Biart looks like a very interesting independent developer, specifically because of their focus in making underwater themed games. It’s this theme that makes their foray into the third person shooter action immediately interesting to me. Initially released for PC, and now on PS3 and Xbox 360, Deep Black is a third-person shooter with a focus on underwater combat. An interesting premise filled with potential, it’s unfortunately what makes Deep Black such a disappointment.
The issues in Deep Black start right from the beginning, which is unfortunate based on how interested I was in playing it once I read its focus on underwater combat. From the start you’re plopped down into the game, with nary an intro or idea of what’s going on, beyond a few sentences that vaguely set up some sort of dystopian near future. Vague is a keyword here for the story in Deep Black, since after hours of play I still couldn’t make heads or tails of what was going on. What I could follow seems to be riddled in cliché, a vague rogue general initially lying about objectives and some sort of mercenary bioterrorist that were busy making robot crabs, as the protagonist describes them numerous times.
This becomes even more problematic because of the distracting voice work and writing. Bad writing itself can be a problem, but the voice work has to be some of the laziest I’ve heard in recent years. Ranging from decent to just plain mediocre, it’s a challenge to not call these performances phoned in when the actors seemed so bored and emotionless as they delivered their lines.
This continues into the visuals of the game. While the graphics are good, though nothing to rave about, the general aesthetics of the game are boring and uninspired. The color palette doesn’t shift much outside the grey that makes up most of the game. From the caverns, the secret enemy bases, and even the armor clad faceless protagonist that seems to have been lifted right out of Dead Space. This bland trend extends even to the soundtrack of the game as well, which seems to only pop up in heavy enemy areas, never really creating the excitement it is intended too. All these elements come together to create an atmosphere that is generally very dull and boring, which could have still been passable had the game been at least fun to play.
Sadly, gameplay problems make this whole affair downright frustrating. While controlling the character feels good, more so in the land sections, it can be a bit jerky and mechanical sometimes. Gunplay, aiming and firing are surprisingly pretty good, but is a positive that is diminished by many inconsistencies when actually trying to make use of said gunplay. Though it plays well, it becomes exasperating to find that the same actions do not lead to similar results. Many times using the rifle seems to take down enemies with a single head shot, yet in other occasions a headshot on the same type of enemy seems to require a whole magazine of ammo. This problem is taken even further by an auto aim that can’t make up its mind on whether it’s on or off, no matter what settings it’s on.
The level design is equally problematic. Following modern third-person shooter clichés, Deep Black litters its environment with chest high walls that don’t seem to make much sense in it. So hallway after hallway will just be filled with chest high walls, with the player stopping to shoot at enemies for a few minutes before proceeding to the next hall to do the same. Sometimes underwater sections are placed to break up the repetitiveness.
Yet, repetitiveness is the one thing that will be encountered. The game is divided into five acts, each padded out by being unnecessarily long. This length is the worst offender in Deep Black, making the game pure tedium to play. Though a steady introduction of new enemies aims to maintain a good pace and capture the players interest, the levels are so long and repetitive to get through, that each introduction seems to come hours after the last. The levels seem to have been designed to satisfy the demands of entitled players who demand great lengths in games, yet there simply isn’t enough content to pull it off and what there is isn’t good to incite much interest to begin with.
The whole experience of Deep Black becomes marred by such frustration, without even covering glitches and bugs, that not only does it eliminate the replay value, it eliminates the drive to finish the game even once. There is multiplayer that could be enjoyable, because of the decent controls, but it is something I could not experience, not for lack of trying. As it stands, at least on the PS3, there is no community to speak of, so I could never manage to play even one multiplayer game.
It saddens me how disappointing Deep Black is. I honestly wanted to love this game, if not at least find a fun way to kill time. Yet, there are so many problems that it can’t achieve even that. The experience moves between boring to exasperation and frustration. Perhaps Biart aimed in creating a game that would be easier to sell to a wider audience, but the end product plays like something that was rushed out the door, when it necessitates that it at least be trimmed for a faster pace to maintain at least some level of enjoyability.
Reviewed Version: PS3