Deep Black
A Deep Black Pit of Despair

By Seán O'Sullivan - September 21st, 2012


Deep Black is a fine example of what can often go wrong with game design. Allow me to sum up what the 505 Games design document must look like: “Let’s take the protagonist from Dead Space, the enemies from Killzone, and the game-play mechanics from Gears of War, and splice it with the opening cut-scene from Metal Gear Solid. Boom.”

Make no mistake, this is not a recipe for success. Deep Black is one of the most wretched third-person cover-based shooters I have ever played – possibly ever devised. Game-play consists of following the ever-present waypoint dragging you towards the next encounter, which is a godsend, considering how easily you would get lost in Deep Black’s identikit levels. Rooms filled with boxes connect via gangway to rooms filled with boxes, which connect via gangways to rooms filled with boxes. In each of these box-filled rooms, dumb enemies will take their prearranged positions, and one of them will charge headlong into your hail of bullets, as preordained by the unwavering scriptures. Amen.

How do I know this? Death comes regularly in Deep Black; because if you’re not availing of the horridly broken cover system, all of the enemies will shoot in perfect synchrony; and rather than a hero’s death, your avatar will feebly flop over into the clumsiest ragdoll you have seen within this generation. Your punishment for not having prepared for this predictable encounter is to be sent back ten agonizing minutes of frustrating combat, because the check-pointing is woefully inadequate*.

“This is what happens when you steal my lunch from the communal fridge!”

The only original feature is the underwater combat; but novelty alone doesn’t make something worthwhile. The controls adequately let you maneuver around with a tolerable of agility while submerged; but the same issues follow you into the drink. Now the bullet-sponges are robotic drones, and finding the sweet spots on the cover system is even jankier. The underwater sections consist of killing a few enemies in an open arena, destroying the mines that charge at you, then following the tunnel connecting to the next open arena, where enemies will attack you and mines will charge.

There are times that Deep Black feels like a brilliant satire, perfectly skewering the poorly-sketched macho action-hero archetypes, laughably ham-fisted exposition, and tropes of the genre that make no sense. Your adversaries can absorb a clip and a half of machine gun fire at point blank range, but will keel over dead immediately if you tap them with the butt of your gun. They let out big hammy screams for a good five seconds after their limp bodies have splayed out, and they like nothing more than congregating around the explosive barrels that are liberally placed around the base. Of course, all it takes is a few minutes of play to disabuse you of that notion – and it’s your boredom tricking you into gleaning some enjoyment within the over-recycled encounters of this shoddy product.

X-197 pondered why his singles ad got no hits and took comfort that his tears were hidden by the ocean.

I try to be respectful to game developers; however crummy a product is, there are people who sacrificed sleep, personal relationships, and their sanity in pursuit of bringing it into the world; but it’s remarkably difficult to find anything of merit in Deep Black. Even as a PS2 game, it would be unimpressive. The core game-play is repetitive and frustrating; the story is contrived nonsense offering no motivation to slog on; the graphics are muddy; and the character designs are cynical ripoffs from established franchises. I couldn’t recommend this game to even the most committed masochist.

* – My favourite example: if you mess up during the shooting part of the training, it sends you back to basic movement).
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