Inspired by ZX Spectrum and works of H. P. Lovecraft, Deep Ones is said to offer a philosophical story that will stay with you, long after you put down the pad. The game centers around a nameless protagonist that seemingly crashes his submarine, due to the persistence of the great red octopus that has a taste for ruining any traveler that comes in its path. Now, it’s up to Diver to traverse the dark and dangerous depths of the ocean in the hopes of getting back his trusty sub. Despite the promising story, the ultimate journey is hindered by poor design choices, unforgivable gameplay structure, and tedious controls.
The game starts out with you plunging further towards the depths of the ocean. Your first task is to acquaint yourself with the sluggish, at times delayed, controls. It becomes immediately apparent during your long trek to the right of the screen, that much of your time will consist of nothing more than bouncing from platform to platform, dodging the attacks of the ocean’s inhabitants. Before long, you’ll stumble upon the remains of a giant sea creature, serving as nothing more than a one way bridge that will crumble and fall as soon as you have crossed it. Everything up until this point in the game is well lit, which is something I should have stopped to appreciate a lot more than I did.
Let me explain. Deep Ones largely takes place in the underbelly of the ocean. The environment is almost constantly blacked out, lit by nothing more than a beacon on your person, and a few brightly colored inhabitants and environmental objects to help guide you on your way. Your beacon doesn’t shine very well, lighting up maybe three paces of your pathway. This is by far the most irritating design choice. Several times did I fall down and endless pit or misjudge a jump, simply because I couldn’t see where the hell I was expected to land. It leads to far too much trial and error, and inadvertently, too much expectancy on your memory as a result. It knocks any fun the game attempts to relay, right out of the water, so to speak.
Sure, coral and other sea-life will indicate that there’s a platform there, but more often than not, this is placed right on the edge of a platform, giving you a 50/50 chance of landing on the right side of progression. Diver can be hit a total of three times before being sent back to his last checkpoint, and if he falls to his death, it’s an immediate wipe. It doesn’t help that the game further tests your patience by not clearly defining what’s hostile and what isn’t. Take your very first walk, for example. There’s pink conch-like enemies all over the place, but amidst everything that surrounds these of similar design, you never know it’s hostile until it’s too late. The game boasts “unusual visual presentation”, and I can wholeheartedly say that that’s accurate. No, that’s not a compliment, quite the opposite in fact.
This is once again highlighted when you stumble upon your second enemy, the puffer fish. This creature will bulk-up and cause you harm for trying to walk by it, but again, you don’t know that it’s a foe until it’s too late. The design of this game is all over the place, and from beginning to end, feels like little more than a test of endurance rather than a fun and engaging experience. Eventually you’re given a gun to defend yourself, but this doesn’t make Deep Ones any better. Bullets will fire at a delayed rate, roughly a full second after you hit the button command. Bullets also seem to pass through most of the enemies, meaning that you’re tasked with dodging them without relying in your newly discovered weapon.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is where another issue with the game comes into focus. Jumping is floaty, and you’re not typically given enough distance to clear anything harmful. I have no problem with a game that wants to play on the precision of a player’s timing, but Deep Ones cant even seem to get that right. Those pink conch-like enemies will spit projectiles in two directions, every two seconds. When the platform you’re stood on is suspended above them, it’s easy to overcome. However, when you’re level with these foes, you may as well embrace the fact that you’re going to get hit. Rounding up the annoyance is that you can often hit the projectiles to destroy them, but you cant hit the enemy itself. Group this with the delayed shooting, which makes timing about as pleasant as a pin-ridden bed, and you’ve the perfect recipe for buckets of frustration.
That being said, Deep Ones does alleviate some of its issues with its gameplay structure by keeping the elements of play diverse. For instance, escaping the jaws of a giant shark is fun indeed, but these high moments are few and far between, and don’t collectively offset the several downsides. Deep Ones is also very repetitive, which is only made all the more apparent by its dull and uninteresting level design. I can appreciate that Deep Ones is inspired by ZX Spectrum, but that shouldn’t gate it from attempting to pull through some interesting locations. Instead, everything is boring to observe. If the bland visuals are not enough to derail any shred of enjoyment you’ll be having, the awful and highly irritating soundtrack will get the job done. Thankfully the selling point is spot on. Though, Deep Ones may be cheap, you’re practically paying to be pissed off.
Deep Ones is dull, uninteresting, annoying and poorly designed. Make no mistake about it, this is a game that will test your patience much more than it will your skill. The price tag may well be generous, but even then you’re practically paying to be constantly frustrated.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.