Launching today is the first chapter in a brand new franchise from Biart, Deep Black: Reloaded. With a second title, known simply as Deep Black, set to arrive on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC later this year and a third, Deep Black Online, expected to undergo a public beta testing phase prior to the end of 2012, to suggest that Biart has great plans for their new franchise wouldn’t be putting too fine a point on things. More important however, is whether their new invention has the strength to support three titles within the space of a year.
Looking at Biart’s résumé would suggest a fondness of all things deep sea. Of the six titles listed on their official website, all involved underwater adventures. Of course, the hope would be that Biart has become an expert in such matters, and developing an action-adventure videogame with such a premise would be a reasonably well suited task for such a studio, and judging on the basis of Deep Black: Reloaded, they certainly have some ideas worth exploring.
On the surface, Deep Black: Reloaded is a claustrophobic adventure inspired by Dead Space, with a Gears of War style cover system implemented in a fashion similar to Damnation and Dark Void. Now all the comparison boxes have been checked, what Deep Black: Reloaded really delivers is a third-person action-adventure videogame, with the emphasis strongly placed on action. A generally slow pace exists for much of the adventure not for sake of checking every corner for ammunition and other vital items, but rather to allow for planning ahead; to err is to not be cautious, as you never quite know what lies around the corner.
There are many aspects of design that come from basing the majority of Deep Black: Reloaded underwater that many may not have realised. To begin with there’s a surreal sense of freedom in being able to move in full 360°, far more so than in any other action title and with even more precision when using an analogue stick as opposed to mouse and keyboard. Such freedom is only marred by the player’s own detection (diving head-first into a dark corner will undoubtedly make reversing an awkward procedure) and players often have to take into account unseen forces – such as water pressure – within their manoeuvring. This is where the jetpack comes in; a staple of Deep Black: Reloaded from the get-go, the jetpack can be used in a limited capacity (dictated by a recharging meter) to boost your avatar in the current direcrtion. This extra dash has usefulness in both navigation and combat, but finding the balance in the latter against constantly oppressive foes is no easy task.
Another trick Deep Black: Reloaded has up its sleeve is the harpoon. A mid-range ever-present asset that acts as both a weapon and a mechanical input device, the harpoon is more useful than it may at first seem. During the tutorial the player is instructed to lock-on to objects and robotic enemies to activate or disable them, but once out in the thick of it the player will realise there’s more to it than simply completing objectives.
Not all of Deep Black: Reloaded takes place underwater, much of it is set on land or even transitioning between the two. Light puzzle solving – frequently involving switches – is presented alongside the action to break up the monotony, and does a good job of assisting with the videogame’s pacing. The combat has clearly been designed with both underwater- and land-based battles in mind, though there is a lack of originality in all aspects here: Deep Black: Reloaded’s gunplay does feel like any other cover-based mechanic since the release of Gears of War more than half a decade ago, and while it’s technically sound it’s hardly inspiring. Close combat is handled by way of QTE, limited in nature as only the best QTEs can be.
Deep Black: Reloaded’s campaign is a well paced adventure with a small amount of logistical taxation, an imposing sense of dread and a generous helping of action. It’s a mix of gameplay styles that few manage to get right, and though Deep Black: Reloaded is destined to be compared to some of the most critically acclaimed titles of the current-generation, it does well to hold its own. In fact, beyond the campaign lies one of the videogame’s most interesting features, and one that has seemingly been overlooked by even the development team.
Videogame titles such as Deep Black: Reloaded are, by-and-large, criticised for shoe-horning multiplayer into the equation. It’s often an unnecessary addition that simply allows the marketing team to place another bulletpoint on the back of the box. With Deep Black: Reloaded however, there is no box to speak of, and so the inclusion of multiplayer gameplay was a decision wholly endorsed by the development team. It’s a wonder that more attention wasn’t paid to it then – with only eight player deathmatch and team deathmatch modes available – as while on land Deep Black: Reloaded’s player versus player gameplay is far from spectacular, the additional manoeuvring granted to players underwater allows for some interesting tactical shootouts, especially when playing in teams.
The visual quality of Deep Black: Reloaded is perfectly respectable, especially given its close relation to the Dead Space series. It may be lacking in terms of background detail and the density of atmosphere, but the design of the scenery and key characters is practically on an equal footing. The water effects for existing pools are fantastic, but for some reason when adding new quantities to the environment Biart has opted for a poorly placed particle effect. For a videogame so concerned with water, this is a fairly questionable design decision. The voice acting is reasonable throughout, though it’s unlikely you’ll fall for the plight of CHARON in their war against the IHS.
Deep Black: Reloaded is hardly a masterpiece of design, but it manages to tick all the right boxes. It’s an enjoyable experience which, like the underrated Dark Sector before it, takes inspiration from some of the best titles that the genre has to offer and adds a little flavour of its own. It’s not a ‘me too’ title as some might suggest, but rather another take on a well worn template. There may be bigger names and bolder designs out there, but for a videogame presented purely as a piece of escapist entertainment, Deep Black: Reloaded is one you can rely on to provide you with a good time.