Review: Deep Black: Reloaded (PC)

Biart is an indie developer whose first third-person shooter, Deep Black: Reloaded, was recently released for the PC. It has also been announced for the Xbox 360 (XBLA) and the PlayStation 3 (PSN). Deep Black: Reloaded was built from the ground up to take advantage of PC-specific features, such as Phsyx, 3D Vision, and the Razer Hydra controller.

Deep Black: Reloaded takes us under the water to challenge our skills in unique ways. The story is one of political intrigue and corporate espionage. At the center is Syrus Pierce, whose allegiance is to the highest bidder. Pierce takes on a new mission to seek revenge for a past failure, and his journey begins in a deep, black, watery world.

Deep Black: Reloaded
Systems: PC (Reviewed), Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
System Specs: Intel i7 950, Mushkin Enhanced Radioactive 12 GB 1600 XMP, Asus P6X58D Premium, Evga GTX580 FTW Hydro Copper 2 x2 for SLI with Nvidia Surround Enabled, Logitech G13 Advanced Gameboard, and Logitech G19 Keyboard
Developer: Biart
Publisher: Biart
Release Date: March 1, 2012 (PC), Unknown (360 and PS3)
MSRP: $30 (PC), Unknown (360 and PS3)

After the United Nations had split, the world came together under two primary super powers: the Global Strategic Alliance (GSA) and The United Federation of Gondwana. The world’s powers are held together and supported by megacorporations, who all are fighting to control what little resources the world has left. The Berlin-based Ishiguro-Himmel Systems (IHS) Corporation is one of the most powerful megacorporations in the world.

The Chief Amphibious Reconnaissance Operational Network (CHARON) is one of the world’s best mercenary groups, and they only provide their services to the highest bidder. The most valuable operative they have is Syrus Pierce, who retired after failing on several occasions to infiltrate a terrorist group called the Al-Azrad.

The Al-Azrad is back, taking many GSA hostages from a research facility off the coast of South America and threatening to execute them. General Jack Sterling offers Pierce another chance to take down this terrorist group and save the hostages. The mission is supported by Colonel Susan Velasco, who is the only other member of Pierce’s squad left.

The player quickly finds out that the General has not been entirely honest with you: the mission is not to rescue hostages but rather to acquire new weapons that are being developed by the IHS in conjunction with the Gondwana government. The situation becomes clear then: the IHS is trying to change their circumstances by developing new and devastating weapons in an effort rock the foundation of the GSA. These efforts would be for naught if a meteorite hadn’t smashed into the coast of South America, providing the IHS with a powerful new kind of power source. The Colonel and Pierce both decide that it’s in their best interest to continue the new mission. Meanwhile, the General and his collaborators plan something of their own.

The story of Deep Black: Reloaded is told through radio chatter and cutscene segments throughout the game, mainly from the three major characters: the General, the Colonel, and Pierce. The story’s core facts are well thought-out and detailed, but the storytelling and voice acting is dry. These facts are spread throughout the story and online descriptions of the game from the developer, and it’s unfortunate that it isn’t one cohesive experience because it didn’t capture my attention. I think anyone else who plays this will have the same problem.

The game is a third-person shooter, and the action takes place between the depths of the water and on land. These two different ways to play change up frequently. The land combat is a mesh of cover-based combat and run-and-gun gameplay. The run-and-gun combat is all about memorization, making it all about trial and error. This part of the gameplay also causes the game’s difficulty to ramp up very quickly and without warning, mainly due to how you can’t take a lot of damage and that the game spawns three or more enemies who then all take a shot at you at once and you die instantly. This typically happens after you clear a corridor and trigger the scripted event at the end of it. This is where more trial and error comes in, especially if you don’t know where and when they’ll spawn so you can get behind cover. This gameplay is further entrenched in other situations where there’s no usable cover; e.g. you’re coming down a flight of stairs when enemies have spawned from an area you just cleared out, or you come out of the water and have to find cover immediately. This makes dying an all too frequent affair because you think you’re safe when you aren’t, and you have to go back to the checkpoint which almost always forces you to tackle the difficult sections again. I found the whole process very infuriating and demoralizing, and I’m sure many other players will feel the same way.

