It must be a hard life piloting a submarine: you and a dozen sailors going down, surrounded by salty seamen on all sides, anticipating the moment when you fire the torpedoes. And actually working on the sub must be murder as well. Ma ha. (Oh dear.)
Rapidly side-stepping Painfully Obvious Submarine Joke #26, Deep Fighter is the semi-sequel to the nice-looking-but-dull Sub Culture -and that's because you get to ride about in a submarine roughly in proportion to the dimensions of a small baby's head. For reasons I can't fathom, the story sees you in the process of building a mothership to escape from your seabed home and jet off somewhere nicer.
Only the bad news for you and the other citizens is that the nearby tribe of bad guys, the Shadowkin, want to scupper your plans for, again, God only knows what reason. What I did manage to learn, I found mostly through the FMV clips that detail your mission briefings throughout the game. And if anything deserves to be derided first, it's got to be this.
It looks like somebody must have left the doors to the local amateur community theatre company unlocked again as there's a couple of performances in here that make Keanu Reeves look like an Oscar-winner. The only award this game's ever going to win is the PC Award For The Least Convincing Expression When Learning Gad News.
Dive, Dive, Dive
Far from the complex nature of most sims these days, everything seems to have been simplified in Deep Fighter. Control of your sub consists of the bare minimum of keys for movement, while combat is decidedly sparse with nothing more complicated than keeping back and shooting until the enemy explode. It's also worth pointing out that there's a few puzzles to solve in the form of switches to pull and the like. Later levels feature more testing problems but even these seem to come straight out of a children's puzzle book, being fun at first but ultimately too easy (with the exception of the reflecting light puzzle, which I was stuck on at the time of writing).
Aware of the fact that it needed some variety to prop up the game, done its damnedest to ensure each mission is as different from the last as is possible to make it. So one mission sees you dragging doped-up fish along the seabed with your built-in magnet, another sees you wiping out a nearby flotilla of malevolent jellyfish, and yet another sees you defending your mine against the aforementioned Shadowkin. One thing's for sure, it's safe to assume that the game isn't based on the coast of mainland Britain - there's definitely no missions to rescue a used condom trapped in the middle of a pile of floating faeces anywhere in here.
Sink Or Swim?
While the diversity of the missions can definitely be praised, the actual playing of them can't, as most have a hint of dullness about them. It is interesting that you never know what's going to come next, but most of the game feels slowpaced and some parts drag on just a little too long.
It certainly looks pretty enough but, ironically, it lacks a certain depth. Even though it paints an assuredly attractive picture, Deep Fighter remains a relatively slow-paced game with not much at all to recommend it.
Download Deep Fighter
We've had busty, gun-toting, arse-kicking brunettes. We've had daring archaeologists with a penchant for whips and a fear of snakes. We've had futuristic heroes, battling corrupt Big Brother governments in a fight to free a subjugated society. Now, get ready for the latest action/adventure hero.
I give you... a mini-sub driving, army private. You heard me, I said, a mini-sub driving, army private. Not convinced? We weren't either, until we found out a bit about Deep Fighter. That's because there's a great deal more to the game than a slightly dodgy fish-smelling army new boy, who spends his days studying the mating cycles of marine life.
Deep Fighter is, as you've probably already guessed, set under the ocean waves. You play an army cadet during a turbulent period of your society's history. Not only is your colony in danger from an imminent natural disaster, it's also being threatened by a strange and mysterious enemy, who are intent on wiping you out. Your job is to pilot your mini-sub in a series of missions ranging from fish breeding to locating and destroying enemy bases. While the former could be in danger of being a bit of a snorefest, the latter mission type promises to be a highly entertaining affair. With eight mini-subs to choose from and an arsenal of 22 weapons at your disposal, we think that the underwater dogfights in DF will provide plenty of excitement. You'll even have wingmen to help you out if you get into trouble. Ultimately, your goal will be to protect your colony and its mining installations long enough to allow a giant mothership to be built, which will then transport your people to safety.
Although developer Criterion Studios is claiming Deep Fighter will be an action/adventure, from what we've seen so far, it would appear to bear a closer resemblance to Descent than to Tomb Raider. That's not to say that the game won't have adventure elements. Many puzzles will need solving as you navigate your way through the game's six unique environments (each of which will have their own mysteries and secrets to uncover), and some of which will be set above ground. You'll also have to complete a host of sub-quests, creating a total of more than 50 missions and sub missions in all. It looks as though longevity and variety are two features that DF won't lack.
To round the package off, we're being promised 30 minutes of FMV, featuring professional actors. Lets just hope we don't see a return of the dodgy FMVs we were subjected to so regularly a couple of years ago. There's also going to be a deathmatch mode, which will allow up to eight players to engage one another in underwater dog fighting. As you can see, Deep Fighter is shaping up to be a very ambitious game, one which mixes dog fighting combat, resource management and adventure-style puzzles. Even though there are a couple of features that we're not yet 100 per cent confident about (such as fish herding), it is showing glimmers of promise and originality. Lets just hope that, when it surfaces in September, it doesn't sink into oblivion, but rather sails off successfully into the sunset.
We couldn't help but think of Wing Commander as we viewed Deep Fighter's stiff FMV mission briefings and goofy ingame character interaction. "Let's get back to base and get a beer!" exclaims one of your allies as he/she blasts an enemy. Unfortunately, the game is full of cutscenes of similar grade. Thankfully, the rest of the title is looking much more promising. Piloting a small sub in a vast, 3D undersea environment is the premise of this mission-based fighter. Your people live on the ocean floor in a complex of underwater structures. Sadly, the vibe is anything but peaceful. Everyone from pirates to giant squids are trying to crush your race. Ultimately, the goal is to keep the enemies at bay long enough for your chums to build a mothership capable of transporting the entire colony to peaceful waters.
Does this plot sound familiar? It should since it doesn't stray too far from the same formula used by countless space combat sims. No biggie; it's a nice change of pace to do it underwater at least.
We were lucky enough to get a 75 percent version of the game which had just about everything except the FMV backgrounds. It's safe to say it's a slow-starter, but once the first few missions are complete, things start to get more interesting. Many of the 50 missions are puzzle-based and void of combat altogether. Sometimes you're gathering materials for the mothership construction, at other times, however, it's full-on combat. Eight different subs, 12 weapons and nine separate tools are at your disposal. Tools allow you to scoop items off the ocean floor, harpoon fish, paralyze enemies and so on. Weapons are mostly of the laser variety, but a couple "big-blast" guns exist.
While the missions provide plenty of "official" activity, simply exploring the ocean floor, finding new and exciting things to play with, is fun. Mingling with the fish, or more aptly, harassing them, is good for a laugh as well.
Despite the limited draw distance and the sketchy FMV sequences, Deep Fighter has enough gameplay and originality to warrant the attention of DC owners when it's released next month.