Disclaimer: We were given a copy of this game for review purposes by a PR company on behalf of the developers.
I first laid eyes on this imagery what must have been years ago now. It comes up every now and then when people long for a good deep sea game. Who’d have thought that within a year of writing for UltraSuperMega, deliverance in the form of the game itself, has come. But is it all that I hoped for?
The setup is almost perfect. Mankind has been swept from the surface by flooding as punishment from the gods for their avarice and war mongering. In the process we’ve lost a lot of our near utopian scientific advancements making all the survivors from the apparent apocalypse into Atlanteans of a sort. These people have managed to somehow eek out a living in small underwater hubs underneath the ice that blankets the oceans. There are rumours of a treasure being hidden in the deepest, darkest point of the ocean, placed there by a benevolent goddess. That’s where we come in.
The intro for the game is well paced and teaches you your limits in exactly the right order. Don’t go too low or you’ll be crushed. Don’t mess around too long without visiting a hub of some kind or you’ll run out of air. Be sure to pick up new crew members when possible. Don’t fire your weapons at everything that moves as you’ll quickly run out of ammo (up until you’ve made decent money from scavenging loot from around the map.) And finally, don’t ignore the bright orange fishes, they guide you to the next point of interest. I seemed to have ignored that one somehow or assumed they would point me directly to the next quest instead of to something that’s more than likely close by and became pretty damn frustrated with myself for missing the whole point of their existence.
There’s one thing that changes drastically after the brief tutorial and that’s your immediate surroundings. You are initially funnelled through a relatively short and narrow passage to show you the ropes but after that it opens up into a massive area dotted with hubs and wreckages. There is a hell of a lot of blank space but this, of course, is thematically correct. It seems like the devs have explicitly chosen to exclude some navigation aids that are commonplace in today’s games, like quest markers and NPCs marking things on your map, or even showing your own location on the map. Instead, opting for the previously mentioned orange ‘guidance’ fish. If it weren’t for those glorious orange fish you would probably get lost in the murk much like I did when I ignored their fishy guidance, thinking it would be a good idea to talk to the NPCs instead.
After completing the quest for old Hassley above, you’re tasked with heading to a drill site. Which sounds easy enough, except that nobody tells you which direction the drillsite is in. To make matters worse, you have a sonar guy who knows where it is but just doesn’t tell you. He coyly mentions that everyone in his guild knows where it is so I went to their lodge and asked around but all I got was the same lines from the first time I visited (when I had to pick up a morse radio for Hassley that wasn’t even utilised in the quest.) The apparent uselessness of NPCs who aren’t merchants bothers me a little. After divulging a quest, most characters won’t have anything new to say. I can see that getting to people who are looking for more lore to sink their teeth into.
The general user interface is a little cumbersome as well. I am still trying to force myself to avoid tapping the escape key when trying to retract from the ship and building interior views because it only opens up the menu for options and the like. V is the dedicated interior view key and right clicking also retracts. You’ll get there even if it is a bit clunky to begin with. The map is quite useful though once you’ve found your way around. It shows depth in a handy manner by colouring the ground like a topographical map. In the first area you probably don’t want to be near the bottom if the ground is red unless you’ve upgraded your ship. Seeing the crush depth meter creep up your screen is actually quite unnerving. Having watched Abyss a fair few times as a kid, I’m very much aware of what happens when you stray beyond the means of your vessel.
Until reaching the second chapter I didn’t really find anything that tested das boot aside from the first boss itself. You might have already guessed what it is if you watched the webm at the start of the article, but it’s a big change of pace compared to the rest of the otherwise quite leisurely first act. The change of pace keeps up into the second as well as the enemies become faster, and more numerous as you explore and complete quests. You’re even greeted with a shadowy rival sub which peppers you with fire and scoots off at the sign of heavy resistance. The rank and file enemies start to change too. More creature organic opponents start showing up and in greater numbers than any other enemy before them. Escalation is handled quite well once you break out of act 1.
To keep up with the escalation you need to keep a close eye on your money, spare parts and crew. Looting is undoubtedly the best way to generate cash and it seems some of the items you come across are worth more to different vendors than others. It’s a good way to ensure you think about keeping some stuff in your inventory instead of just dumping every single item into the first merchant you come across. It’s worthwhile hunting down those merchants who’ll pay a little more for your wares because real advancements in hardware for your sub are pretty damn expensive. Extra air tanks which allow you to stay at sea longer are routinely 5,000 sub bucks or more. Most merchants have one but I’ve found it easy enough to not buy every single one as long as I don’t screw around looking for busted hulls to loot too often.
New subs offer pretty big jumps in performance but you shouldn’t discount your crew (outside of fairly useless conversation). The sailors you pick up at the hubs and and sometimes in subs you’ve just crippled can offer significant advantages if you slot them into the right part of your sub. Each crew member has a set of stats and each part of your sub can make use of a different combination of stats. It’s actually pretty fun playing around with this and even though I haven’t upgraded the weapons on my sub, my fire rate is still high enough to outgun most enemies that I’ve come across. I’ve done this by jamming some strong girls into the gunners compartment to decrease reload times by 70%. Strength is the winning stat here and also in the engine room. Intelligence and perception are handy in the sonar department as one might guess but of course not all of your crew will be able to spend all their time in one room. It’s a good idea to actually leave one or two just swanning about in the main quarters because if they don’t have a specific job they’ll actually perform repairs on the damaged sub, and of course the more you have unassigned, the faster the repairs. Should you be too tight to actually hire enough people to have spares, you can always use Captain’s Time by holding the V key mid fight. You can shuffle crew around your ship in slow-mo to suit the situation you’re up against, like Max Payne shuffling bullets into skulls. Not quite as cool but management is fun too sometimes.
While not perfect, this game is engrossing and terribly atmospheric. I still get a sense of dread whenever I sink too low, causing the crush sensor bar to rise or my sonar pings show something that I can’t see through the silt, which speaks well to the design of the tools you’re given and the situations engineered to challenge you. Even better; a patch has already been issued which addresses a few of my problems, such as the fish not being terribly easy to read,and in future patches the NPCs look to be getting some attention as well. I hope as I advance further into the depths that I find a little bit more but I’m sure I won’t be disappointed.
The Good: Atmosphere so dense you may actually be crushed by it and some really neat touches in the environmental design that lend to the theme and story. Try pinging near a crop of seaweeds along the bottom and watch them all light up.
The Bad: The UI is a bit of a pain at times, NPCs are just text dumps most of the time and navigation can be difficult if you don’t pay attention to the tutorials…
Final Verdict: Not perfect but not without its charms.