The cover combat is broken in several ways. The first is the damage system: you’ll take the same amount of damage while reloading and hip firing behind cover as you would if you were facing your enemy head-on. The second is that the AI has perfect aim, thus making the task of reloading tedious. This is because your head moves slightly above the cover, giving the AI the advantage to do extensive damage to you. The only reason they miss—a rare occurrence—is because of the spread on the weapons. The third is that the edges aren’t consistent; e.g. a metal barrier can let someone shoot you from an angle but a box doesn’t suffer from this and vice versa. The fourth is that, when laying down suppressive fire while in cover, the AI will always advance on you. The only time they don’t is when they’re already behind cover, which takes out an element of strategy that should be there. The fifth problem is that, when you’re trying to move from one spot of cover to another, you can’t move quickly to the other cover point; the player has to leave their current cover to take advantage of a forward cover object. The sixth is that the amount of cover objects are limited, making advancement along a wall impossible because it isn’t considered cover when the corner of the wall is. The seventh problem is the lack of an HUD: your health is indicated on your back, similar to the Dead Space health system; and when you have two big weapons on your back, it’s very difficult to see. I can’t tell you how many times I died because I couldn’t see the health meter, and it didn’t help that it only indicates when you’re at either full health or about to die with nothing in between. The eighth and final problem is that the roll and cover functions are bound to the same button. Many times I tried to roll but took cover instead, or I would try to take cover and roll. This was especially problematic in some bosses fights, where the attacks can kill you in a few shots. The roll is also very short and doesn’t give the player enough time or leeway to duck behind cover.

The melee mechanic is also broken: you can’t use the melee attack unless someone is close enough to kiss you, which will then trigger a quick time event—and if they’re at arm’s length with a shotgun, you’re dead. This prevented me from using melee as an alternative form of combat because the third-person camera angle made it difficult to judge that small of a distance. There needs to be more leeway with the distance and have no quick time event at all, just a simple button for performing the action. These factors hinder the player too much as it is currently.

The water combat uses the same active cover system, but I found myself just using strafing techniques and passive cover (not activating the cover when prompted) more often than not because in water, you have an underwater jet pack. This wasn’t without its own problems, however: First, when fighting robots at a range, their shots auto-track, making this tactic useful only if you know where they are and get lucky with passive cover. I used my harpoon quickly to override the first one I met to be on my side for additional firepower. Second, the active cover puts you in the useless position of being limited to one side of the wall when the enemies could circle around it, and coming out of cover is slower then it is on land. Third, there are many invisible walls around the cover in small areas. I would try to get to cover when it was close to a wall or a rock, only to find that stupid invisible wall and then promptly die. This made using passive cover and strafing a no-brainier for me, and I’m sure many other players would feel the same. Finally, I also had some difficulty coming out of the water and going to land, usually with catwalks or ladders. This didn’t occur often, but it was frustrating when it did.

The AI is also predictable as it uses many of the same, repetitive animations when they’re under cover. This made some areas easy to pass when there were just a few combatants. However, when you’re being rushed by three or more enemies, this would become very difficult too fast because you had no way to fend them off efficiently because of so many factors working against the player, as mentioned in the cover problems. Now, many of these problem could’ve been resolved if the developers had included a different damage system while a player’s in cover or worked in a upgrade system for their weapons, armor, and grenades. There were a few notable AI-related bugs, like their firing into their own cover and continuously running into a railing while shooting. These kinds of bugs were few and far between, though, which isn’t an easy achievement for indie developers.

The game suffers from very repetitious gameplay, making the whole thing feel boring and uninteresting because you will feel like you’ve everything before you reach the second chapter. There are only two primary enemy types that you’ll encounter for about 40% of the game. Two or three different enemy types do appear sometimes, but it’s not often. When you get further along in the story, you’ll see another set of primary enemy types with different weapons and better armor, but you’ll also see the same animations and restrictive combat scenarios you saw in the first half of the game. The same problem is present underwater; only four different enemy types appear in these levels. Even the boss battles suffer from these same limitations: The first boss you encounter seems well thought out at first, but the core strategy you use against it will be the same you’ll use against the rest because they’re basically the same type of boss over and over. Again, this makes the game very boring early on, and you’ll feel like you’ve been there and done that before long.

