Water is one of those benchmarks that myself and others use to gauge the “realism” of video-game physics. Some games do a good job recreating the look and feel of a river or a calm lake. The surface glistens just right, the ripples perform as one would expect in a real-world equivalent, and so on.

Usually, though, it’s when waves break along a shoreline that the verisimilitude starts to wane. Even games as polished as Death Stranding or Red Dead Redemption 2 start to show their seams when water washes ashore. It just isn’t quite there; the sudsy nature of bubbling water receding back out into the body of water it tried, fleetingly, to emancipate itself from. Even the misting effect that occurs when water runs rapidly downstream or collides with rocks is a rare trick to pull off.

This isn’t to throw shade or gripe or smack the developers with some back-handed gotcha; water is just really weird, and that means it’s difficult to simulate.

Even though Breakwaters is an indie title from Soaring Pixels Games, who I’m sure has nowhere near the resources that a triple-A studio would have, it manages to almost perfectly encapsulate the unpredictability and forceful nature of water. I think this is partially due to the water itself, which is more viscous in nature than actual water — it sort of resembles more a clear blob than a body of water — but it works well within the more cartoonish aesthetic of the overall visual presentation. 

At a moment’s notice, an otherwise dry area, seemingly well above the water level, can suddenly be submerged in waist-high water from a rogue wave, perhaps the result of an errant titan off in the distance trudging around in the open waters, only for it to recede a moment later, leaving behind empty bottles or uprooted seagrass that it brought in with it. This is pretty cool, and it’s an experience I can’t say I recall any other game offering. At least, not quite in the same way.

The water truly is its own character and a force to be reckoned with in Breakwaters; it’s an agent of change with its own secret agenda. It ebbs and flows, constantly in motion. It shirks away, as if being parted by Moses himself, revealing treasures of the deep that are otherwise unattainable. It rushes in when called forth, flooding everything in its path. I have to say, it’s a sight to behold.

I’m still early in Breakwaters, but I am very much looking forward to exploring all of the ways you can interact with its simulated water. This is one of the game’s selling points, after all.

Although, having a spider basically walk on water in pursuit of doing you harm as you try to swim away can be rather unsettling…

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