Review: Deep Black: Reloaded

DeepBlackReloaded

The name Deep Black implies an exploration of space, diving into the depths of the sea, or a software tool that allows users to gauge and tweak their monitor’s contrast. Ocean diving is a bit accurate in that this game features a man that can swim at unnaturally high speeds with the aid of a suit that looks a little like something out of Dead Space. Do not expect coral reefs as mostly the game takes place in refineries or underwater super-spy bases, and also do not expect the action to be snappy out of the water. While very frustrating in parts, there is some fun in the Deep Black and if it can be gotten for right price, it might be worth the investment.

Thirty years into the future, for some reason, a pan-governmental body of North America, Europe and North Asia becomes concerned with aquatic terrorism and forms CHARON (Chief Amphibious Reconnaissance Operations Network) to deal with it. Think about that, aquatic terrorists are the antagonists. The idea that political change could be affected through violent means by donning a snorkel and moving very slowly towards some sort of water-adjacent target has to have an effect on the person hearing it. One’s mind should break in one of two ways. Either the brain will think that that is an idiotic concept that could not be implemented effectively by anyone and is a horrible setup for any kind of narrative, or the mind will conclude that this is ridiculously hilarious and it will want to see more.

The main character, Syrus Pierce, is pretty vanilla and is chatted up via radio during missions by two commanding officers, a white lady affecting a thick Puerto Rican accent, likely for morale reasons, and a harsh general whose only priority is that members of Al-Azrad are murdered by their swimming terror slayer. The dialogue is as good as a setup like this predicts. “No use crying over spilled blood” is a line from the oblivious senior commanding officer that sticks out in my memory, but it is one of several gems. The relationship at play is sort of like that between Solid Snake and Roy Campbell, except that here Col. Campbell could care less about Snake’s well being or maybe even whether or not the mission is a success, and is, frankly, kind of a dick. Some may find the narrative and voice work absurd to the point where it is entertaining, others will see poor execution. A good film comparison would be anything involving John Cena; it can be enjoyed and hated on many levels.

Setting aside the setting, Deep Black is not a very satisfying third-person shooter when the agent is rolling on his own two feet. Maybe it is the hundred pounds of diving gear and miniaturized water thrusters he has on his back, but he is painfully slow when running around. The pace of the game during the overland portions is to plod to cover, squat behind it, and stay there whilst waiting for enemies to stick their heads up. There is a “roll” button, but it only causes the international agent of S.C.U.B.A. to do an awkward somersault, then get immediately blasted by anyone that spots this rather pathetic display. In other games, the player character might dramatically dive behind cover or jump from one cover piece to another, but here the character moves like a dying turtle. This is particularly on display in the few boss battles. It is not that they are difficult, it is that players must very deliberately plan what they are going to do to avoid attacks because of the sloth factor. In any other game, the hero would dramatically dodge out of the way at the last second. Deep Black’s hero must see an attack animation and then start moving that very instant because it takes him so long to get anywhere.

There is no dash, dodge, roadie run or any real means of moving with any degree of haste. I think I can walk faster backwards than this guy can lumber in a forwardish direction. Perhaps the developer wanted to keep things realistic, after all it would be difficult to dance around like an acrobat while wearing the gear necessary to go swimming in deep water without coming up for air. If that was the motivation for consciously slowing down the character’s movement, and it is giving a huge benefit of the doubt to say that this was deliberate, the mantra “realistic is not always fun” should be posted in the Biart break room. Possibly under some sort of laminate, near the coffee machine, where everyone will see it, every day.

In the water, things change considerably as Pierce becomes a fast, thruster-propelled death machine, destroying robots with his bare hands and hooking baddies with a wrist harpoon before pulling them under the waves to gut them like a prize catch. The weapons all work well under water, bullets causing little bullet-sized bubble ripples in the water, and even at times underwater pillars and rocks can be ducked behind for protection. This is mechanically very similar to what happens on the ground but all of the faults are cured as what is effectively an underwater jet pack can be used to zoom around the battlefield dodging fire and dash to and from cover. This part of the game does not feel tiresome or by the numbers at all and it is a shame that there is not more of it. I only wish Agent Pierce healed faster as over twelve seconds is an eternity in an action game. The slow rate of regeneration really slows down the game.

