I love the ocean. Marine Biology fascinates me, I learn as much about ships and boats as I can, and I’m suspicious that my entire fascination with Lovecraft is based upon the fan-made, underwater gurgling sounds so commonly associated with his works. So, naturally, I have a huge bias towards Lazy Monday Games’ Reveal The Deep, a game where you are a diver set to explore a sunken ship (curiously categorized as an “Android Action Game”).
This is one of those games where the atmosphere and art direction draws in a certain crowd and lets them forget about whether or not the game’s actually good. A quick glance on steam will show the raving reviews, mostly from people acknowledging how much the murky underwater feel of the game connected with them. As much as I can like a game for its mere presentation, I can’t recommend it on those terms, at least not with any conviction.
I had a grand time being hypnotized by the shadowy enclosure of the ship. Its tattered skeleton hums a soft blue when confronted by my Diver’s headlamp, and the ambience of the sea is punctuated only by either my footsteps, or distant squeals of decrepit floorboards and rusty, agitated iron beams. It’s dark, claustrophobic, and disorienting: exactly the kind of thing I’m into, but all that didn’t stop me from realizing the game gets kinda boring after a bit.
You explore the ship using a streamlined movement system, in which swipes left and right move you in a direction, upward swipes cause you to jump, and downward swipes cause you to crouch. You figure out puzzle after puzzle as you descend into the bowels of the ship, learning of its crew and circumstances along the way via well-written flavor text. Sometimes platforms are visible only once your headlamp is turned off, creating a time-travel mechanic as you see into the ships’ unbroken form, but usually you are just walking and jumping.
Now, you may be asking how that’s a bad thing, since “walking and jumping” is indeed the backbone of every platformer in existence (unless you count VVVVVV I guess, then it’s only the former, you nitpicker). But the reason this fails in Reveal the Deep is the lack of complexity in the platforming. You move at one set speed, unable to do anything to expedite your slowly trundling diver. As it stands, navigation through the gloomy corridors is engaging only when it leads you to a new story note or puzzle. Otherwise, you are merely watching the low-frame shuffling animation in utter boredom. Since you will inevitably get lost while exploring and have to back-track multiple times, a method of making movement interesting would have been crucial to avoid boring the player. To give a couple famous examples, 3D Mario games have a multitude of ways to change your momentum and upwards velocity for the sake of saving time and involving players more; similarly, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night has that cute back-dash thing that makes you go slightly faster. One is far more complex than the other, but the point is that even something as simple as a limited “sprint” that needs to recharge after it’s short use can add layers of depth to a game’s flow.
I like exploration, I like the motif, I like the writing and how it fuses with a two-worlds mechanic. What I don’t like is being bored while I play a game, and despite the glimmer in my eyes in the first 30 minutes of my playtime, it fled quickly, and soon the lovely visuals were the only thing tacking me down and keeping me from just quitting to go play Counter-Strike. I’m in the middle of the road on this one.
Is it Hardcore?
Atmospheric yet sluggish exploration game.