Believe it or not, people aren't eager to interact with water in the third-person shooter genre. More often than not, water usually means instant death, sluggish controls, or an element that artificially makes levels more frantic since you have to reach air pockets before drowning. Few games use water, so it's interesting when a game developer focuses on it. Such is the case with Deep Black: Reloaded, a third-person shooter from Russian developer Biart that tries to incorporate water and land battles into a thrilling shooting experience. Unfortunately, the game comes together in such a way that neither element is thrilling, making what could have been an exciting game simply mediocre.
Things start off badly with the story, which is both generic and forgettable. Decades from now, the United Nations will split apart into two warring groups formed from the world's six major nations. Aside from the armies of those groups are the private military corporations that sell their services to the highest bidder. You play the role of Syrus Pierce, a former lieutenant and mercenary who retired after a botched mission against a terrorist group. He comes out of hiding after hearing of that group's hostage situation aboard an underwater military base. Upon arriving, Pierce realizes that things aren't what they seem, and he tries to uncover the truth.
The premise isn't helped by the story's progression, especially when it comes to the dialogue. Often, your character mentions a story element that is a pivotal plot point. Later, you'll mention the same element again as if it were new information, and it'll be treated as such. It's almost as if the writer forgot the important points and wanted to mention them twice to cover the bases. The game also does a poor job of setting up everything so you'll get acclimated. The introductory video, for example, mentions what happened but does so in a mundane way so you don't care about it. This makes the story elements confusing unless you go outside of the game to read about the plot.
Deep Black: Reloaded plays out like any cover-based third-person shooter. You can take cover behind most objects and peek out to hit an enemy. You can also throw some blindfire as long as you don't expect accuracy. Your arsenal is limited to two guns at a time, along with grenades and a pistol with unlimited ammo. You can't jump over objects or hurdle over them, but you can do a defensive forward roll, and you can perform one-hit melee kills.
Based on ground combat, there are a myriad of issues that make the game feel messy. Being unable to jump or clamber over low obstructions is one thing, but his slow movements don't make him look like a competent soldier. Every movement has you starting from a slow walk to a jog, but it feels sluggish, especially with no sprint or boost for quick movements. The defensive roll also seems useless since it takes time for your character to get the roll started, and the roll doesn't cover too much distance. You'll still be vulnerable to gunfire and melee attacks when rolling, so the idea of it being defensive quickly gets thrown out the window. Performing your own melee attacks leaves you open to gunfire, and doing so in a crowded room means that you'll be taken out at the same time that your knife blade stabs your victim.
No matter what happens, cover only offers partial protection from gunfire. Even if you stay perfectly still behind the edge of a wall or concrete barrier, you'll be hit by a few bullets, prolonging your red state as you wait to regenerate health. Throwing grenades also exposes you to gunfire since even a quick throw results in a considerable amount of time passing before the projectile is lobbed. The attack feels useless since grenades do little to no damage against the enemy. When placed at an equal distance, for example, explosions from barrels will kill the enemy more often than grenades.
The way Deep Black: Reloaded handles damage is probably one of its bigger issues. Enemies of the same type fluctuate wildly when it comes to damage absorption. Some helmetless enemies go down after one headshot while others can withstand a few shots. Body shots are the same story, where some enemies can only take a few bullets while others of the same type need a whole clip before keeling over. That fluctuating damage system also affects you. There are times when you'll die before the screen has a chance to go red, and there are times when it feels like you can withstand a full-on assault. The system is both confusing and frustrating, and it acts as more of a game deterrent than something players want to experience voluntarily.
As mentioned earlier, one of the hooks is that there is a substantial amount of underwater action. Throughout the early levels, you'll pass through submerged sections, which give you the chance to fight underwater in ways that are both similar and different to fighting on dry land. You can move vertically as well as horizontally, and while you may not have regular defensive maneuvers, you can initiate a temporary speed boost. You can take cover behind objects, and your guns work as well as they do on land. The biggest addition to underwater combat comes in the form of your harpoon, which is a quite the multifunctional tool. You can use it to stun some drones or reprogram them to fight for you. You can use it to open up locks from a distance and pull in nearby ground soldiers for a quick kill via stabbing and drowning.
