Unless you play on tc_meridian, TF2 has a depressing absence of sharks. This holds true for the rest of my Steam library as well. Luckily, Depth recently had a free weekend, and I got to fill this void, just like the sharks in that game got to fill themselves up with me.
I’ve always had an intense fascination with underwater combat in video games, partly because I’m mildly terrified of water in real life. I dedicated a whole article to what little of it exists in TF2, I can’t resist leaping into bodies of water whenever my gameplay crosses them, and one of the first times a game ever gave me a sense of genuine dread was when I had to jump into the submerged lab with the crossbow in the first Half-Life. See, the thing about water is that it’s a three-dimensional environment, so whenever a shooter/platformer decides they’re willing to rewrite their engine’s rules of gravity, physics and weapon usability to make it work, they’re often forced to keep such sections to a minimum anyway because, kinda like low gravity, it only seems to take away gameplay options without adding anything fun.
Not so in Depth, where the three-dimensional space is used to its fullest potential (which is appropriate considering the title). The locales you explore are vast and multi-layered, from sunken ships to temple ruins, and the diver who forgets to look up will soon be paying for his folly in shark teeth. The mechanics are deftly tuned to compensating for the unique environment, you can really feel that the devs crafted the engine around the gameplay.
I almost exclusively played the divers, since there were twice as many of them and I didn’t trust myself to live up to the sharks’ fearsome reputation, and the experience is really terrifying. There’s a reason every single Steam review finds a way to shoehorn the word “heart-attack” in; things often go from perfectly fine to hopeless in seconds when a shark shows up out of nowhere and lacerates you, your diver’s desperate knife stabs often serving only to punctuate the ultimate futility of fighting death. It’s a terror almost entirely composed of jump scares, but they don’t seem like a cheap copout because every one of them was your team’s fault somehow. The sharks are players too, and the game provides more than enough versatile equipment for the treasure-hunters to take care of themselves. Despite being one of the clearest examples of asymmetrical multiplayer in recent memory, the balance seems very fair and the better team is often the one who wins.
I also have to give massive kudos to the experience system for subverting everything I complained about in this article. Thanks to the fact that equipment is purchased during a session Killing Floor-style and the extracurricular XP system adds new equipment options rather than buffing old ones, the weapons are both skill-indexed and balanced for both new and old players. Beginners can trust that their equipment options are just as powerful as anyone else’s, and veterans are rewarded for their loyalty with new sidegrades to play with. DLC so far has been restricted to only skins, but this is a model that I think could even get away with new game-changing weapons. However it’s a real good mark in the dev’s favor that they’ve chosen to avoid this, releasing all new maps and sharks completely for free.
Depth is one of those new games that comes out and totally manages to surprise you. For once I feel like a modern game has caught my interest, filled me with hype, and then proceeded to exceeded my expectations. It really manages to capture the exact tone and feeling that you’d want in a game with this premise, while still reinforcing the core concept with a subtle combat system that masks a deep skill ceiling through easy-to-learn basics. Depth has, well, depth. Will you sink or swim?