20 January, L A.S. (2015)
My latest indie game discovery: Depth!
Last month, during Valve’s amazing holiday sales on Steam, one game caught my eye: Depth. The name, and the cool pictures of scuba divers shooting/avoiding/getting chomped by giant sharks rang a loud bell for me, as I’d actually heard about the game a couple of years ago. Back then, it seemed to have been a basically dead project, but was apparently only hibernating! I was thrilled to see that the developers, Digital Confectioners, had finished the game! Because seriously, the concept is jawesome (sorry, not sorry):
Online team-based multiplayer action with Horror elements, one team plays as divers who have to use upgrade-able equipment and teamwork to outwit sharks while collecting treasure, and the other team gets to play as giant sharks and relentlessly hunt the humans, while avoiding a harpoon to the face! Excited? Me too! Let’s dive in, and see if it lives up to the hype!
So let’s go into a bit more depth of what the gameplay is, first. What genre is Depth? For the team of four divers, it’s a first-person shooter. For the team of two sharks, it’s a third-person brawler. Since the game takes place underwater, everyone can move around in three dimensions, which adds a lot of potential (which the developers make good use of!) for creative map design. The players dash, sneak, and fight around sunken oil platforms, Aztec temples, and World War II aircraft debris. It takes some getting used to thinking in three dimensions, (Holy crap, that shark just lunged down on my head from that hole in the ceiling!) but I thoroughly enjoy that change in thinking compared to most first person shooters. Ignore the vertical side of Depth at your peril!
When you play as a diver, your visibility is limited, and your movement is never quite as fast as you’d like it to be, (at least you have a sprint ability typical of the FPS genre,) though you have the advantages of greater numbers, and good old human ingenuity, i.e., weapons.
There are three types of pistols, each dual-wieldable, a couple types of powerful single-shot spear and harpoon guns, disabling net guns, submachine guns, and tranquilizer guns. There are also “weapons” that function as utility items, such as a device to scan for sharks and treasure, and a DPV (diver propulsion vehicle) to zoom around the map at high speed. There are also four different consumable items: a “shark shield” generator that hides your team from the sharks’ super senses, flares and sonar buoys that help you detect sharks, and naval mines that make dumb sharks go boom.
At the beginning of a match, ominous music plays as you and your team descend into the depths in a shark cage. In front of you goes S.T.E.V.E., an underwater robot. The cage door opens, and its your job to escort S.T.E.V.E. around the map collecting treasure. (You can also win by eliminating the sharks’ last respawn ticket.) Your robot buddy will stop at certain safes containing lots of loot, where you have to protect him for a couple minutes as he cracks open said safe. Meanwhile, you can grab gold bonus treasures from the sea floor and bring them back to S.T.E.V.E. The gold you collect is what you use on respawn to buy new weapons and equipment. There’s more treasure the farther you venture from S.T.E.V.E.’s path, so there’s a good risk/reward tension build in. Once you’ve cleared the entire map’s collection of safe’s, you escort your robot buddy back to the boat. You win if you can complete that task without letting the sharks devour all your respawn tickets. Good diver gameplay depends on teamwork, awareness, a variety of weapons and consumables, teamwork, a good perimeter setup using your buoys and mines, weapon accuracy, and teamwork. A lousy team is incredibly frustrating, a good one a joy to behold. Such is life in any online FPS, of course.
One nice touch on the diver side of gameplay is that once a shark enters a certain radius around you, you’ll begin to hear your heartbeat, (similar to many Horror games,) and the closer the shark gets, the faster your heartbeat. And, when a shark grabs you, you get a few seconds to possibly get a kill and save yourself, as you stab the shark in the head via rapid-click. Cool!
Now let’s talk about the shark side of things. Your goal is simply to rid your undersea domain of those thieving, land-walking interlopers! When you join a match as a shark, you get to pick from three classes: the Great White, the Tiger, and Mako. The Great White is the biggest and least agile, but has tons of health. The Mako is small (perfect for sneaking through small holes) and extremely fast, but dies in just a few hits. The Tiger is the middleman, in size, speed, and health. Personally, I prefer the Tiger, but I’ve seen plenty of people using the other two.
