Deep Black: Reloaded Review
Reviewed on PC
In a world of massive annualised blockbusters and over-hyped underdeveloped gaming Goliaths it’s good to see a game come out of nowhere and offer hope of perhaps a fresh and innovative gaming experience. That’s the excitement I felt when I was offered to review Deep Black: Reloaded and discover a potential hidden gem. Deep Black: Reloaded is a third person cover based shooter with a small twist thrown in, that it’s also an underwater third person cover based shooter. After my time with Deep Black: Reloaded I can say that it is pure in its attempt to deliver a focused gaming experience reviving some of that simplicity we used to have say ten plus years ago where games were games and not intimidating massively multiplayer, first person action role playing games with wood cutting or cake baking simulators on the side.
Syrus Pierce is your name and that’s about the only unique facet of this derivative space (or should I say aqua) marine’s persona. Pierce is an espionage expert pulled out of retirement for one last mission. Teaming up with his handler Colonel Susan Velasco he has been sent by the private military company Charon to investigate the goings on of the super bad ISH organisation. Or something to that effect as you will probably find within the first five minutes that Deep Black: Reloaded's presentation of the story seems to have been an afterthought. The opening cut scene showing an innovative visual transition of game play into celshaded comic book style still frames of what I believe were the main characters of the game. Backed up by text (no dialog) at the bottom of the screen stating facts about the main players in the game rather than setting the scene. This came across as a little half baked and as I mentioned above an afterthought, but I can forgive that as the game hasn’t even started yet - you know what they say ‘Dont judge a video game by its opening cutscene.’
As the game begins you’re given the usual introduction to game play, as you will have guessed you can run, shoot, get in and out of cover, dodge, etc. It’s a good looking game with plenty of high detail environments and character models all lavishly adorned with the usual shading and lighting effects. It’s no Crysis 2 but it’s very easy on the eye for a budget game. Biart should be commended for what they have achieved with their own proprietary biEngine as Deep Black: Reloaded runs very well with next to no instances of slow down or screen tear even on my modest rig (Intel quad core Q6600, 4 Gig of ram and Nvidia 560 GFX card).
As the game moves on you have to go through the typical first level, being spoon fed enemies and new game mechanics one at a time until you have the basics down. The game follows the age old template of the corridor shooter interspersed with larger more dynamic areas with more enemies and as a result more chance for mayhem. The level design is very good in my opinion but the developers never seem to take advantage of well thought out combat arenas, spawning the same units again and again from the same door way or spawn point limiting your options for combat. Later in the game things start to get mixed up with more and more enemy types in the same play space offering up a thrill or two but it never gets close to reaching its full potential. The gaming environments show the talent of the level designers once again, although they never stray away from the usual video game staple of industrial areas swathed in browns and greys interspersed with laboratory environments with their bundles of desks and equipment wrapped up in the typical cool blue and white sterile feel. They do complement the game’s setting nicely, the sunken submarine section being a particular highlight.
My first real gripe - the controls for ground based combat are restrictive, the word clunky comes to mind. I have a feeling that the ground based combat controls should have gone through refinement before the game went gold and were perhaps a casualty of development crunch time. In a nutshell Pierce plays as if he forgot to put a fresh pair of batteries in his super aqua suit that morning. For example Pierce needs a good couple of seconds to get to full speed when moving, leaving you wide open for the first few moments whilst leaving cover. It also translates into some of the game play mechanics which will ultimately frustrate you. For instance having to face cover in order to snap into it, I can’t tell you the number of times Pierce had his scuba helmet converted into a rudimentary colander as a result of my orientation being half a degree out. When in cover though it gets better, you have option of squeezing of a few aimless rounds or you can pop up for a more precise shot which works well, and even roll from cover to cover with a couple of button presses with the sound and graphical effects adding to the action superbly.