If this game had come out three years ago, it would still be remembered fondly as an ahead of its time graphical showpiece. But, as it is coming out in the here and now, memories of the game will be that it was a nice enough looking shooter. The underwater bases are not very imaginative in their look but are filled with enough movable random objects and exploding barrels to keep things interesting. Underwater bubbles will rise off of robot enemies and from the future dampsuit as bullets streak through the chop. Some areas are cleaner than others, but most of the water is filled with specs of detritus to make the water seem like an actual medium in the game world, not a dark game space where characters who normally walk can fly. The jets on the suit do function as a way to allow Pierce to fly and hover in particular areas, but the visuals make it look like futuristic swimming. The same few enemies pop up over and over again, too. The only silver lining to murdering the same guy five dozen times is that it is easy to look at an enemy and see if he’s armed with an assault rifle or a shotgun. Maybe the sixty-first time that enemy model will have only a pistol, but probably not.

The gunplay is typical shotgun, sniper rifle, pistol-fair. Pierce has a harpoon mounted on his arm that can be used to murder people at close range on land and hack enemy robots underwater. The harpoon is a great idea but it is not used very much or well. Maybe in Deep Black 2 the Lieutenant will be able to grab dudes on land or pull himself from cover to cover, which would make up for the Batman-talking-to-Oracle level of slow movement. In a bizarre nod towards realism or as a result of poor testing, blind firing actually leaves Pierce open to enemy fire. Usually Delta Squad, or someone mimicking their style of play, can hide behind a corner and inaccurately waste foes from relative safety. In Deep Black, sticking a shotgun out one handed to kill an enemy making a dash for cover will allow other enemies to target the offending one hand, usually killing the water-lovin’ shooter. I died several times this way as it never really sunk in that this game does not treat blind fire the same way as every other cover-based shooter game I can name. It is hard to imagine that this is a feature meant to sell realism as the game is about a one man army in a sci-fi wetsuit. Even the reloading animation can expose the L-T to incoming fire as it causes his head to move ever so slightly above most objects used for cover.

The thing that bothers me the most about the game is that there is no sufficient explanation as to why an agent was outfitted with an advanced underwater mobility suit before going into an enemy base to waste the bad guys. There is no justification for why anyone thought it was a good idea for him to wear the obviously heavy suit while shooting everything that moves or why it was thought that there would be enough water in the base to require the requisition of the man/submarine hybrid conversion kit. But it is possible that aquatic terrorism will be the scourge of the future and all law enforcement is outfitted with a means to battle submerged crime.

Instead of a justified setting there is multiplayer with standard deathmatch and team deathmatch, but there are not a lot of people playing it. One can create a match and wait a long time before a random person joins the fun. I started to write a sentence that said a bunch of friends could agree to all buy this game and play together, but I will be more realistic: don’t buy this game for the multiplayer. It is not the draw of this game. The draw is a single player campaign that looks good and changes things up with some jet-propelled swimming. Deep Black is not an outstanding game, but it is reasonably priced, has some fine gunplay action, and an interesting underwater gimmick. If nothing else, the game is a success in that it bucks the trend of underwater levels being the worst part of a game.

TryIt

Pros:
+ Solid visuals
+ Mean looking harpoon executions
+ Main character is a cybernetic death shark with a machine gun, in the water

Cons:
– Enemy chatter is repetitive
– Checkpoints are very far apart, leading to repetition
– Main character is a large, plodding bullet magnet while out of the water

Game Info:
Platform: PC
Publisher: Biart Company
Developer: Biart Company
Release Date: 3/1/2012
Genre: Third-person shooter
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1 (plus DM and TDM multiplayer)
Source: Review code provided by publisher

[nggallery id=2344]

About the Author

Steve has been playing video games since the start of the 1980s. While the first video game system he played was his father's, an Atari 2600, he soon began saving allowances and working for extra money every summer to afford the latest in interactive entertainment. He is keenly aware of how much it stinks to spend good money on a bad game. It does things to a man. It makes stink way too much time into games like Karnov to justify the purchase.