REVIEWS

AQUANOX DEEP DESCENT

Waterworld

In the world of Aquanox Deep Descent humanity has once again screwed up. Nuclear war has completely destroyed the surface of the planet and the surviving humans have been forced to take refuge in the depths of the ocean to survive. Even there, however, the sins of the past will not leave them alone, as the protagonists of the story awaken after a long cryosleep in an inhospitable and chaotic environment with multiple factions fighting for survival and domination. What is the reason for their initial freezing? Is there any hope for humans to return to the surface? And where did the mysterious nanoplankton phenomenon that transforms creatures of the deep into bloodthirsty beasts come from?

The mysterious substance of nanoplankton has turned creatures of the deep into rabid beasts.

Digital Arrow and THQ Nordic's game belongs to the action/simulation game genre, with the entire campaign taking place under the sea. The player or players, as the campaign can be played in co-op with up to four pilots, takes control of an underwater vessel with the necessary weaponry to face the multiple dangers of the dark and wet world of Aqua. The campaign progresses in a mostly linear fashion, although some side missions do occasionally arise, and online multiplayer is also offered which I was unable to try due to the pre-release code.

Deep Descent's main strength in the graphics department is undoubtedly the colourfulness of the environment and the successful rendering of the seabed.

A playthrough of the campaign on Normal difficulty level, including some of the side missions, took me a total of about 15 hours, so we can clearly say that the duration is satisfactory. In terms of quality, I would say that I enjoyed the campaign for the most part and any complaints are mainly focused on the production level, which is expectedly relatively low for a Kickstarter funded title. The environments, missions and general look of the game are decent, especially the underwater graphics impressed me in several places with their bright colours, but the limited budget is noticeable in areas such as the (at best mediocre) voice acting and the slightly animated but mostly static cutscenes. A very positive fact, especially considering I was playing with pre-release code, is that I didn't encounter any serious bugs and absolutely no crashes during my time with Aquanox Deep Descent, so you can buy the game on day one if you're interested in the title.

Dialogues use mostly static images, while cutscenes usually have limited animation.

With the exception of a small amount of exploration to search for resources to build upgrades for your ship, the rest of the gameplay is focused on fighting enemy submarines and underwater monsters. The physics model is mostly arcade but has touches of simulation to make it feel like you're in water, with inertia affecting the ship's movements to some extent. Combat does have its strong points when facing multiple opponents and you have to make the most of the available space and weaponry, however it loses points in the AI department, with several opponents refusing to do any particular manoeuvres and usually liking sniping from a distance or continuous close-range fire while sitting still.

Enemies are generally formidable but usually rely on strength of numbers rather than skillful manoeuvring or clever use of the environment. The enemy AI is rather simplistic.

Also, while there are several capital ships in the game, the campaign missions do not include a battle against them as the developers preferred to repeat three times what is essentially the same battle with a huge underwater beast. This kind of indirect copy-pasting is clearly another example of the limited budget the developers had to work with. However, there is a wide variety of both underwater vessels and weaponry so you always have something new to try during the campaign, and unlocking them is generally done in the right flow so there are no major gaps in the supply of new equipment.

Capital ships (okay, capital subs) appear at various points in the campaign but unfortunately they are not used as boss battles.

The overall impression I got from Aquanox Deep Descent is that of a title that has all the individual building blocks to produce a truly quality action-simulation game. What's missing, what the developers failed to add, is the extra level of attention to detail that too often makes the difference between a good game and the top titles in the genre. Details such as lines of dialogue that foreshadow a major plot development not ending prematurely, or cutscenes integrating smoothly with the action and not leaving logical gaps. Details like the enemy AI activating as soon as it detects a shot coming its way and not sitting idle when the player fires a long-range weapon.

It is advisable to collect any salvage you find on your way so that you have sufficient resources to buy new equipment.

The last few paragraphs had a negative connotation but I must stress that my experience with Aquanox Deep Descent was for the most part clearly positive. The campaign is interesting, the missions provide plenty of action, there is a variety of craft and equipment and the deep sea environment has been beautifully rendered. I'm just slightly disappointed that Digital Arrow failed , or perhaps didn't have the resources available to do so, to push the game froma respectable "good" to the next level. Of course it is debatable whether this is feasible for a genre that is no longer mainstream, so necessarily the development budget will be comparatively limited. In any case, I think Deep Descent is a worthwhile purchase if you have an interest in the genre, even if it's not going to be remembered for very long.

RATING - 80%

80%

Good

A perfectly honest effort from Digital Arrow, but one that could have reached greater heights with a little attention to detail.

Admiral

A dedicated PC gamer, Alexandros plays everything depending on the mood of the moment, but shows a preference for turn-based strategy, RPGs and considers UFO: Enemy Unknown as the best game of all time. Otherwise, he tries to hide his turtle-like reflexes by avoiding competitive multiplayer because, as he says, "it doesn't suit him" and is looking for ways to get the "Church of Gaben" recognized as an official religion in his country.

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