Enemies come in the usual flavours. There are a mixture of armoured and unarmoured grunts, ninja types who like to get up close, along with heavies who specialise in explosives. There are also a mixture of robotic drones and ‘giant mechanical crabs’ as Pierce reminds us all on regular basis which serve as the boss equivalent. Dispatching enemies is the usual affair with shoot until they fall down / explode or you can dispatch them up close with a decisive quick time event. Pierce doesn’t mess around either, with grunts usually ending up as worm food within a second or two after a swift kick to the crotch and new airway in the side of their neck thanks to Pierce’s trusty wrist knife. The AI isn’t anything to write home about, although put a few different enemy types in the right situation and they will give you a run for your money. Talking of ways to deal with one’s enemies, the selection of offensive weaponry is not extensive but is enough to keep you entertained with the usual staple of machine guns, shot guns, sniper rifles and electric stun guns. Your enemies seem to have very little weakness to a particular firearm so I would suggest stick with what best suits your playing style.
The best bits are the scuba sections and work really well as you would expect from the developers experience of water based games. (Biart have also released depth hunter a spear fishing game called Depth Hunter.) When under water the controls feel smooth and enjoyable, you have 360 degree’s of movement coupled with a jet pack which allows you to zip around avoiding oncoming enemy attacks and overcome opposing water currents. Complementing your jet pack you are introduced to your harpoon wrist attachment which allows you to latch onto inaccessible switches, hack enemy drones to fight for you in a pinch and lasso grunts into the water to finish them off with your wrist knife. I have to say the water combat is where Deep Black: Reloaded should have shined, with the increased mobility and extra combat options I should have had a big grin on my face. Unfortunately these sections have not been given as much attention they could have as it seems Biart have been focusing their efforts on getting the above water sections acceptable as opposed to making the underwater sections exceptional.
A special mention has to be said for the cut scenes and dialogue. Whilst most developers pour a lot of time and effort into their cut scenes, Biart seem to have left it to the sixteen year old who is in the office on work experience. The phrase ‘So bad it’s good!’ does very much apply in this instance though. The guys who recorded the howls and gurgling splutters for the grunts who are off to sleep with the fishes must have had a lot of fun in the recording studio as they are some of the funniest I’ve heard in a long while. Colonel Velasco has some of the best lines and some of the banter between her and Pierce (if you could call it that) is fun and you will get a giggle or two.
The game also has quite a lot of mileage lasting well over eight hours probably more like twelve if you play it on the higher difficulties, and with multiplayer thrown in (albeit a very basic, consisting of death match and team death match.) You do get a lot of game for you money compared to some triple A blockbusters these days. Would you revisit Deep Black? Probably not. Due to the fact that I smell and no one wanted to play with me online I was unable to try the multiplayer component*. I’m sure the underwater sections would offer a fresh playing experience for a majority of players. The standard third person action? Not so much.
So what Biart has created with a development team of only fifteen people is quite an achievement, showing us that they can craft a playable experience in the vein of some of today’s gaming greats but also throw in some of their own innovation and technology no less. Is it worth your time? Perhaps, if you are a third person shooter fanatic and have played an beaten every title out there, other wise i would have to say no. Why? Well the plain and simple reason is there are far superior products on the market today which would give you a far better experience, for less money. Deep Black: Reloaded has a RRP of £23.99 (which seems steep for a budget PC title these days) and could be spent elsewhere on the one or two bargain bin gems you’ve missed over the past few years, or for a few more quid a new release. Nothing can be taken away from Biart and what they have created, a very playable game which shows some innovation but unfortunately it isn’t just the price which is budget. I hope they regroup and come up trumps with the Xbox live arcade and PSN/SEN release of Deep Black: Reloaded later this year. Correcting what is a potentially good game marred by a few unrefined game play mechanics, poor design choices and very forgettable story. In my opinion a few more months tweaking and refining the game and they could have a small hit on their hands but for me that hidden gem is still hidden.
*Ed's Note - We have been in touch with Biart the developer and they told us multiplayer in PC version is only for LAN. Steam and XBLA/PSN will have multiplayer via Internet