Depth- Asymmetric Underwater Combat

So, I got Depth (released in November of 2014 by Digital Confectioners) during the Steam Summer Sales. With a free weekend, I thought it would be the perfect time to jump in and learn the game along with everybody else.

Here’s the thing: I had fun. For the first day and a half. I learned a few cool tricks to employ as both diver and shark, I got a few wins, a few losses, but ultimately ended each playing session feeling satisfied.

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Then I met people who had been playing for a long time and the game turned into an utter nightmare, whereupon I was repeatedly savaged every game from start to finish until I stopped playing. Seeing as every single person I played with either showed through their inexperience or stated outright that it was their first match, I’m pretty sure everyone else had the same experience I did, ragequit and all. As such, by the time the dust settles, I suspect the only people still in the Depth community will be the people that were already playing, turning the community into a shark tank in more ways than one and keeping the game unfriendly to newcomers.

Let’s back up for a minute. Depth is a game about sharks and divers. The divers try to accomplish a goal, generally escorting a robotic submarine as it loots the treasure chests around the map. The sharks try to stop them, mainly by killing the divers and tackling the sub so it has to reboot. The divers can pick up loose treasure to get upgradeable weapons and consumable gadgets they can use to stay alive a little longer, and the sharks get cool evolutions for scoring kills and the ability to smash through certain parts of the levels. It’s a cool concept, the environments and detection mechanics are perfect for building the tension, and being grabbed by a shark is genuinely terrifying the first couple times it happens.

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And now I’m gonna complain a lot, so if you just wanted the overview, you can stop now.

In terms of available sharks to play/fight, we have the Mako and Thresher, who may as well have the hitboxes of mosquitoes on speed having seizures, and the Great White, or “shrug off anything short of an explosive harpoon” shark, with the Hammerhead and Tiger falling somewhere in-between. The only thing keeping the sharks from being ridiculously overpowered is them getting disoriented, stuck or otherwise meandering while inside a cramped room with 4 panic-firing divers, which is not a quality that veteran players or the AI possess.  The Diver AI isn’t nearly as competent though, so if you’ve got a team full of them (perhaps because all your human teammates tired of respawning just in time to get eaten again), you’re gonna have a bad time.

As such, once you find veteran shark players or one of the rookie shark players leaves and gets replaced by the AI, you may as well swim into the open water with a T-bone steak and await the inevitable. The robot sub is relatively easy to defend when it’s working on a safe, in a position where you and your team can work to cover most of the angles of attack. However, S.T.E.V.E. has to go into the open water to travel to the next safe. At this point, the enemy sharks can take turns ramming it to make it undergo a lengthy rebooting process, leaving the team as sitting ducks to be picked off at the leisure of the shark players. With the claustrophobic environs no longer inhibiting their mobility, the sharks can attack and depart from any angle, dragging players away from their teammates to their deaths with maybe a second’s warning.

Even inside you’re not completely safe. I’ve seen sharks enter a room, kill a player, smash through a wall and swim back out faster than I could blink, though I am seriously hoping that lag played a part in that. The experts seem to have no issue navigating the narrow confines of oil rigs and abandoned military installations, so even if you place yourself in as inconvenient a position as possible, there is someone out there who can drag you out of it and I’d bet good money they’re on the other team right now.

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This is the point where the gameplay crosses the line from “tense” to “frustrating”. It didn’t help that I got singled out approximately half the time in all my play sessions, even though I tried a dozen different strategies ranging from wedging myself into a corner, moving erratically with my dash function, and outright baiting the sharks in hope of actually seeing one coming before it ate me.

The equipment available to divers tries to help, but doesn’t do enough. Your starting weapon is one of 3 handguns. You’ve got 2 spammy pistols that can keep you in combat for a while with their fast reloads and large ammo supplies… but shark attacks are pretty short-lived no matter which way they turn out. The slow-but-powerful variant is too slow to reliably hit the seizure sharks but not strong enough to kill the heavy sharks before they eat you as you reload. There’s a special device that renders everything in a sphere invisible to shark senses, but because it needs to be set on a flat surface, it’s absolutely useless in open water, which is the main place you’d want to use it. Shotguns and bangsticks are available for suicidal players, but between the high movement speed of the sharks and the inevitable lag, using these weapons is easier said than done. Too many times did I line up a shot only for the game to decide the shark was no longer there while its companion used the resulting downtime to tear out my liver. To top it all off, to get all this cool stuff you need to pick up treasure and carry it back to S.T.E.V.E.. While you can count on some loot being within the sub’s immediate path, the only way to get a good weapon in a reasonable amount of time is by straying outside the safety of the enclosed areas which is quickly punished by death. Also, it is easy to get disoriented and have trouble finding your team, as when S.T.E.V.E. is off-screen the only indicator of its location is a vague gold arrow outline that can easily be missed alongside all the other environmental details.

The environments themselves are good looking but some blatantly favor one side, featuring defense points with more avenues of attacks, loads of tight corridors that will befuddle newbie sharks, or loot that isn’t gold colored and thus much harder to pick out on the move.

Once a shark grabs you, all you can really do is stab it with your knife or repair tool until it kills you or your teammates can kill it. Unless you’re fighting a Mako on its last blip of health, you’re probably going to die so everything after being grabbed feels pointless, ruining the fear that should be inherent in the situation of being caught in the jaws of a large oceanic predator.

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So anyway, I don’t think I can recommend Depth. If you have some friends to play with, great. I’m sure you’ll all have a good time as long as you’re of a similar skill level. If you’re going to play with randoms, however, you’d probably have more fun sticking your man-bits into a garbage disposal. I’ll come back in a week or so and see if my perceptions change, and update accordingly.

Depth is available on Steam for $25. If you still want to play it, I’d consider waiting for a sale, considering there’s only 3 game modes (you’ll see Megalodon Hunt maybe 1/10 times in Quick Match and Blood and Gold the rest of the time) and 10 maps.

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