The excitement of underwater combat dies down rather quickly once you notice a few things. You can take cover, and while you can move horizontally in cover, you can't move vertically in cover. You have to fudge this by leaving cover, moving up or down, and then going back behind cover; this completely defeats the purpose of having the game mechanic in the first place. All of the drones you face can be defeated with the same button used in every Quick Time Event (QTE), robbing the battles of any variety and making them very predictable. Even though you can try to reprogram the drones, the process asks you to constantly keep the target drone in your reticle, and considering how slow the process is, you'll die more often than you'll succeed. Given how often this appears in the tutorial level, it would be suicide to try this in actual battle. What really robs the underwater sections of any wonder is the fact that they're used as transitional pieces. Most of your fights are above-ground, while your time spent underwater mostly has you going from one ground area to another. To that end, it doesn't feel that different from the action in other third-person shooters.
This doesn't make the game sound fun, but there are a few more things that sour the experience. Just about every enemy takes on predictable patterns regarding where they take cover and the process for popping out of it. Even when shifting from spot to spot, they'll take the same locations at which their comrades fell and peek out before standing to fire before repeating the process. Sometimes, they'll rush toward you and wait to be killed; while you'd expect that from melee characters like the engineers, the so-called stealth soldiers do this as well. Then you have the guns. As generic as they are, it often feels like the standard machine gun is the best all-around tool, as the newer weapons either lack accuracy or feel much weaker.
The multiplayer mode in Deep Black: Reloaded feels as generic as the rest of the game. The mode supports up to eight players and offers two game variations: DeathMatch and Team DeathMatch. There are five maps, with only one looking like it provides a combination of water and land combat; the other maps go for one environment or another. Confirming this, however, is rather difficult since no online game could be found during the review period. With other reviews citing the same problem at the game's launch, it is highly unlikely that anyone will find out how well the multiplayer performs unless they find a small group of people who are willing to try it out.
The sound fluctuates wildly between good and bad. The effects are done well, with gunfire and explosions having just the right pitch and bass. The music is generic action movie music, and it fits the atmosphere. Oddly enough, the music for the action segments doesn't stop when all of the enemies in an area are dead, but it does halt when you cross an invisible line. The break from traditional behavior can be confusing for those who are used to action games norms.
Then there are the voices. The delivery is fine, but far too often, it feels like the same actor is trying to do too many roles with little to no variation, so it's confusing for the player to follow along. Some of the enemy's lines are nonsensical. More than a few times, they shout at their comrades about their activities … when no one else is in the vicinity. Their death cries are also over the top but hilarious because they're extended long after the body goes lifeless. It gives the player something to laugh about as other things fall apart.
Considering that the developers are using a proprietary engine, the graphical work is pretty well done. The environments are detailed well, and the lighting is fairly impressive as it casts shadows in just the right places depending on the light source. Water environments are even more impressive, as the engine handles both the murkiness of the aquatic environment and the constantly moving vision of items above the water in a realistic fashion. All of this comes at a price, however. The minimum system requirements ensures that, even with the effects turned to their lowest settings, the frame rate still stutters as you march through indoor and outdoor environments. Unless you have a high-end rig, you'll have to do some tweaking to get things running at an acceptable level. Particle effects, like bullets hitting steel. actually go through cover objects. An electric ball hitting a steel box shows the ball's splash on your side of the box as if the attack were coming from someone behind the camera instead of in front of it. Then there's the issue of character design. Enemies look fairly generic, but your protagonist looks like a mash-up of Isaac Clarke's Dead Space outfit with a Space Marine helmet from Halo 3: ODST. The underwater jets on the shoulders and feet make the look more interesting, but it doesn't feel like an original character design.
The controls also provide the only other bright spot — mostly because it supports control pad play. The standard keyboard/mouse combo works well enough, but the constant button-mashing of the F key during underwater drone encounters might alarm some players. The positioning of the harpoon key and the lack of key customization will annoy others. Precision might be lowered with the use of a control pad for a shooter, but the more comfortable placement of the harpoon button is a decent trade-off.
Deep Black: Reloaded shows potential that may never be reached. The proprietary engine shows some promise, and the underwater action isn't that bad compared to what other games try to do. However, the land-based gameplay is quite poor with pretty bad AI, and the hit system lacks consistency. Your hero lumbers around way too much to make the player feel powerful, the weapon variety isn't imaginative or useful, and the water mechanic isn't used for anything interesting. With nothing of value to bring to the table, there's little reason for anyone to pick up this game over other, better executed titles.
More articles about Deep Black: Reloaded