enemies and win. All in all, even though the core gameplay isn’t very deep, it did compel me to think tactically in the later stages of the game, like how to use environmental damage instead of wasting turns to attack or how to perform multiple attacks within a few turns as the enemy count per battle increased.

The Sound at World’s End

The only soundtrack is the original indie music that plays on Highwater Pirate Radio, and they are all damn good! It features 30 electric moody songs that perfectly mirror the somber, yet surprisingly hopeful atmosphere of the world, like The World Ended on a Sunny Day and Hotel Weltschmerz. With over more than two hours of original vocal tracks, HPR will remain with you long after you’ve closed the game. The OST can be purchased separately on Steam as well.

The Not-So-Sunny Sides

Despite all the good times I had, Highwater isn’t without its flaws. Twice I ran into game-breaking bugs that crashed the whole game mid-combat. The UI is very lacking and seldom gives you clear information about which tiles you can attack (as the color of the highlighted tiles blends with the background). Despite Niko’s boat ‘Argo’ being the major conveyance in the game, you can’t control the camera separately while traveling. To look to the side, you’ve to steer the boat in that direction! There is a map provided but I doubt anyone would use it since it’s extremely vague and barely functional. The map is just the map of red, blue, and yellow subway lines now completely underwater and only highlights the ‘stations’ Nikos visits. I guess it’s just a world-building device to show how the general infrastructure has broken down and there’s no definitive route to anywhere. As for the NPCs, you won’t be caring about a majority of them because you’re barely given any backstory or anything. They are just… there, and more than often you’ll end of forgetting a lot of names.

Real Talk

Highwater might be a bit rougher around the edges, but it does have a heart with the way it portrays humanity surviving in a watery wasteland via its simplistic blocky art style, minimalist surroundings, and moody yet calming European indie music. The gameplay loop ‘might’ become frustrating in the later stages when the frequency of battle increases, but they offer enough challenge to make you think tactically. In short, Highwater is a decent game if you’re in for the summer vibe and can’t visit a beach.


Highwater Review (PC)

Highwater Review (PC)
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Highwater is a whimsical, 3D adventure game with an isometric turn-based puzzle-combat system set in a flooded, post-apocalyptic world. Navigate by boat, discover islands, find new allies to help battle foes, and experience a humorous tale about friendship in this melancholic and atmospheric escape.
Highwater is a whimsical, 3D adventure game with an isometric turn-based puzzle-combat system set in a flooded, post-apocalyptic world. Navigate by boat, discover islands, find new allies to help battle foes, and experience a humorous tale about friendship in this melancholic and atmospheric escape.
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