Ever since games like Gears of War popped onto the scene, third-person shooters have almost universally adopted a cover mechanic. The concept of hiding behind walls or barriers and peeking out to properly aim is now a mainstay of many a game. Deep Black: Episode 1 incorporates cover-based shooting more than anything else, and while there is an interesting element of underwater gameplay added to the mix, it’s not quite enough to make the whole package notable.
The narrative is a bit scattershot. From what I could gather in the intro, which oddly had subtitles but none of the voiceovers the rest of the game has; in the near future, war has broken out between two factions made up of several major countries, and a terrorist plot somehow factors into this. Pierce, an elite commando/mercenary type with a suspiciously Dead Space-like suit of futuristic armor, is sent to an ocean base in cahoots with a terrorist group he already has a vendetta against.
The cutscenes from the moment gameplay starts mainly consist of Pierce walking around and conversing with a female comrade and a gruff general over his headset. The voice acting works, but a lot of the dialog given to the characters is either cliche or rather silly. At one point, the female reminds Pierce, “Watch your ass!” His response is, “I’d rather watch yours.” The story as a whole feels lazily slapped together, and only seems to exist as a thin excuse to lead into the next section of gameplay.
The game is divided between running around in the base and swimming beneath it to access other parts. Controls on land are standard for a game of this type, but they work well overall. However, its underwater controls are a little bit different. You use two buttons to swim up and down instead of turning yourself with the joysticks, and the whole thing feels a little imprecise.
Unfortunately, the actual gameplay in both types of environments also leaves something to be desired. Weapons are limited to standard types like pistols, machine guns, and grenades, and I found only the machine gun to be effective for most of the game. You’ll encounter a lot of enemies that just repeat the same basic attack patterns, so there won’t be much in the way of surprises. Combat in the water is limited to robotic drones, the most annoying of which is taken out by making physical contact to it and engaging in a button-mashing quick time event. This might have been interesting if the developers had mixed it up a bit, but everything, from the animations to the button you press, repeats every time.
And yet, despite the simplistic AI, you can expect yourself to die fairly often. Even on the lowest difficulty, failing to find a place to hide can cause enemies to take you out in seconds. Worse yet, the checkpoint system is used very sparingly, meaning that you have to repeat sizable bits of the game over and over. Other elements also become grating as things progress. There isn’t much variety in the environments, and the enemies have some of the most over-the-top death screams ever heard in a game. It only makes things look sillier when you shoot a guy, he falls down completely still, and he continues to shriek for another two or three seconds.
There is also an online multiplayer mode, but it feels tacked on and downright pointless. The 5 included maps are a bit too large to easily find other players to take on, and the only modes are standard Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch, with no extra features to help this mode stand on its own beside the single-player campaign. It probably would have been a good idea to remove this mode entirely, in order to spend some extra time polishing the solo component.
Despite these faults, Deep Black looks quite good for a downloadable title. Environments have a sterile, metallic vibe to them, the water flows convincingly, and the character models, particularly Pierce, have a good amount of detail. Also, the actual core gameplay of the gun fights functions correctly. Overall, it’s serviceable and even occasionally thrilling; you just end up wishing there was more to it.
Avid fans of third-person shooters might want to give the game a try, especially since it costs a lot less than retail games, but they should probably go in with middling expectations. Let’s hope that when Deep Black: Episode 2 is released, we’ll get more from it than what we got from this episode.
This review is based on a copy of the game that we received for review purposes.