Electronic Theatre In-depth Review: Deep Black – Episode 1

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Electronic Theatre ImageOne of the newest titles to arrive on the Xbox LIVE Arcade and PlayStation Network, Biart’s Deep Black – Episode 1 is a cunningly carved-up presentation of the PC release Deep Black: Reloaded. Delivered solely via digital distribution, Deep Black – Episode 1 is the first in the series of episodes that will culminate into the fully featured retail release of the PC version. The difference here is that the console market is considerably more difficult to penetrate and a digital release is significantly less risky, and for a product that was unfairly berated upon its initial PC release that’s surely a wise move.

From the offset Deep Black – Episode 1 is likely to be compared to the ill-fated Hydrophobia. Originally designed as a series of episodic releases that, following a disappointing debut, may no longer reach its conclusion, Hydrophobia was an action videogame based around its water mechanic. Throughout the development of Hydrophobia this was the sole focus: its animation and the effect that had Electronic Theatre Imageon the environment, the player and the challenges the videogame presented. Deep Black – Episode 1 provides the same kind of experience on the surface, though the action bent is more prevalent throughout. Thus, Biart has felt less of a compulsion to shout about its tech and concentrated on enthusing about the gameplay.

Rightfully so, as Deep Black – Episode 1 is a thoroughly enjoyable experience. It borrows much and offers little that is new, but above all else it remains an engrossing third-person action videogame. A simplified cover system based on that featured in Gears of War, the now traditional over-the-should viewpoint originally championed by Resident Evil 4, a selection of weapons that wouldn’t feel out of place in any number of similar titles and a series of challenges that lead you through the environment by the hand, Deep Black – Episode 1 is everything you expect from a modern third-person action videogame. Beyond this however, Deep Black – Episode 1 does have one-or-two tricks up its sleeve.

The harpoon is Deep Black – Episode 1’s biggest selling point, a unique weapon and puzzle solving instrument that’s a welcome addition to the formula. Sadly the control set-up has been misjudged, with the lock-on on the left trigger (LT or L2, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 respectively) and harpoon commendable via the left button (LB or L1). Demanding the player change from the typical controller grip position in order to use the Electronic Theatre Imageharpoon means that it’s many tactical implementations will simply be ignored in favour of maintaining control over firing arc with basic weaponry and grenades; exactly why Biart chose to place the underwater boost and roll manoeuvre on the Y/triangle button and not the harpoon will forever remain a mystery.

Throughout its three-act duration Deep Black – Episode 1 maintains a standard of finesse befitting and adventurous digital title. It never reaches the highs of Gears of War 3 or Resident Evil 4, but that’s not to say it’s a lacklustre affair. Deep Black – Episode 1 is a videogame that keenly delivers what it promises: this is a simple action videogame, a few hours of escapism that once completed will be rarely thought about for more than a few seconds, but for most will be compelling enough to see through to completion. For its respectably positioned price-tag, it would be hard to say fairer than that.

Sadly, the multiplayer which is delivered alongside the single-player campaign is a less endearing affair. Offering only deathmatch and team deathmatch options, playable on five maps, it’s an utterly ignorable piece of design. Electronic Theatre ImageThe phrase ‘tacked-on’ is used far too often when discussing multiplayer modes in videogames, and despite being basic it’s no more relevant here in Deep Black – Episode 1 than it is in any number of other titles. Deep Black – Episode 1 has learnt from the pioneers of the genre, and walking in Gears of War’s shoes has lead Biart to believe that longevity comes from multiplayer. Sadly, unless they intend on significantly expanding on this presentation with the second instalment, that simply won’t be the case for Deep Black’s console outings.

The visual quality of Deep Black – Episode 1 doesn’t quite stand-up next to its PC counterpart, but it’s by no means poor. On par with some of the biggest titles of yesteryear and significantly superior to also-ran releases such as Fracture and Dark Void, the environments provide enough variety to remain Electronic Theatre Imageinteresting that the tactical variation in enemies is signified by bother their animation and aural clues. Much of the voice acting is a little ham-fisted, but the sound quality in general remains at least average.

At times Deep Black – Episode 1 is a mixed bag of clever design and poor execution, from the enemies that are intelligent enough to vary their tactics in a dozen different ways when beginning from the same set-piece to the overly lengthy melee animation that will more often prove to be your death than your saving grace, but throughout it’s ups-and-downs it remains an enjoyable action videogame experience. It’s never going to compete with the titles that inspired it, hence it’s distribution as a digital titles as opposed to a full price retail release, but it does provide value for money in that of its disposable entertainment. Deep Black – Episode 1 sets a barometer that successive releases will hopefully surpass, but even if they don’t it’s a collection that few gamers with a true appreciation of the industry will argue didn’t deliver on it’s promises.

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