The silent void of the ocean has long held spoils lost by man into its murky abyss. Who can say what untold treasures populate its great dark, awaiting retrieval from those willing to plumb its darkest reaches in search or riches. Fame and fortune await the bold, assuming you can make it back with all your limbs attached; you are not alone down there.
With Shark Week in full swing, we thought it far past due for a look at Depth.
Depth takes our fear of the deep and places it against our greed in a bold asymmetrical deathmatch package. Players experience the game in one of two roles: as a treasure hunting diver or a predatory shark. What results is a package that is parts Payday 2 and Jaws, with an experience that simply must be played for the full impact of that statement to be apparent.
As the divers, a team of 4 players (mixed with bots as necessary) select weapons and gear before dropping into via cage into the beginning of the match. You are accompanied by S.T.E.V.E., a submersible robot with a penchant for safe cracking. Steve will follow a predesignated route, stopping at multiple rust-encrusted lockboxes on the quest for booty. S.T.E.V.E. will require time at each of these areas to pick the locks, allowing time for the divers to explore and pick up scattered treasure about the map. These items could be fairly well hidden or right out in the open. As these treasures are returned to S.T.E.V.E., they are added to a group fund that allows the divers to acquire new gear when respawning.
Respawning, you say? But how would a diver expire? Well, while the wet-suited adventurers spend their time collecting gold, players of the shark team will be setting ambushes and picking them off, one by one. The shark team consists of only 2 players or bots, and with good reason: they are powerful killing machines. The sharks are best suited to planning their combat and fighting the divers on their terms. A full team of divers is often more than a match for a single shark. As they begin to disappear in the dark, however, the sharks pick up a huge advantage: visibility. True to form with reality, going deep into the map will rob the diver players of light. While they each have a flashlight, these beams are quite focused, and really only light up what you are looking at rather than an area. The sharks, on the other hand, see a lightened semi-grayscale version of the map, and are able to detect nearby divers via outline that is visible through walls. This results in many panicked moments, where your beam catches a fin or a flash in the darkness. Was that a shark? Or just a piece of rock or seaweed? These moments help to create an atmosphere of tension that permeates the game as a whole. Players can mitigate this a with gear: you can get flares and sonar buoys that assist in detecting sharks (although in many cases, canny sharks will eat these items to help them maintain a cover of darkness).
Sound also plays a large role in the atmosphere of Depth. As the entirety of the game is underwater, sound is quite a bit different than you might expect. Sounds are muffled, and do not travel nearly as far. You might hear a muffled grunt, only to turn about and realize your diving companion is gone, a simple red mist (and maybe a dismembered limb) the only evidence remaining that anything was there to begin with. The terrified gurgles will put your group on warning that danger is nearby. Sound does give an advantage to the divers, however. As sharks near a diver, the diver will begin to hear their heartbeat in their ears; the faster the heartbeat, the closer the shark. This interesting mechanic balances things a bit, and continues to apply a tense atmosphere. Its amazing how it affects players, even new ones. Almost anyone who has seen any part of Jaws immediately makes the logical leap to what the beating of the heart entails for them.
The weapons and abilities available in Depth are a bit different than what you’ll find in other games. Apparently regular guns don’t really work underwater. Who knew? This leaves divers with a few options. While guns are available, and are even the norm, they will have far less capacity than you’ll find in topside models, along with a bit less stopping power. Off-setting this however is the inclusion of spearguns. Silent and powerful, the speargun becomes a great equalizer underwater. These can sometimes kill smaller species of sharks in one well-placed shot. These are brought back into balance by their slightly longer reload time; make your shots count. The diver toolbox also includes pistols, mines, flares, sonar buoys, a treasure/shark detector, net gun, a portable underwater propulsion vehicle, bangsticks, and an underwater rifle. Many of these items (weapons in particular) can be further modified, either by being dual wielded or by equipping special ammo (such as bleeding, tranq, or slowing ammo). These items can be bought with team funds secured cooperatively.
The sharks by contrast have an “evolution” based upgrade track. Sharks begin with a few points to make starting selections, and gain additional points by eating divers. Sharks really only have 1 weapon: their vicious jaws, which are applied to divers via powerful lunges. Two different lunges are always available: a short, quick lunge for tight. confining spaces, and a longer lunge for open areas, that include a slight curve to aid in dodging projectiles. What sorts of upgrades could there be then, you ask? Increased blood flow for speed, the ability to regain health after exiting combat, and razor fins that do damage when passing by a diver are just a few of the options. Sharks don’t have ammo to manage, but rather have a stamina bar that dictates their combat abilities. This is used both to lunge and for sprinting. A successful lunge will have the hapless diver in your mouth (with them seeing an awful sight). Once the happens, the shark must shake the diver for increased damage, while the diver attempts to kill the shark by stabbing it with their knife. It can go either way once this happens, although in my experience, normally the sharks come out on top.
As for other player options, the divers can choose from 1 of 3 diver skins that have no affect on gameplay other than display. Sharks, by contrast, have multiple shark species that each have their own statistics. The mako, for example, is small and swift, and does well with quick ambushes, but falls quickly under focused fire. The hammerhead, by contrast, is a slower moving leviathan that gets more health and does more damage to the environment, allowing it to easily burst through breakable terrain for surprise attacks. This gives shark players something more to consider when beginning the game, as their choice will stick for the entire match.
The maps for Depth are excellent, and that is saying something. With gameplay all underwater, it adds an amount of verticality that might have proven difficult to get right. Developers Digital Confectioners have done a great job with their level execution. Maps each have eerie character that lends itself well to what this game does best: provide an atmosphere of heart-pumping fear. More maps have been added free of charge during the devs update process, and include such locations as sunken mines, derelict ships, and crumbling oil rigs.
While the normal gameplay involves following S.T.E.V.E. from location to location, gathering treasure and attempting to survive until the divers return to the semi-safety of your shark cage, 2 other game types are also available. Megalodon pits the diver team against 1 massive shark, while the newly added Hide and Seek changes the scene drastically. In Hide and Seek, its 1 shark against a full team of divers, without outlines to help them find the humans. The shark will be charged with ferreting them out, and as each human is killed, they respawn as a shark. Last man standing wins.
All told, Depth is a great new twist on multiplayer deathmatch that gets so many things right in unique ways. I’ve said it throughout this article, but let me reiterate just to drive the point home; the atmosphere of darkness and fear are what makes this game great. Everything about it’s execution was done to hone this part of the game, and damn it shows. There is a certain amount of terror that accompanies the thought of being eaten alive in the dark, and you will find that feeling throughout.
Seeing as it is Shark Week, Depth has been put on sale less than $10. You absolute cannot beat that price for what you get. Don’t believe me? Try it yourself; Depth is also free to play via Steam until the end of Sunday night. So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and eat, er.. meet some friends and get down on some Depth.