'Wing Commander underwater' - that was my first impression as I began playing Deep Fighter. As I played it some more, differences began to crop up, but the similarities far outnumbered the differences. So, for those of you with short attention spans or who don't care for my distinct brand of rambling, you can simply read 'Wing Commander underwater,' glance at the rating at the top of the page, and go read something else on the site - that's 95% of the story. For those of you who are left, both of you, I shall now elaborate.
This whole game takes place underwater (no kidding), but it's not a deep and featureless ocean scoured clean of all sea life (like NY Harbor)- this looks more like SCUBA diving in the Caribbean. Mostly the water is shallow, merely a couple of hundred meters deep, and you can always see the surface or the bottom or frequently both. Some areas are like small rivers that aren't deep enough even to cover your entire sub with water. The whole place is teeming with life: various fish and crabs, insects and plants - Hey, I'm playing Wing Commander in an aquarium! In what is now a rather familiar formula to gamers everywhere, you get a mission briefing, and then go out and do the mission, the objectives of which are sometimes modified through scripted events. Complete the mission and move on; die and you have to go back and try it again. If you fail some of the mission objectives, the mission tree continues (I don't believe it forks), but I think later missions become more difficult because of it. I'm not entirely certain about that. Frankly I haven't completed this game yet, which is something I usually like to do before writing a review, but Deep Fighter has so many missions it will probably be Xmas before I'll get it done. I know how far along I am because the object of the entire game is to complete a mothership of sorts to take your people to somewhere nicer, and when you load a game it tells you what percentage of the mothership was completed in your last save. Anyway, I've failed some missions and the game and the plot are still moving along, so I don't exactly know the penalty for failure. Also, the game autosaves after each mission so it's a little difficult to go back and try different pass/fail mission alternatives.
The things that make it seem so much like Wing Commander are the missions themselves. Go out and destroy enemy subs. Escort this vehicle to that location. Go investigate that area. See? There are some other types of missions (mine some minerals, a race against other sub pilots, stock a fish farm), but once I had the WC metaphor in my head I couldn't shake it. You even sometimes have wingmen like in WC, and just as in WC they are pretty much clueless. If Deep Fighter had a kill board, I think it would show the usual 300 kills for me, 10 for them, but it doesn't. Also absent is the boasting of the WC wingmen. Long live the Maniac. Another interesting deviation from the WC formula is the inclusion of, I can't think of a better way to describe them, boss levels. Some missions pit you against a giant something - jellyfish, fly, electric eel. These levels are a little frustrating as you need to figure out how to kill the boss, what its weak point is, and it can take you a bunch of tries, and you have to keep doing the mission up to that point over and over. The kind of thing that makes you want to yell at your computer "Why won't that f**ker die?!?" I'm sure it's something with which each and every one of you is excruciatingly familiar.
You fly a single-man combat submersible (think: The Abyss with guns). For an underwater craft it's pretty maneuverable, but the whole pace of the game is a little slower than the typical combat flight sim. Buoyancy, sink, float, drift - it's all in there, and the underwater physics engine is absolutely the best I've ever seen. As the mission tree proceeds you get the opportunity to fly different crafts of varying capabilities with multiple weapon systems. The enemies consist of various hostile sea life forms and an enemy race called the Shadowkin, but the weapon systems don't seem to recognize the sea life as hostile, so gun emplacements won't fire on them and guided torpedoes won't lock. That seems like a pretty major oversight on the part of your weapons manufacturer, especially when a barracuda-like creature is gnoshing on your sub. While I'm on the subject, the weapons are wildly misbalanced. The guided torpedoes are fast, highly maneuverable, pretty much never miss, and two can destroy almost any enemy sub that I've run across. By comparison, The energy cannon is completely unguided and takes a dozen or more hits to destroy the enemy. While you acquire more damaging guns later in the game, the guided capability can't be beat even with the additional lock-on time required for the guidance to work. Since you get to choose your weapon loadout, never leave the dock without a pack of guided torpedoes; but of course, they won't help you with the angry crabs. There's an oddity - you're in this high-tech, one-man sub loaded with weapons, but crabs and fish are a serious threat to you. How strange is that?
This game is beautiful, not the Ground Control level of wow, but very good looking. The fish are swimming around, rays of sunlight shine from the surface and cast beams in the water, crabs skitter across the ocean floor, and the propellers from your sub and others churn up bubbles. Driving around during one mission it got darker (presumably sunset), and then there was a sort of silvery light from the moon. I should have surfaced and given it a look, but I didn't. Probably my loss. At extreme depth, the only light is from luminescent plants, fish, and the lights on your sub. The area lighting is extremely well done (I really can't stress that enough) with pools of light near the creatures and beams of light from you. In all the graphics I saw only two weak points - boulders looks oddly too perfectly spherical, and subs kind of explode a little and break apart when they die, but some sort of implosion graphic would have been much cooler. Sounds are sort of distant and echo-y, but that's probably what sounds outside a sub sound like to someone inside of it. That's a layman's guess - I've never been in a sub. As a whole, the graphics and sounds combine nicely to make me feel like a man in a can. In one mission I went too deep for my sub, and my windows started cracking under the pressure. I swear, I felt my ears pop. That's a gaming experience!
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