Whilst we might well all busy ourselves getting stuck into the latest huge block-buster releases, there should always be time in every gamers schedule to dedicate to the indie scene.
Being a man of my word I enjoy taking the opportunity to dive into any game, regardless of the size of its developer, and as such I bring you my thoughts on Deep Black: Reloaded, from Biart Studio, the Russian developer behind “biEngine”, a cross-platform engine capable of delivering across PC, Xbox 360, PS3, PSP, Android and iOS… which in of itself is an impressive feat indeed!
Anyway, I digress, Deep Black: Reloaded presents as a story driven third person action shooter spanning both above-ground and underwater environments and featuring a similarly varied multiplayer mode.
I must declare I am not usually a fan of third person perspective games… Why would you deliberately break the immersion of first person perspective solely to gaze at your own buttocks? Seems odd right?
Of course, I acknowledge that it’s possible to do this well, see Gears of War, and I must admit that this is one aspect with which Deep Black: Reloaded won me over. When your character’s design & animation is top draw then this seems far more justified, and Deep Black: Reloaded is just such an example, the Dead Space inspired suit looks good enough from behind to just about excuse the presentation, even in my view!
I want to pause here to really praise an element of the game I was surprisingly surprised by; underwater. Underwater parts of games are often so devoid of detail, and your character so poorly animated when swimming, that the whole thing becomes a sad, if faintly comical, farce. This is most-certainly not the case with Deep Black: Reloaded. I would argue that this game contains within it the best realised vision of both underwater movement & combat that I have yet seen. Impressive stuff. You really feel both agile and powerful underwater and the replacement of flailing legs with elegant jet pack like technology is a thing of beauty, which when added to your almost dolphin like movement really conveys mastery of the deep. It’s also very refreshing to be free of the dreaded “breath” gauge, which so often removes any sense of fun from such scenarios and to have a “turbo” option which propels you, torpedo like, toward your goal.
Visually this liquid landscape is also very slickly realised, with glowing rocks and eerie light combining to give these areas an almost magical feel… Some of the best use of this excellent fluid based physics is when you flood an area you were previously runing around in. The sight and sound of the water rising up and then floating you off your feet, and the way this enables you to explore previously unreachable areas is both well executed and liberating once you remember there’s no chance of you drowning!
So, the underwater passages are a delight, and fairly frequent, although the claim they make up “the majority” of the game are not backed up following our traversal of the first 50% of the game we had time to cover. In this first half of the game they constitute some 25 -30% of game “time”, as they are usually significantly easier than their over-ground equivalent.
Here is where the rose tinted spectacles are going to come off. Once out of the watery joy the game tends to dry up as much as the environment does. Whilst graphically the game remains strong enough to stand its ground enemy design and passageway like layouts soon start losing their spark. There are areas where options and layouts provide for some slightly interesting approaches in terms of movement and cover, but all too often you go from one crate ridden corridor to another which looks the same, and then maybe into a cargo bay like room with a high ceiling and a pool of water… meh.
Weapon design and variety is decidedly limited and with no skill or character progression there is little to keep you interested in your progression.
Before I come across too dour I would like to praise a further element of the game, in particular, the synergy between single and multiplayer worlds. I was impressed to discover that as you progress through the single player game you unlock various perks for use in multiplayer. Mostly in the “infinite ammo for x weapon” variety, but still, this is a nice touch which I would encourage other game makers to emulate far more. Encouraging all players to explore both experiences can only be a good thing all round. I must also confess that this, along with the more demanding “boss” fights, was my only motivation in making it halfway through the game. Without character progression of some form the investment of large amounts of time seem little worth the pay-off.
The actual “shooter” experience itself is fairly standard, yes cover works reasonably well, but suffers from the cardinal sin of not being “complete” and also from being a little too “sticky”. You generally do not get hurt when in cover, unless you decide to reload! It may just have been my perception but I’m pretty sure your reloading animation includes the raising of your head a little, which often seemed to leave me exposed to head shots! I can kind of accept this as almost “more” realistic than your usual; cover mechanic, but when I had to stop using cover for parts of a boss fight because I kept bouncing helplessly between two nearby cover areas as, for some reason, “take cover” and “roll / dodge” are both on the same button I did mutter some rude words, under my breath of course…
Story wise there is little to say, now not every game needs to be an intriguing political thriller by any means, but the “disembodies voice from back at base” renders any interest in the wider story mute as context and scale of responsibility are lost. Ironically perhaps the most enjoyable “human” element to the story are the highly enjoyable death warbles of your foes as you gun them down… grin inducing to say the very least…
Before I finish up I do want to say that I certainly enjoyed my time in Deep Black: Reloaded, and despite my minor gripes, above, I kept coming back for a little more, to see if I could battle another boss or get another multi-player unlock, and the combat was smooth enough to allow me to do so without me tearing my hair out. Add this to the more interesting aquatic stretches and opportunities to explode barrels and containers in enemies’ faces and you have a quite playable and enjoyable experience.
Graphics: 3.5/5 – Strong, with real highlights under-water.
Sound: 3/5 – Nothing spectacular, unless things are dying enthusiastically!
Gameplay: 3/5 – Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with it and underwater gameplay is great.
Longevity: 2/5 – Can get a little repetitive as you progress, and with no character progression replay value is limited. Multiplayer may help this but it’s currently an unknown…
Overall: 3 out of 5
If you’ve ever wondered why underwater action gameplay is rubbish and longed for someone to do it properly, support this game. If you like reasonably standard action shooters you will enjoy this. Is it worth RRP of £30? I’d have to say no. But then I can’t seem to find it at this price anywhere, as it seems to actually be selling for £23, which to be honest is getting closer to what I’d be looking to pay for it.