Okay, before I start this, I want to clarify here: this is what I believe to be the best underwater or diving sequences in video games that are not designed to be underwater/dive simulators. So for this list I will include games that primarily take place out of the water – I find that they tend, for some reason that I can’t quite qualify, give a better feeling of the alien nature of the underwater.

Anyway, whatever. Here’s my list!

5. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the NES – Water Stage

Here is the whole stage – not so big size-wise, but big on frustration! (image source)

Well, a lot of people hate this stage! (and the game, for that matter!) I will admit that this game (and stage/sequence in particular) is punitively challenging. What I like about it is the extreme challenge – this stage really makes you feel fragile in a dangerous environment (which is really saying something in this game!). In my life, I have beaten this stage (without assistance of a Game Genie or emulator anything) maybe one dozen times, which as far as I am concerned, is a lot.

My opinion on difficulty isn’t too rare, the source of the above image has a good review too.


4. Final Fantasy 7 – Sunken Gelnika

A “Gelnika” is a military cargo plane – here it lies on the bottom of the ocean. (image source)

Unlike the previous entry, a lot of people love this stage. Aside from being a generally cool place – a place hidden underwater – it is filled with powerful items and powerful opponents. The odd monsters and neat items really make this a place that is worth exploring and it was quite memorable for me when I first played through it.

Here is the interior. Add some dripping water sounds and you will feel underwater. (image source)


3. Duke Nukem 3D – Episode 3: Shrapnel City

For me, Duke Nukem 3D was the first first-person videogame that had water that was actually enter-able – which was significant. There are lots of times when you can go into the water in DN3D, but for some reason Episode 3 really stands out for me, from the pools near the sushi restaurant in the first level or in the Waterworld level. There was something neat about being able to go into water and be able to control the character in all three dimensions.

I always find DN3D screenshots to never be able to convey how fun the game is. (image source)

I will credit this game for establishing a firm rule in my head: there are powerful and valuable secrets underwater, for those that are bold enough to look. Well, I don’t dive and I rarely swim (but I can!) so not being able to disprove that maxim has only strengthened my belief in it. Underwater = secrets; thanks Duke.

2. Deus Ex – Ocean Lab

There it is in its difficult to see glory. (image source)

There is a swimming skill available in Deus Ex, and it is one of the most neglected skills out there. Swimming is a fairly rare activity in the game, but every time I (or likely anyone) play this and see some water, I instantly know that I am going to be missing out (or suffering greatly for) on some secrets, items, or alternate way of completing a task (see the above maxim about underwater = secrets).

The ocean lab has two cool parts to it – the first is a coastal area with an underwater area that is filled with frogmen and involves the infiltration into the base. The second is a larger, entirely underwater research laboratory complex that someone has turned on all of the internal defenses and is essentially a slaughterhouse – it is really fun to navigate. 

Here are some miniature submarines that you can take to the ocean floor laboratory. (image source)

Just like Final Fantasy 7’s sunken Gelnika, there is something really interesting about exploring a place that is in the midst of a disaster. The fact that the disaster is unraveling around you in this stage in Deus Ex makes it all the more intense.


1. Grand Theft Auto V – Various Wrecks

Inside one of the miniature submarines. All GTAV images are my screenshots.

This game absolutely nails the underwater. Just like in GTA3: San Andreas, the underwater portion of this game is largely ignored – only a few missions in the base game involve water at all, which I guess adds to the mystery of the seas within the game.

Tell me this doesn’t look spooky.

One of the side quests in the game involves hunting down lost radioactive barrels from a miniature submarine, which is fairly weird, but also very interesting. But the real appeal of the submarine is using it to scout areas to later dive down to in order to retrieve, you guessed it, secrets and valuables.

In a scene very reminiscent of the Gelnika from FF7 here is a crashed military cargo plane jam-packed with cool goodies and cool scenery.

While the secrets and goodies are fun, what I really like in GTA:V is the cool places that you can explore – the game designers kindly put dozens of wrecks and other interesting things underwater that I find are largely ignored, but I definitely appreciate them.

A sunken wreck spotted during the radioactive materials recovery questline.
Even without wrecks, there is a lot of cool scenery available underwater in the game.

Well, that’s my list! Some honourable mentions (worth looking up if you are a video game fan):

  • Super Mario Brothers – Water Stages
  • Sonic the Hedgehog 2 – Aquatic Ruin
  • Final Fantasy – Sunken Shrine
  • Grand Theft Auto 3: San Andreas (kinda rolled into GTA:V)
  • Any Elder Scrolls Game or Bethesda Fallout Game
  • Ecco the Dolphin (rejected for being primarily underwater)

No copyright claimed on any image. Sources provided.
Entry originally posted on a now defunct blog. Edited and reposted with permission.