UNDER the SAND takes you on a beautiful, low-poly, 1980's post-apocalyptic desert road trip in search of the sea.
I usually don’t throw myself at Steam Early Access titles. While many turn into finished games, there are piles of examples of titles that never made it out of Early Access. For various reasons, the developers abandon their half-finished projects, leaving the players - who paid for the game - behind.
But with IndieMax’ UNDER the SAND, I’ve made an exception, and shelled out for an Early Access title. Global warming has turned the whole world into an endless desert. In the post-apocalyptic, alternative 1980’s world, you set out on a road trip. The goal is to fulfill the last request of your late father: To find the sea. The developer describe UNDER the SAND as a “post-apocalyptic road trip game, look like Jalopy and Overland".
The game is in an early stage of development, with an estimated 3 to 5 months left before it will leave Early Access. But UNDER the SAND is already very much playable. You have access to a car, a garage, and the first map areas. On your trip through the desert, your car will deteriorate, and you’ll have to find parts by scavenging roadside car wrecks, and searching through abandoned buildings. The items you find can be used to keep your car running, or sold at saloons along the road.
As we all know, music is essential for a successful road trip, even in a 1980’s apocalyptic world destroyed by global warming. Thankfully, the developer has you covered, or at least covered-ish. Among the items you’ll find are mix tapes, but exactly how these are used is not clear to me. I suspect the mix tape game mechanics aren’t done yet, because the game’s description promises “Music cassettes!".
As you’d expect from an Early Access title, there are a few bugs in UNDER the SAND. Among the most prominent ones, saving doesn’t work properly, and you’re always sent back to the starting garage when you continue a saved game. The state of your car and inventory are saved, though, but all the items in the garage magically re-appear. This is easily exploitable to give you a full tank of gas. But none of the bugs are game-breaking, and the game has yet to crash on me.
Alone in the Dark
There are also some missing features. I am, for instance, unable to activate the third-person camera used in many of the developer’s tweeted GIFs from the game. Also UNDER the SAND desperately needs an option to reverse the mouse Y-axis. A flashlight and some headlights on the car would also be great - when it gets dark in the desert, it gets really dark.
One game play issue that might be hard for the developer to solve is the player’s perception of speed. Even though the speedometer shows that I’m driving at well over 100 km/h (~60 mph), it feels like the car is moving at perhaps a third of that. This issue might be because of the low-poly graphics, and the lack of visual reference points. But I’m sure the developer will find a way to fix it.
Two Thumbs Up
UNDER the SAND struck has a major cord with me. The low-poly, faded color graphics are haunting and beautiful at the same time. The promise of a long, solitary road trip through the desert, while listening to 1980’s mix-tapes, is a concept that will sit well with many gamers. With a full-fledged story mode, a proper soundtrack, and all the bugs ironed out, UNDER the SAND can easily become one of the indie hits of 2019.
I discovered UNDER the SAND, and some other potential gems, via Mike Rose1’ “Show me the cool shit you’re working on”-tweet from last year. If you enjoy indie games, I highly recommend you have a look at the tweet and its many replies.
Update: The Game is Abandoned!
As of October 25, 2019, UNDER the SAND seems to be abandoned. There has been no updates to the game for months, and the developer has gone silent. Still, if you want a relaxing game about driving through the desert, you still get your money’s worth if you buy UNDER the SAND.
Don’t expect any more updates to the game, however.