Originally released on the PC as a complete package titled Deep Black Reloaded, developer Birat has decided to break apart the 40 missions and release it on XBLA (PSN coming soon) as two episodes. Deep Black Episode 1 presents an interesting hybrid of third-person shooter played out on land and underwater and judging by the screenshots alone gamers may be enticed to take this game for a swim. Unfortunately the final product is a perfect example of a great idea that was executed poorly.
In Deep Black: Episode 1 you play as retired solider Syrus Pierce, whom is forced back into action by his former general to go on a one-man army battle against a group of terrorist who wish to acquire biological weapons. The game doesn’t really offer any backstory on the characters, nor does it weave much of an interesting story. Much of Pierce’s interaction with his contacts at HQ take place during some quick cutscenes. Voice acting ranges from acceptable to unbearable, characters are mostly dull and make awkward jokes (especially his cliche Latina contact), and the story quickly devolves into a blur of typical sci-fi mission objectives. Graphics for the most part feel like a standard low budget Unreal shooter, despite the game being on a proprietary engine. The exception is some of the underwater sections, which do showcase some reasonably impressive lighting effects.
The gameplay is set up as your basic third person shooter with a very simplistic and extremely problematic cover system. Sometimes the cover mechanic will work and sometimes it won’t, it all depends on what wall you are hiding behind. In the heat of battle this became an issue because too often multiple enemies came into a room and without proper cover they will kill you within seconds. Another fault is that once you are behind cover you do not have the capabilities to direct Pierce to new cover while under heavy fire. Once you’ve played games like Gears of War and Vanquish in which this functionality is implemented you quickly realize how much you miss it when you no longer have it. The cover system is also pointless when you are engaged in some boss battles. Most bosses can be easily defeated with the use of a rocket launcher but once it’s equipped you no longer have the option of using cover and toggling between guns will waste precious time – most likely leading to your death.
The gun variety consists of your standard unlimited ammo handgun along with about 5 other guns that you can rotate within your arsenal. You also have access to EMP grenades that stick to walls when thrown and cause little to no affect on enemies unless they land next to explosives. Enemies themselves were often bullet sponges who could suck up nearly a whole clip of ammo (unless of course you performed a headshot). Death comes at a near-constant rate (even on the easy setting) in a five-hour campaign that feels twice as long – thanks to a the boring and repetitive environments. Ill-placed checkpoints further box you into tricky scenarios when you re-spawn, or they make you replay lengthy segments over and over again.
The character animations on land are mechanical. Pierce has the ability to roll but does not have to option to sprint to cover. The roll animation looks so out of place that it doesn’t even look like he is touching the ground. The enemy variety is lackluster and the AI is questionable. One enemy type that I found the most amusing was the Stealth Agent. He would come running at you and for no apparent reason perform the same terrible flip animation. The game tries to convey that he is lethal through some dialogue but as soon as the flip animation is over all you have to do is press B for a quick melee kill. The “death screams” of the enemies on the other hand are hilarious. They are so loud, elongated, and out of place that I couldn’t help but laugh when an enemy was shot dead and he still managed to let out a moan.
Besides the cover system and poor maneuverability on land, the underwater sequences also suffers from poor cover mechanics and repetitive style missions. The enemy variety underwater consist of robotic enemies and some humans. You will move from tunnel to tunnel, launching your retractable grappling hook to hijack select robots and to hack into control panels in order to unlock gates and drop ladders. You can also use your hook to pull enemies standing near the edge of the platform into the water for a quick one-button kill. It’s a cool concept and reminds me of Scorpion from Mortal Kombat but it’s a shame that you cannot use the grappling hook on land to execute the same one-button kills. The underwater sequences are really what Biart tried to do to set this game apart from other third-person shooters but it just ends up being a boring and repetitive concept. One plus with the underwater sequence is that I enjoyed the way Pierce controlled as he nimbly maneuvers through caves with the help of jet propelled boosters.
Up to 8 players can play online in either Deathmatch or Team Deathmatch modes. I was unable to find anyone online playing Deep Black so it will not be fair for me to comment on the multiplayer options. But from the single player experience alone I could not see it getting any better. Overall, Deep Black Episode 1 does not feel like a complete package, not because it’s only half a game but because it doesn’t execute anything particularly well. It is a decent, bar bone third-person shooter with an interesting underwater section, but the lack of story, spotty enemy AI and hit-n-miss cover system dampers the entire package.This is a perfect example of an episodic content game that will surely lose a majority of its audience after the first episode.
Release Date: April 25, 2012 • Publisher: 505 Games • Developer: Biart • Genre: Shooter • ESRB: Mature • Multiplayer: 2-8 online • Achievements: Easy • Cost: 800 MS Points ($10)