Deep Black: Reloaded [Review] – The thrashing of a drowning man
Deep Black: Reloaded made me nauseous. That’s not some kind of faux-edgy comment about the quality of the game, it literally made me feel unwell. The forced, narrow field of view (FOV; the extent to which you can see the world around you in a game), coupled with regular changes to said FOV whenever the character runs or aims a shot, gave me a headache and forced me into regular breaks. You can recreate the effect with your own favourite game of choice by sitting very close to your monitor or TV (make sure you can’t see the edges of the action) and moving your face in and out towards the screen for half an hour or so.
Developers Biart presumably worked quite hard on Deep Black: Reloaded and I’d imagine they didn’t set out to produce one of the worst titles I’ve played in recent years. Unfortunately, that is the end result. It doesn’t give me much pleasure to trash a game, especially one that’s produced by a smaller studio, but there is a certain sense of catharsis from writing this review. It feels as if I’m purging myself of a troublesome spirit.
Incidentally, this game is dubbed ‘Reloaded’ because it’s the PC port of the Deep Black console release; except those console versions haven’t actually come out yet. Confused? Me too, but aside from hinting at publishing troubles behind the scenes it probably isn’t of great importance.
Deep Black: Reloaded is an atrocious third-person cover shooter combined with periodic underwater sections that are the same atrocious third-person cover shooter, except in 360 degrees.
Let’s begin with the land-based cover shooting (which, despite the impression given by the promotional materials, is well over half of the game). You may remember the third person cover shooter aspects of Obsidian’s 2010 RPG Alpha Protocol being derided as a bit wonky and rubbish. Well, Deep Black: Reloaded makes those sections of Alpha Protocol feel like Gears of War; and, unlike Alpha Protocol, this game doesn’t have the smartest reactive RPG narrative in living memory going for it.
The space bar should be your friend. When not in cover, it allows you to do a directional dodge roll, or (when prompted) stick yourself behind a nearby box. Or pile of boxes. Or handy slab of debris. However, the space bar is not your friend. The space bar in Deep Black: Reloaded is actively working for the enemy in an attempt to get you killed.
On balance, mapping ‘stick to cover’ and ‘dodge away from harm’ to the same button wasn’t the wisest of design decisions. See, if you’re trying to nip out of cover and dodge away (maybe because a giant crab-bot is launching missiles at your position) it’s really touch and go whether you’ll do that, or just re-stick yourself to a new piece of cover and take an explosion to the face. Likewise, when trying to attach yourself to something that looks cover-like (but actually isn’t, because only certain objects are deemed cover-worthy and there’s no way of telling beforehand which is which) you may just roll out into enemy fire or be left standing behind a small wall looking like a prat.
That, though, is not the end of the space bar’s reign of tyranny. When you die (which can happen quite a bit, thanks to the rubbish cover mechanics), space also selects the option for ‘restart entire mission’. ‘Restart from last checkpoint’ isn’t mapped to space. No, that’s mapped to Enter instead.
So, to recap, the post-death option to wipe all of your progress in a mission is mapped to the key you’re quite likely to be pressing just before death. Whereas the button to restart a little way back is mapped to one you never use. Granted, there is a failsafe ‘are you sure?’ screen in which you can back out from restarting the whole level, but confirmation here is also mapped to the Enter key: one you’ll gravitate towards with a near-Pavlovian response. In short, you will be accidentally beginning several missions from scratch.
Naturally, it is impossible to reconfigure these keys. If I’d been able, I’d have switched alt-fire away from the middle mouse button (which also provides a quick way to scroll through weapons, meaning you may just unintentionally swap guns instead).
Underwater, things don’t improve. The sloppy cover mechanics make their return, but now you’re having to deal with 360 degree control with an FOV roughly equivalent to walking around with your hands cupped around the sides of your eyes. It’s a bit tricky to get a sense of where the incoming underwater drones or divers are when you can’t see much of the environment. Additionally, it doesn’t exactly help that the underwater effects make everything further than about six feet away appear blurry and indistinct.
The other trick you have underwater is your harpoon gun. This enables you to fire out of the water at unsuspecting soldiers in the few spots specifically designed for you to do this, and provides an excuse for buttons to be on the other sides of grated doors (so you can fire the harpoon gun through at them). It’s also possible to hack certain drone enemies using the harpoon.
Don’t be fooled by the infrequent open environments shown off in a few of these screenshots. For the overwhelming majority of the time, Deep Black: Reloaded funnels the player down a series of uninspiring, narrow corridors (even when you’re outside, you’re still essentially in corridors, hemmed in by invisible barriers) into one repetitive firefight after another. This is the case both on land and underwater.
On top of all of this, the game goes out of its way to commit almost every single notable ‘game logic’ sin of the past few decades.
Enemies will pop up out of nowhere. Actually, no, it’s worse than popping up out of nowhere; in one spot troops would endlessly respawn from behind a building, just so they could man a turret that I wasn’t ‘allowed’ to take down until I’d got a bit nearer. In another encounter, the soldiers magically appeared behind me after I’d made it through a deadly underwater passageway filled with volcanic eruptions. Ludicrous scripted spawnings continue throughout the game.
As noted above, there are invisible barriers everywhere, preventing you from climbing over chest-high boxes and fitting through gaps in fences and debris that your character can clearly squeeze through.
Your character can take multiple stab wounds from a melee-specific enemy, but if one of the chaps with a gun makes it close enough to him to give him a tap it’s an instant death sentence.
In tandem with the pop-up enemies, the layout of some of the maps makes absolutely no sense. One underwater laboratory is seemingly constructed from such an absurd labyrinth of underwater passages, piers and gangways, I started wondering how the hell anybody working there did their job. This is a fairly subjective point to make, but it all helps to undermine what little atmosphere was being created to begin with.
Voice acting from the protagonist and the woman you with providing mission details is acceptable, but other voice work (notably the AI on the submarine) is incredibly bad. It’s also interesting to hear the soldiers bark out something about throwing a grenade, when none of them ever actually do. Sadly, dialogue between the main pair does not match the adequate nature of the voice work. Here’s a sample: “Watch your ass lieutenant”, “I’d rather watch yours, it’s nicer”. Just awful, awful stuff.
Multiplayer is present too, but (probably due to my playing the game pre-release) nobody was ever around to start a game with. As such, this review is based purely on the single player side of things. It’s possible that the multiplayer is an utterly tremendous, game-saving component, but if it uses the same mechanics as the single player campaign, don’t get your hopes up.
There’s a tendency, as with films, for people to become fascinated with low-scoring releases. I’m going to urge you to resist that feeling for Deep Black: Reloaded. There’s no discernable ironic enjoyment to be gleaned from this game, and it’s certainly not fun-bad like Deadly Premonition. It’s just plain old depressing bad-bad. Like drowning.