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Deep Black: Episode 1 review (Xbox Live Arcade)

Deep Black Screenshot - 1102576

There is no shortage of third-person action games on the Xbox 360.  A number of folks still engage in Gears of War multiplayer on a daily basis; Dead Space’s first two chapters have been excellent, with a rumored third game on the way; and Red Faction Armageddon, despite its weak sales numbers, was better than initially expected.  That said, there’s always room for one more, and while Deep Black: Episode 1 isn’t likely to land a huge audience, its interesting premise makes up enough for its pratfalls.

The game has you infiltrating an enemy base that’s hidden underwater and surrounded by threats that are both human and automated, with guards patrolling the area and robots threatening you through certain sections.  Deep Black livens up the usual “shoot everyone” formula by throwing in a couple of neat concepts.

Perhaps the most innovative idea here is being able to battle enemies underwater.  While Deep Black does offer combat that’s on the surface, fighting in the wet stuff is even more enjoyable.  The cover system is effective, and being able to swim around to a better guidance point and get the jump on someone unsuspecting is rather cool.  The only downside is when you run into an enemy who gets the jump on you — like a sentry — you’ll need to dispatch them by rapidly hitting the B button.  It’s not bad the first time you do it, but by the tenth, it gets a little old.

The other aspect of the gameplay that really stands out is your harpoon.  You can use regular firepower in the game, like a shotgun or an assault rifle, but the harpoon is quite useful for nailing enemies that are on a higher level than you.  In addition, it can activate certain switches so you can keep going, as well as temporarily delay scanner robots, giving you the prime opportunity to move ahead.

While the underwater combat is excellent, the ground combat needs a little work.  The aiming system is all right, but when you’re hiding behind cover above sea level, you tend to take a few cheap hits — even if you’re out of range.  What’s more, the game lacks consistency in terms of your damage level.  One minute you can take five slugs and shrug them off; the next, you’re dead after a couple of quick shots.  The same goes for when you’re killing enemies.  One guy goes down easily, and another takes at least six slugs before even indicating he’s hit.  This area of the game could’ve used a bit more work — or at least a patch.

Deep Black looks pretty good for a downloadable shoot-em-up.  While there are some issues with loading (sometimes the game freezes up as it gets to the next section), the environments are very good, and the effect of coming out of (or going back into) the water appears very lifelike.  Some of the animations could’ve been better, but overall, this game has ambience to spare.  Not bad for something that’s been dwelling in development for two years.

The audio, however, isn’t nearly as good.  While the in-game music cues are decently placed, the dialogue is just plain bad.  Your partner drones on in a rather bland tone, even if you come under fire, and your hero doesn’t exactly sound confident in his mission.  The bad guys don’t sound too serious either.  It’s almost as if this portion of the game was dialed in.

Containing about five hours’ worth of play and plenty of satisfying moments to kill guys with your harpoon, Deep Black: Episode 1 isn’t a bad way to spend a Friday night.  While the hit consistency is questionable and the audio is intolerable, the action sort of makes up for it, provided you know what you’re doing.  Plus, it actually gives you something to do underwater, besides just swimming around.  Try the demo and see if it’s worth getting wet with.  

Above Average

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Robert Workman
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