Shark Hunting In The Depths Of Terror

It’s dark. I can see about ten feet in front of me if I’m very lucky.

Somewhere, ahead, is a little mechanical robot called S.T.E.V.E..

At the moment he’s being flanked by two other divers.

We’re in the waters off an old abandoned oil rig, and this is the dangerous bit.

I’m in the rear of this four man team, and we’re almost done with this job. We’re heading back to the boat. I’m armed, with an automatic rifle, designed for working in the water, and I’ll need it. We’ve lost twenty four men already on this expedition.

Somewhere out there, just out of sight, there are monsters watching us.

They strike as if by magic, with overwhelming speed and power.

We humans have no chance if they take us by surprise, as they have already, several times today.

That’s why we move in formation now.

.It’s quiet down here … the only sound is my heartbeat …. Steadily increasing, growing in volume … wait a minute, that’s not good … that’s ….

 And like that it hits me and instead of swimming through dark inky seas I am in the mouth of a Great White shark.

I stab it with my knife, the only weapon that works this close up, the only one that gives me a chance … and it does no good at all.

There’s an audible crunch – which is me being bitten in half – and the screen changes, and I am watching the upper half of my body bobbing in the water, surrounded by a pink cloud of blood which swirls around it. This is a truly ghastly sight, and it would be a jarring one if I hadn’t already seen it before many, many times.

 This is Depth, and in Depth death is common and even necessary in a way.

Sometimes you see it coming for you – a darting shape in the water, those jaws, yawning open, those horrendous teeth – and you have a chance to react. Often the first you know it’s even there is when it hits you, and then you’re in big, big trouble with your only hope that your frantic stabbing does enough damage, or that one of the other divers comes to your aid.

It’s a game that’s been out a while now, but one which undergoes constant updating and tweaks.

The makers weren’t kidding when they said they would support this game after launch. This year it will be three years old, but it’s been getting better ever since due to excellent developer support and a great online community which keeps it fresh and interesting.

Depth is, essentially, a duel between Divers and Sharks.

The three game modes (the second, Megaladon Hunt, is nowhere near as much fun as the straight up head-to-head and the third, Hide and Seek, is simply the sharks hunting the divers) are played out over across several underwater locations, ranging from sunken galleons to the dilapidated oil rig where I started the piece.

Blood and Gold is the core game, and it involves divers hunting for sunken treasure, and keeping one eye out for the sharks. Each side in the core game (there are six players split between two sharks and four divers, a mixture of human players or AI bots) gets 30 lives, and when a player dies he or she can respawn at once, near to the action.

 These respawns are what make the game great, because depending on how well the team is doing, or how many kills you’ve got yourself, you can spend your share of the cash your team has collected tooling up with upgrades or a better class of weapon, returning to the fray to take bloody revenge.

 This is the most uncomplicated game you could ever hope to sit down and play, and that’s one of the things that makes it wonderful. Games that take hours to play are great (see last months reviews of Total War and Football Manager) but you can’t beat one that you simply load up and play for the Hell of it.

This is one of those games, a pure pleasure in every way.

The maps look absolutely splendid. These underwater environments are perfectly rendered and the divers move through areas of light and darkness, from brightly lit lagoons where the sun shines through the water, turning it pale, clear blue, to murky gloom that could be hiding anything (and it often is.) One of the coolest effects is the blood which pools around bodies, shark and human like, and makes red clouds in the water for a time.

 This underwater environment is rich and alive; there is life everywhere you look, from jellyfish to squid.

If you’re playing as the sharks you can regain energy after being shot or stabbed by feeding on sea-lions.

This is one well conceived universe.

 The sound in the game is equally brilliant, and one of the things that makes it so is the odd effect when a shark is nearby; it’s the sound of your heartbeat, getting increasingly louder as the shark moves into your position. This is a spooky way to announce the presence of death, more so as you never quite know from where it’s going to strike.

 Positioning yourself against walls does little good either, because many of them can be smashed through, as can portions of the ceiling, meaning there really is nowhere to hide at times. In fact, I’ve found that one of the most effective strategies in the game, whilst going the divers, is to go on the offensive and hunt down the sharks before they get you.  That’s a whole lot of fun, and can quickly move the divers into a lead.

This is one of those rare games when playing against the computer can be tougher than playing online.

Playing against AI bots is tough, because the sharks move at such speed it really is difficult to get a bead on them before they are on top of you. Playing online against other players is far more amusing, as the shark players can be slower than the AI.

Whilst I understand the appeal of getting to play the game as a shark, I actually much prefer to go one of the divers, and the interface is part of the reason why.

As a diver, you’re plunged into what is essentially a first person shooter, where anything could be lurking outside of your peripheral vision. If you go the shark you direct it from behind, making for two very different gaming experiences. Whilst both are extremely satisfying I really do prefer the stark terror of being one of the hunted humans. Seeing a darting fish, jaws open, announce itself in a cloud of blood that used to be one of your team-mates … it’s pretty amazing.

Few games are as atmospheric, especially on those maps were you swim in near darkness.

Depth is available on Steam, and you can usually get it very reasonably. At the time of writing this it’s available for £14.99, which is amazing considering what now comes with the game, including modding support.

The designers and makers aren’t done supporting it yet either; it’s already had a number of very significant releases, which have added new maps, new equipment and even new sharks. There are now six varieties in-game, and seven if you count the megaladon; the eponymous Great White; big, deadly, hard to kill; the Tiger Shark, agile, and difficult to see;  the Mako, who is lightning quick and agile; the Hammerhead, who can crush divers with the use of its unusual head; the Thresher, who’s blade-like tail is a formidable weapon and the Bull, who’s a medium threat at best until its level up (called Enrage) turns it into a powerful mass of aggression.

What’s more the divers and sharks can all level up with various skills and abilities, making it a tactical game as much as anything else.

There’s nothing about this game I don’t like; even the Megaladon hunt is great in its own way as the four divers stalk the biggest, baddest thing that ever inhabited the ocean. Yes it could use some more maps, and yes it would be good if there were other game modes – even some variety of monsters in the sea (fans are working on giant squid mods and other such stuff – but this game doesn’t pretend to be anything its not.

 Based on the simplest premise I’ve seen in a game for a long time (and that’s no bad thing) Depth doesn’t have a lot of … depth … but it does have all the ingredients of a bloody (in the literal sense) good time, and that’s what keeps me (and many others) coming back for more.

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