Mini Reviews

Highwater Review – A Flood Of Emotions

Belgrade’s Demagog Studio is quickly establishing itself as a favourite of mine as far as indie studios go, putting out a number of distinct and memorable experiences that each belong to a shared, compelling universe and each with an entirely different gameplay hook.

Highwater is technically the middle release on Demagog’s timeline, coming after 2021’s Golf Club: Nostalgia (formerly Golf Club: Wasteland) and before this year’s The Cub, but it’s only just now launching on consoles and PC after previously being a part of Netflix’ games line-up last year. Unlike its siblings, it’s also the only fully-3D title, eschewing the sidescrolling nature of the studio’s other output and instead offering up a semi-exploratory adventure with a turn-based strategy combat element.

Though its mechanically more ambitious than The Cub or GC:N, Highwater is another brisk jaunt that will run you just a handful of hours. It takes place well before the events of the other games, which presented a post-human Earth, instead giving players a glimpse of life of on its version of our planet before the uber-rich leave to colonise Mars. Following the ambitious Nikos and a steadily-growing collective of unique personalities all scrambling to stow on a rocket bound for the red planet, it’s a neat window into a slice of time that will mean a lot to fans of Demagog’s little world.

Once again the real beauty is in how everything is presented, with the studio’s now-trademark stylised visuals translating wonderfully to 3D and its thoughtfully-crafted world and characters shining now that there are interactions and dialogue en masse. Radio Nostalgia From Mars returns as well, only in its pre-Mars form known as Highwater Pirate Radio, bringing with it more in-universe radio chatter and eclectic playlist of original music.

Sliced up into chapters, Highwater’s general gameplay flow will see you boat around flooded cityscapes and occasionally stop at islands or building-based communities to either explore for collectibles and items or move the story along. When you’re not chatting to friendly citizens, you’re battling insurgents, Alphaville troops, mutated wildlife or even Vikings in an isometric turn-based system reminiscent of games like Final Fantasy Tactics or Mario + Rabbids.

Battles in Highwater aren’t overly complex, nor is there much in the way of RPG-like progression aside from the addition of new weapons and characters over time. Instead, the focus is less on a power climb and more on almost puzzle-like bouts where there’s usually a pretty strong “solution” to be found juggling each character’s unique abilities, the nature of the enemies around you and the unique properties and interactions in the environment. You might find one battle encourages pulling enemies into nearby, deadly hazards or felling trees on top of their heads while others reward thoughtful ordering of which units you take out over time.

From beginning to end, each battle feels like its own distinct bit of gameplay, and with the game’s short runtime it works a treat to keep it fresh throughout. It’s not without issues, mostly relating to the controls and UI which have very obviously just been layered on top of those of the mobile version and don’t really make as much sense on a gamepad or read as well as they should. Once you get past that though, it’s just fine. Battles also feel quite slow as far as animations and enemy turns go, and unless I missed it there’s nothing to inform players of the fast forward function which I didn’t discover until I’d already finished absolutely everything in the game.

Those small complaints aside, by Highwater’s bittersweet end (and after having met one particularly special character in this universe for the first time) I’d thoroughly enjoyed this third foray into a world that I’d be happy for Demagog Studio to continue exploring for years to come. If you’ve played The Cub or Golf Club: Nostalgia, or just want a low-stakes adventure with fun battles that’ll take an afternoon to breeze through, this is definitely a worthwhile jaunt.

Highwater is definitely one for fans of Demagog Studio's other work, presenting yet another distinct gameplay experience set in the shared world. It's also a great little game in its own right with fun turn-based strategy encounters and charming characters.
Another great foray into this compelling world
Brisk runtime with no filler
Puzzle-like battles are fun throughout
Gorgeous sights and sounds
Controls and UI on console are awkward
Published by
Kieron Verbrugge