I approach a dark cave with my team of divers, illuminated by our flashlights and some pulsing, bioluminescent jellyfish. S.T.E.V.E., our submersible bank robber, is looting a safe nestled in the wall of the cave. We’re all two weeks from retirement and this is our last haul. Captain Stubbs is safely leading this expedition from his boat (he lost his arm in a bizarre arm wrestling accident, presumably). It’s at that moment I hear rapid tapping on glass and muffled cries – shark! We scan every direction and realize just how dark this little cave is… you can’t see more than a foot in front of your face. Jacques Cousteau (unrelated) is greedily ransacking the ocean floor for bits of treasure when two tons of predatory evolution slams into his torso, shredding him in front of us. I fire my harpoon and the shark goes belly up, but so has Cousteau. We sigh collectively – lightning doesn’t strike twice. It’s at that moment that two divers disappear, yanked into the dark abyss; the bits of treasure they were carrying tumble to the floor of the cave from a cloud of blood. Not only does lightning strike twice, but it’s apparently learning to work in tandem.
(Translated from Sharkenese:)
The intruders from above have returned, pillaging our underwater home, peeing in it, and leaving behind uncut six pack rings. They’re entering our secret underwater clubhouse that Jerry spent months, *months* filling with bioluminescent jellies – do you know how difficult it is corral jellyfish? They have no brains! We swim around them silently, keeping to the shadows. These humans are well-armed and fidgety. Jerry spots one stealing his conquistador treasure (Jerry had a lot of hobbies) and his black eyes, like a doll’s eyes, can only see red. He charges and snaps his jaws around the meatsack, shaking him mercilessly. In his fury he failed to notice the human with the primed harpoon gun (he was two weeks away from shark retirement). Seymour and I won’t be so reckless.
Depth is great fun; some of the best multiplayer I’ve experienced in 2014. It’s a simple enough concept – you’re either Team Tooth or Opposable Thumb. Humans have to gather treasure from the ocean floor and bring it to S.T.E.V.E. – money you make will allow you to purchase guns and items. After S.T.E.V.E. loots enough safes you’ll surface with the booty… assuming you live long enough. The sharks, meanwhile, have to stop you by doing what sharks do best. As they tear humans apart, destroy their environment, and slam into S.T.E.V.E., they’ll gain points to unlock perks that will better help them hunt. When the humans surface or either side runs out of lives, the game is over.
This kind of asymmetrical gameplay means you’re going to be playing two different games – one a pulse-pounding underwater horror shooting gallery, the other a twisted game of cat and mouse in which you’re the cat. The balance is some of the best I’ve seen in a multiplayer game. Neither side is overpowered, assuming you’re a team player. Humans need to stick together, avoid open water, and purchase items like mines and flares to even the odds. Sharks need to work together, hitting the group as a unified force and snatching any isolated stragglers. Sharks can also alter the environment, slamming into walls and ceilings to open up more directions to attack from.
On the graphics front this is one good looking indie title. Humans killed by sharks bob in the water, horrifically gored, and sharks gunned down loll and drift. The underwater worlds are beautiful and varied, from gloomy waters sullied by an oil rig disaster to clear blue tropical seas. And it’s all populated with marine life and awesome set pieces (WWII wreckage, decaying whale corpses). But things aren’t all lollipops and rainbows, no. I do have a few criticisms, namely lasting appeal. At the moment there’s only a few levels, three human skins, one kind of shark (Great White), and one kind of game mode. And while the bots are some of the best I’ve seen for a multiplayer game, this is the kind of game that benefits from you having some good friends to play online with. Hopefully there will be some updates and DLC releases adding those aforementioned features.
Overall I’m very happy with Depth. It’s surprisingly frightening to play as a diver, swirling around, peering into the gloom, knowing at any moment a shark can materialize and lunge. And it’s equally exhilarating to prowl around as a shark, plotting your next move. If you’re getting tired of the same old zombie/medieval/heist multiplayer, I’d recommend you grab a few friends and take a dip. The water’s just fine.