The weapons are all pretty basic, but they all have their own unique feel, spray pattern, kickback, and sounds to them. The primary weapons are two large firearms, the SMG and the Shotgun, with limited ammo that can be swapped out; however, the pistol has unlimited ammo and can’t be swapped out. The ammo isn’t a problem for the SMG and Shotgun for the most part, but the unique weapons, such as the Rail Gun and Commando, have such a limited clip size and ammo cache that you’ll pass over them in favor weapons that have better capacity. I also found that the game punishes you for looking for ammo: In an area or room that I hadn’t been to—and didn’t have to go to—I would find myself being attacked by three or more guys frequently. As such, I learned to bypass these areas because I would either lose more ammo than I had before I walked in or die due to the high number of new enemies.

The grenades, like the melee, are also broken. The main problem is that, while in cover, your character will sometimes stand up to throw the grenade even if you tried to fire blind with a quick tap of the grenade button. The other problem is that you need to know the angle to aim your throw; to fire blind means wasting your grenades because the arch angle won’t appear unless you hold the grenade button for a few seconds, stand up, and then plan the shot. This means you can’t do this without taking a ton of damage. This makes another combat mechanic tedious and almost useless because you’re back to trial and error with either the lay of the land or being wasteful with your ammo count.

One positive aspect of the game is its music. It’s always tense and dramatic, which is the perfect kind of music to have in a game like this. The sound effects are loud and voice segments are clear, and they never gave me a problem at any point while I played. The enemy voice acting grew annoying after the first few levels, unfortunately, because they have these drawn out kill audio sequences. At first it was confusing, and I thought maybe there was someone else there—but when I realized what it was, it became annoying very quickly. That was my only gripe with the sound, though.

The graphics don’t take advantage of any advanced features that are used in DirectX 11, such as Tessellation, which is a shame because biEngine looks very similar to the Source Engine on land. The water effects both above and below are the real gem here. The use of Phsyx adds to the water effects in particular because of how the waves break on the surface, which is a real treat for those who have Nvidia graphics cards. The game runs very well, with quick load times and no problems with the framerate even with Surround enabled, despite this being a proprietary engine.

The controls indicated that the game was designed around a console’s gamepad, such as the aforementioned combined cover-and-roll button, but it doesn’t end there. The other indications include the lack of mouse sensitivity settings, no high-end graphics options, and the inability to change the keyboard bindings. The lack of control customization and visual preferences on the PC is a hot topic for those with disabilities, so it’s unfortunate to see the developer not consider all audiences in this title.

The game does have multiplayer, but because this review was written before release, I couldn’t test it. I can confirm that playing through the story unlocks special abilities, such as unlimited ammo. I couldn’t enable these features in the story, so I’ve concluded that these are multiplayer-specific. It was nice to see that players could join by IP address because this gives you the ability to play LAN or online games without hassle. The only reason I can think this was used was that the game wasn’t tied to any specific online distributor for the PC, such as Steam or Games for Windows Live.

In the end, Deep Black: Reloaded ultimately leaves the player feeling that it’s suffering from an identity crisis, where it can’t figure out whether it’s a cover-based game or a run-and-gun. I also foresee that those who do pick up this game won’t be finishing it. I know I wouldn’t have normally. The reasons for this are simple: there are just too many control problems, cover problems, and difficulty spikes that make this game too challenging in the wrong ways to be considered enjoyable.

* Water effects
* Efficient game engine
* Music and sound

* Gameplay needs more polish
* Difficulty spikes
* Cover and melee systems are broken
* Rolling instead of sprinting
* Player is punished for exploring
* Boring delivery of story
* Too much trial and error


Disclosure: The writer was given the game and a key to review it. The writer completed approximately 70% of the campaign on Normal difficulty. The time played was approximately 14 hours.


About Brandon Mietzner