Highwater – PS5 Review

Highwater by Demagog Studio is a prequel to both 2021’s Golf Club: Wasteland and The Cub from earlier this year. This writer reviewed The Cub and found it intriguing but ultimately a little frustrating. So, it was with an initial sense of ‘here we go again’ when we first started Highwater. Thankfully any preconceptions were quickly dispelled.

The titular Highwater refers to the fact that the vast bulk of the landscape is under water as well as the bastion of survivors who have no particular affiliation to either the marauding insurgents or the elitist Alphavillians. The latter are prepping a rocket named Hope to Mars in the hope of finding a better life there, your ultimate goal as the protagonist Nikos being to get on board the rocket.

Across Highwater’s twenty chapters you’ll encounter various other survivors; some friendly, many hostile; as you negotiate the flooded waterways that make up the game world. The hostiles are met on land and you’ll face them in turn-based battles if you want to prevail.

The turn-based battles are on a rectangular grid where you face off against enemies, the battles themselves feeling fairly rudimentary to start with. There’s added spice with environmental hazards that you can use to one-shot tougher enemies or certainly do more damage than just a straight punch.

Nikos is a fair all-rounder, that is he’s a jack of all trades as opposed to being particularly great at anything in particular. He does have a couple of handy interrupt attacks in high taunt to draw enemy attention and his camera flash stun. He also gains a handy fishing rod that while it might lack punch, can pull enemies off ledges so they take damage, or in some cases drown. As you progress, you’ll gain allies who’ll complement Nikos’ abilities by providing decent ranged damage or chained melee attacks for example. One particular ally has the latter ability and was the key to several crucial battles.

If anything, the character in question, Josephine is just that bit too effective once she’s got the buff for extra melee damage equipped. When your party is at full strength, your other party members will generally default to dealing damage so Josephine can wade through each enemy in turn. You see, when she kills an enemy, she enters a rage state that allows her to move again and kill another enemy. If she kills them too, she can go again and again and again until her killing streak is over.

If this ability seems overpowered in normal battles, it very much is. But it truly comes into its own when you’re protecting an objective like generators or innocent bystanders who are unlucky enough to be in the midst of a firefight. Both have associated trophies to go with them, the former being straightforward enough that we only required the one restart. The penultimate battle of the game however, has your motley crew attempting to reach the rocket while citizens of Alphaville also seek to get there.

Only the enemy combatants see their own citizens are fair game and will inevitably zero in on them without your stopping them. This is easier said than done and we actually found it tougher to beat with zero casualties than the final big bad boss himself. That said, Josephine was key to our victory, to the extent that we missed her when she wasn’t in the equation.

As well as the combat that is decidedly satisfying, the hallmarks of the prior two games are here in terms of the pastiches of both Amazon and SpaceX with both CEOs being lampooned. Also, as in Golf Club and The Cub, while it might be the collapse of civilisation as we know it, the music is just excellent. As well as the radio station you might be familiar with from the other two games, there are a couple of excellent musical interludes that will stay with you once the credits have rolled. Not to mention one song where swearwords are kazoo toots instead of the more usual bleeps.

The main story itself can feel like a bit of a fetch quest on occasion but it’s generally well-paced. In addition to the main quest itself, you get two epilogue missions to play, though we suspect they were cut for purposes of pacing. They add a little backstory and were a pleasant surprise when we thought we were finished. Well, we say finished. We were hoping to have been as thorough as when we played The Cub in terms of having collected all the artifacts during our playthrough.

Sadly, we weren’t and we face another playthrough to get the remaining four newspapers and books we somehow missed. Just like The Cub, the levels don’t show the outstanding collectibles that remain. It’s a rare blot on Highwater’s copybook, especially given that collectibles are highlighted when you encounter them. Is it too much to ask for an indicator on the chapter select screen? As it stands, we’ll be waiting for someone to do a concise video playthrough.

In conclusion, Highwater is a well-made turn-based battler that’s sadly a little short and over as it really begins to hit its stride. The combat has nuance though as we discovered with one character, the balance is slightly off to the point where she feels overpowered. The storyline is generally well done, though it’s fairly predictable. Also, the soundtrack at the end of the world is excellent.

8 Overall
+ Fun combat for the most part
+ Nice scenario and bonus content
+ The soundtrack is excellent
- Combat balance is a bit off, particularly with one character
- A little short
- Could do with collectible tracking
Highwater is a well-made turn-based battler set in the same scenario as Demagog’s other games Golf Club: Wasteland and The Cub. Sadly, it’s a bit short and it could do with collectible tracking. We really enjoyed ourselves despite that.

About Ian

Ian likes his games weird. He loves his Vita even if Sony don't anymore. He joined the PS4 party relatively late, but has been in since day one on PS5.

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