It has been great to see over the last few years more and more solid indie games coming out over multiple download services. It is also impressive to see so many of them being robust experiences, that occasionally rival full retail games, enter Deep Black Episode 1. The game takes place in the not to distant future, where the world has split into two dominating political alliances. Terrorists are threatening the use of bio-weapons against the water supplies of the American, European and Australian alliance. You are there to stop them.
Deep Black is a third person, cover-based shooter through and through. You stick to cover, roll around and shoot people in the head. Using Gears of War as its gameplay base, combat feels good, shooting feels satisfying and with the addition of alternate fire modes combat feels varied, even if some weapons don’t need it. Cover is used to protect you from the enemy, as you would expect. However it doesn’t always work the way you may think.
Moving around within cover often pops your characters head above the wall, ever so slightly, giving you enemies free headshots on you. This can make some of the larger or hectic battles far harder than they should be, due to the fact that it gives you less of a chance to put yourself in a more advantageous position. I also found a glitch rather early on in the game, that can be exploited throughout the rest of the game, as long as you have cover to your left. The glitch allowed me to shoot through this cover as long as I was able to see the enemy and the reticule was red.
Underwater sections seem to be Deep Blacks’s strongest selling points. It adds a welcome change of pace to combat, as you are able to move faster thanks to thrusters on your arms and feet. You tackle more robotic enemies in these sections which move very quickly compared to land going enemies. Unexpectedly, cover can still be used in these sections, but often it is much easier to use hit and run tactics as otherwise enemies will use similar tactics against you. Human enemies on the surface of the water can also be stealthily killed in a grisly manner, avoiding difficult combat scenarios where you are left underwater with no cover.
Team Deathmatch and Deathmatch are available in multiplayer, and the maps combining underwater and land elements create some interesting matches. Unfortunately the servers were plagued with lag and showed a very small number of people playing. It is a shame, because mixing the two planes of movement would have made for some interesting matches. Mixing this with a few extra game modes such as Capture the Flag or Oddball (where you have to collect something and hold it to gain points) would have made for some excellent and tense matches with players ducking in and out of cover or water.
A clean and industrial look early on in the game doesn’t draw the player in, however later environments look stunning. A striking and unusual colour pallet of yellows and blues permeating the entire game, make a distinctive aesthetic. Character models seem nicely detailed, if a little generic. Most enemies run around in sci-fi looking space suits. This is most evident in the early game, where you only fight two different types of enemies. Though this generalising of the characters does make gameplay easier as it is possible to distinguish between enemies, allowing you to make snap decisions on who takes priority.
Audio however is a different story to the visuals. Voice acting is rather silly with accents, even though the main character is mildly charming. Most enemies scream at you upon death in a unsettling blood curdling way. This is amplified when you happen to kill someone underwater as they will gargle, choke and scream while they drown and bleed to death. From time to time this will be oddly amusing as the game will play these over one another, occasionally in quick succession and in large quantities. This makes you feel like a conductor of death, the enemy your symphony.
For the most part Deep Black is very entertaining. It offers a challenging third person shooter experience that doesn’t overstay its welcome thanks to a playtime of around six to eight hours. However it does feels like it has been cut short. The game just abruptly stops at the end, leading you into the next episode. There is a rather amusing screen when you finish that says “Congratulations! – Thank you for playing DEEP BLACK EPISODE 1 – We a waiting for you in EPISODE 2 – TAKE PART IN NEW UNDERWATER BATTLES!”, with an option to try the next episode. However this lead to an error message on the Xbox 360, as it cannot find the content, at least not at the time of this review.
There is a slight amount of replay value as you unlock unlimited ammunition weaponry when you play through the game, but these are only available once you have completed the game. However as there are no achievements to play through the game on a harder difficulty, this may not be enough of an incentive for most to play through for a second time.
It is great to see more games of this quality appearing on download services such as Xbox Live Arcade, as it shows that those platforms are viable for bigger and better games. Deep Black Episode 1 may miss step in a couple of places and have an extremely abrupt ending, but it is a competent shooter that is defiantly worth a look, if you enjoy the genre. Just don’t expect anything ground breaking in terms of story.