The game looks different as a shark: you play in third person, and have a wide range and depth of view. Furthermore, your “shark senses” ping out (representing real-world sharks’ sensitivities to smell and bio-electricity) in a wide radius in front of you every couple seconds, highlighting divers, S.T.E.V.E, and the wandering seals that make for a delicious and health-restoring snack. You can dash and lunge to get around faster, at the cost of stamina, which recovers at a rate that varies based on which type of shark you chose. Stealth is your friend as the shark. Coming in straight-and-obvious is typically a good way to get harpooned in the face. You have to circle around the divers’ current “base,” figure out their weak point, and strike. You have to use obstructions of the environment, and sneaky angles, to attack in an unexpected way, especially in concert with your shark buddy.
Rather than using gold to buy equipment, as a shark you get mutation points from kills, and use those on respawn to upgrade your abilities. Sharks can become faster, stronger, get better health regeneration or stamina, gain the ability to highlight naval mines, and other cool tricks. A nice design touch for shark gameplay is that when you grab a diver in your jaws, you have to wiggle your mouse around to thrash the sucker to death and make him stop poking you with that little metal tooth. You can also ram into that meddlesome gold-plundering robot to force it to recalibrate and waste the divers’ precious time.
Of the two playable teams, I prefer the divers. I like the greater teamwork involved, and the experimentation with different weapon and consumable item combinations is more interesting to me than the different shark types and mutations. About a quarter of my games are as shark; don’t get me wrong, it’s still fun.
The gameplay mode I describe above is actually only one of the two current game modes. It’s called “Blood and Gold”. The other mode is called “Megaladon Hunt”. One player gets to be the eponymous giant shark, while five others hunt for gold to upgrade their weapons. If a diver kills the Megaladon, they get to become it! The goal is to get lots of kills as the Megaladon. As cool as this mode is in theory, I strongly prefer Blood and Gold. Maybe because I prefer more objective-based FPS over team death match, but that’s just me! Megaladon Hunt is not at all bad by any means, just, I don’t spend much time on it compared to the other mode.
Overall, the gameplay for Depth is awesome. It’s tense, it requires teamwork, it’s got many original concepts for an FPS that make it really stand out, and the theme is original and well-executed in the gameplay.
I’m not going to spend nearly as much time talking about the graphics as the gameplay, since the latter is simply much more important to me. That said, the graphics for Depth are quite good! It runs on the good ol’ Unreal Engine, textures look fairly sharp, the sharks and divers are animated well, and there are lots of little ambient fish, octopuses, and jelly fish around the map. I appreciate the detail in the shark’s eyes and teeth, especially. The visibility underwater feels right, and the bubbles look how they should, I think. Of course the graphics aren’t as good as a AAA next-gen blockbuster, but the developers put the Unreal Engine to good use in creating a beautiful and terrifying oceanic environment.
Sound and Music
There’s not a ton of music in this game, but when there is, it does its job well. The menu music is intense and evocative of action, and the match-starting music is ominous, as is the “you died” music. There are little musical cues sometimes too, like when a shark appears or dies, so that’s a bit Left 4 Dead-esque, and I like it. One tiny complaint I could make is that I think the music when a match gets close (S.T.E.V.E. is getting close to the boat or one team is almost out of respawn tickets) should be scarier and more intense, but that’s just me. Divers and sharks make distinct and realistic noises when they dash, the guns sound like proper underwater weapons, and divers make convincing screams when they get grabbed and thrashed.
Well, it’s a team-based FPS, so expectations for story are not high. I appreciate the simplicity of the story here, that these divers want to get rich, and sharks gotta eat. It’s enough for me, not every FPS needs Team Fortress 2 levels of character depth.
If you’re tired of the same old modern military FPS games with a distinct lack of giant freakin’ sharks, and you’re looking for a new and innovative team-based online FPS that will force you to adapt to new challenges, and you enjoy new themes in FPS games, Depth is likely for you. If you’re interested in this new wave of asymmetrical, human-with-gun versus stealthy-but-powerful-monster , semi-Horror FPS, check it out. It’s pretty cheap on Steam, and goes on sale a lot. Megaladon Hunt only came out a couple months ago, so I’m sure the developers have new weapons, modes, maps, and sharks in the works. That I’ve experienced rare latency issues with this game, is probably the only real negative I can say, and it’s only ever been game-ruining once or twice. Seriously, kick-ass, original game. Get it.
See ya in the water,