A terrifying multiplayer game built around underwater tension and multiplayer teamwork
Often people will cite outer space as being one of the most terrifying and mysterious places to face the human race; it is often described as the final frontier. Those people are perhaps marginalising the deepest of deep oceans however, discounting the potential terrors and horrors that lay beneath the surface of the world's expansive stretches of ocean. Depth is a multiplayer game with a rather unusual format that laughs in the face of the relatively tame environment of outer space in favour of tension and terror in some pretty deep and dreary waters. Prepare yourself for some pretty visceral action that's both pretty and visceral: this is a 4 vs. 2 game of tactics, terror, tension, and teamwork.
Released On: 3rd November, 2014
Available on: Windows, PC Download
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A Game of Two Sides
Remember those pesky underwater levels in your favourite computer game? Donkey Kong had them, Duke Nukem 3D had them, Tomb Raider had them, and now Depth has them, only underwater is the one and only state of play in this unusual game of tactics, tension, and strategy. This is a game that involves playing as either a treasure-hunting human (on a team of four) or one of two blood-hungry sharks that are on the tail (so to speak) of said humans.
This is far from your casual pick-up-and-play shark-based mobile title (Hungry Shark Evolution, for example) - this is a game of perspective and atmosphere. On the one hand you've got the first-person shooter style of the diver's perspective, unlocking and purchasing weapons and items upgrades along the way. On the other you've got the third-person shark perspective, with two main attacks and the whole of the underwater arena at your disposal. As you will read below, it is this dichotomy between the two perspectives that forms the main crux of Depth's lasting appeal.
Ok, so four humans against two sharks? This means the sharks are outnumbered and therefore this should be human-side advantage, right? After all, you've got three other humans on your team that you'll be cooperating with in order to survive this underwater experience you're putting yourself through for some reason in order to pass the time on an otherwise uneventful day. The 4 vs. 2 is the beauty of the whole thing, because it's this seemingly off-set numbers that dictate the pace and tactics of the gameplay.
Playing as a diver, you work in conjunction with three other players that are sitting at their computer somewhere else in the world. Your objective is to protect the underwater treasure-hunting robot known as S.T.E.V.E., entering into murky, unfamiliar territory where visibility is low and the danger of being mauled by one of the two sharks knocking about those there parts is remarkably high. It's so high it's a damn certainty in fact.
As a diver, you begin with a pistol and a knife which is all well and good, until you've been mauled a few times and it suddenly isn't. As you progress in the game and collect treasure you are able to unlock different weapons (regular guns, harpoons, net guns) and items (such as an underwater propulsion system, mines, tracking ammo etc.) that give you, the humans, more of an advantage over the sharks. Without the detection systems you can unlock, for example, you're effectively playing blind and are at great risk of being taken out very quickly by a swift and unforeseen shark attack, ending up as just another statistic on the pages of Shark Year magazine.
Sharks and Recreation
Playing as the shark, your objective is much simpler than those of the divers: the destruction of the humans that are invading your territory as well as that pesky robot with the stupid acronymic name that they're trying to protect. Sharks begin each stage a large distance away from the diver team, but the gap is soon closed and the action soon becomes tense and tactical.
As a shark, you are able to upgrade through the motions in order to increase your capabilities. It still all comes down to two things however: applying the proper tactics and having the most health when you are attacked/attacking.
Shark the Herald Angels Sing
In terms of combat, things are fairly simple here. We're talking first-person shooter style for the divers, with the mouse being the main tool for aiming and shooting (the latter done with the left mouse button). From the shark's (third-person) perspective, you also utilise the mouse to swim around and use the left and right mouse buttons for short-range and long-range attacks respectively.
The beauty of Depth is that because the combat system is so simple, the emphasis is shifted towards developing clever tactics in order to make sure your team is successful, whether this be the shark or diver team. Humans have the advantage of being able to attack from a distance, provided they are aware of the shark's location. This advantage is particularly pronounced in the relatively new Megalodon Hunt mode where the 5 vs 1 match is skewed in favour of the humans due to the large, cumbersome nature of shark and the ability of the human players to simply use the brute-force tactic of emptying their clips into the shark from a distance.
So humans do have the advantage of having (eventually) many weapons available that serve to tip the odds a little further in their favour. The balance between the sharks and the humans however is where the use of clever tactics and the advantages of both sides come into play.
Asymmetry as Poetry, Dichotomy As Beauty
As much as the look and general atmosphere of the Depth gameplay is part of the game's appeal, the real gem is in the differences between the two teams competing in asymmetrical numbers. Take the shark-based gameplay for example, which involves essentially playing as a creature that is in its home territory. You can utilise stealth as your main weapon, but remember that you will be relatively helpless and vulnerable during an attack; you are left open to a good hammering by the divers if you're not in and out as quickly as possible.
Gameplay as a diver is subtly but noticeably different. Humans are slow to move (unless propulsion hardware is purchased), their equipment is bulky, and divers are generally out of their depth (had to squeeze in that pun) because of the unfamiliar territory. However, long-range weapons balance the odds a bit, and the divers also have detection systems on their side courtesy of various bits of unlockable hardware like Sonar and tracer ammunition for one of the pistols.
The contrast between shark and diver runs beyond gameplay and content divides as well: the distinct, opposing roles also demonstrate that the game's developers, Digital Confectioners, wished for the chasm between the two species' experience should run deeper into the soul of the game. By this nonsense I really mean that the aesthetics and sound effects are tailored to each creature to make the experience more realistic and unique, as if you're playing to games that are almost entirely separate.
Being submerged in water as a human, your visibility is very poor - a few meters in any direction at best - and your heartbeat accelerates audibly and more ferociously according to the proximity of the shark/s around you. All the tank-supplied oxygen in the world cannot save you from the suffocating feeling of being on the ocean floor in unfamiliar territory (which the human body wasn't really designed for) surrounded by creatures whose only instinct is to attack at every opportunity.
Compare the above despair-filled gameplay with that of the shark's perspective, where you are able to navigate almost every edge, corner, and turn with grace and speed. You can use the environment to your advantage, and because of your superior senses, which are adapted (courtesy of millions of years of evolution as well as visual trickery from the developers) to the underwater environment. Everything just looks brighter, less gloomy, and more accessible when playing as a shark.
A Matter of Content and Contentment
Whether or not Depth will appeal to you as a game really comes down to how much you like atmospheric first-person shooters that offer more than one gameplay perspective. The combat mechanics themselves cannot be faulted: simplicity abounds which in turn shifts the focus of the game to upgrades, evolution (if you're a shark), and most of all, calculated tactics.
In the long run, once you're over the novelty of playing a multiplayer game from two different perspectives (in a visual style that is somewhat reminiscent of the Left 4 Dead games), what will continue to give this game its edge is the ongoing content which the Steam platform affords it. You've already got a significant quantity of weapons upgrades (from pistols to mines, net guns, and harpoon guns) a decent roster of hardware. In addition to that you've got three shark types: the Mako, the Tiger, and the Great White. An initial lack of maps did stunt the games longevity at first, but new maps are now flowing nicely through Steam.
Thanks to the nature of the Steam platform (and the resulting Big Catch update made possible by this Steam's content delivery system), Depth's impressive gameplay is supplemented frequently with updates, so one can only expect the game to get better and better. New maps, equipment, and sharks can be expected in the future, and perhaps a balancing of the currently skewed odds of the Megalodon Hunt mode. If it had just a few more game modes, Depth would be nearing a perfect score. Let's just hope the fans' love for this game continues to...run deep... as a result.
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Depth is developed by Digital Confectioners.