I'm always up for seeing new things in gaming, especially when it comes to the tired genre that is the third person shooter. So I was intrigued when the download code for Deep Black: Reloaded showed up in my inbox. It's about time, I thought, for a third person shooter to take the action underwater. Gamers haven't really had much chance to explore below the surface, so they would be looking forward to a new experience, right?
Unfortunately, gamers are going to be looking a little bit longer, because Deep Black: Reloaded is not the one to give it to them.
The title, developed by little-known developer Biart, had all the trappings of a runaway success. Its use of underwater environments was an interesting hook and it appeared as if it was going to be mixing third-person gunfights with sneaky stealth based action. All the right pieces were there, but Deep Black: Reloaded fails spectacularly in its execution. And not just in its combat mechanic. It is one of those rare games that manages to fail at everything.
Deep Black’s narrative setup is as bland as a high school assembly. Biart’s writing team might as well have unpacked their coveted collection of Tom Clancy novels and copied down pages at random. If you’ve played any shovelware shooters made in the past ten years then you’re familiar with the scenario. It's twenty years into the future, there is a global war between the forces of good; Uncle Sam, the Europeans and Australia, and the forces of evil; China. It’s a cliched global war, it's always against China. There are angsty generals, corrupt private security forces, lazily named supporting characters spanning an appropriately narrow range of ethnicities, and - just in case you didn't see it coming - the World’s fate ultimately rests on your suitably heroic shoulders.
We’ve been here before, countless times. International warfare and futuristic conflict is still a ripe field for ambitious writers to plough through, but Deep Black: Reloaded offers nothing new. And half the time it doesn't offer anything at all. Deep Black’s connection between story, pacing, and progression is loose and hard to follow.
Perhaps, then, Deep Black’s gameplay might make up for the lack of creative effort thrown into the title’s story and dialogue? Or perhaps it won't. No prizes for guessing what side of the fence this bet falls on.
The combat mechanic utilises the same turgid structure that has come to plague the genre. Your character makes his way through narrow, linear corridors, firing at clueless enemies. If the action gets too intense (it doesn't) you can always take cover behind conveniently placed boxes and pillars, because y’know evil private corporations can't afford to waste cash on spatial designers. This lack of creative insight is made all the more obvious by the repetitive way the combat is presented to you.
The skill required mirrors the paucity of the level design. There were moments where all I needed to do was fire my assault rifle (were you expecting anything more innovative?) in a straight line (yes, a straight line) and I’d take down all of the enemies who had lined up like tin soldiers. If it all gets too much you can always shot at the ubiquitous red barrel. Things are pretty dire when barrel explosions are one of a title’s major combat options. It would actually be funny, if it wasn’t so sad.
At other times, the title ramps up the difficulty for no obvious reason, and at the most inappropriate places. Churning through the first few levels was a cakewalk, but it took me eight attempts to defeat a scout drone in the tutorial. Maybe I’m just bad at playing games. Or maybe Biart are bad at making them.
The underwater elements, which the title banked so heavily on, also offer nothing special. They consist mostly of short firefights and puzzle solving, most of which becomes rote. Much more variety was needed in the early stages of the game to jazz up the action on offer and really sell the concept to the player. However, the underwater scenes do look rather good. While the quality of the rest of the game is disappointing for a proprietary engine, the underwater scenes have some great light and particle effects.
I may have been a little harsh on Deep Black: Reloaded. It’s probably because I’m a little bit pissed off. Gaming innovation is a big part of the things I look for in great games, and Deep Black: Reloaded promised a lot but delivered little. As the games development industry becomes increasingly corporatised it is all the more important for gamers to pull studios up when they produce mundane titles that scream cash-cow, rather than clever-creation.
Deep Black: Reloaded falls squarely into the first category. If you’ve got more money than sense, feel free to try it out. But if you’re serious about gaming, and look for rewarding and engaging experiences, then stay well away. Go play something else instead.