Behold the debut of a new genre: the aquatic third-person shooter! In Deep Black: Reloaded, the hook is that in addition to traditional take-cover-and-shoot-bad-guys action, you’ll also spend a significant amount of time taking cover and shooting bad guys underwater. On the whole, the submerged shooter concept isn’t a bad idea, and with a bigger budget, more creativity, and better writing, it could make for a compelling game. Deep Black: Reloaded, on the other hand, is a repetitive, occasionally infuriating, sometimes insulting shooter that can’t overcome its amateurish production values and shallow gameplay.
All Dried Up
You play as Lt. Syrus Pierce, retired amphibious mercenary, ordered into service one more time on a lackluster mission to infiltrate terrorist hideouts off the western coast of South America in the year 2047. Surprisingly, most of the action takes place on dry land. Armed with conventional weaponry such as a pistol, shotgun, and machine gun, as well as some more futuristic ordnance like a supercharged stun gun, I didn’t feel so much like I was “infiltrating” as simply navigating from one room or corridor to the next, each conveniently decorated with metal crates or barriers that can be used as cover, and creeping far enough along until terrorist henchmen announced themselves and began shooting. At this point, I’d take cover and return fire while the enemy AI (with all the intelligence of a shooting gallery target) pops heads up and down like clockwork. All the while, trying to avoid getting hit too often (causing blood splatters to appear on the sides of your screen, eventually killing you) because Pierce’s high-tech armored supersuit offers roughly the same protection as soggy toilet paper.
To make matters worse, Pierce is about as zippy and maneuverable as a narcoleptic sea turtle. Try to throw a grenade, for example, and Pierce leisurely steps out from behind cover and flings it, all while he’s getting riddled by bullets and you’re yelling at the animation to hurry the hell up. In one of the rare instances when an enemy breaks from cover to run up and attack head-on, your melee attack will take you out of cover and leave you a sitting duck for his buddies. That Pierce’s run speed is more like a waddle doesn’t help matters, nor does the fact that he can’t jump or crouch (except behind an approved cover spot). Oh, and did I mention that there are no manual game saves? Die and you’ll be sent back to the last checkpoint, which may be placed far enough back to evoke more cursing.
Occasionally, you’ll have to dive into the water to swim through tunnels and sea caves in more interesting free-moving underwater sequences. Armed with a high-tech harpoon that hacks door locks and reprograms robotic probes and a water jetpack that allows you to swim quickly for short periods and overcome harsh currents, I wished there was more for to do down below with these cool gadgets. It’s also where Russian developer Biart’s proprietary graphics engine really shines, showing off some beautiful shimmer-y water effects.
As on dry land, you can take cover and shoot at enemies while submerged, though at an even-slower pace. But despite threats of Pierce-seeking bomb drones and laser-targeted sentries to disable, the underwater portions are often missed opportunities to play with the dynamics of free-moving aquatic combat and wasted as an excuse to get from one above-water terrorist lair to the next. Interesting ideas, like being able to harpoon an enemy on land and drag him into the water where you quickly knife him, are underutilized. Even reprogramming a drone help out is short-lived, as it won’t follow you into new areas and or do anything besides attack other drones.
Special mention must be made of the sound effects and writing, which just scream “indie Russian developer.” Kill an enemy and they’ll scream in bloodcurdling anguish, sometimes continuing to whimper after their limp bodies have hit the ground. More cringe-worthy are the death rattles of human frogmen in the underwater segments, who will let out a long, overwrought gurgle as liquid oblivion overtakes them. As eye-rolling as that is, at least it’s entertaining. What’s embarrassing is hearing Lt. Pierce’s Latina commander proudly assert (in blunt terms) that her posterior has “launched a thousand ships.” In turn, manly man Pierce never fails to let her know how sexy she is, because, hey, that’s how you treat a superior officer. The sexist (and possibly racist) undertones die down the deeper you get into the game, but you may want to break for a mind-shower early on.