Reveal the Deep might be bare on the instructions side, but the title more or less gives you all the information you need. A lone deep sea diver, trudging around in gear similar to Bioshock’s Big Daddy or a pre-Delta Johnny Topside, you find yourself on the deck of a hollow ship’s carcass, not the kind with sails and a sensual mermaid figurehead but the kind with an industrial steel hull and questionable crates lurking at the bottom. Reveal the Deep is an exploration-platformer with wonderfully simple pixel art which quickly turns unsettling. Waiting for a soundtrack to chime in, I paced my way back and forth across the deck until I realised that the only sounds that would be accompanying me would be heavy clanks and groans from the pulsing sea inside the ship’s innards.
Games which spoon-feed you controls and instructions make me want to bang my head against a wall – after all, how difficult is it to assume that A and D move you from side to side and spacebar invariably comes in use? Reveal the Deep gives you the basic controls to begin with and then leaves you alone to figure out that turning your helmet light off casts you into a wholly different world: the past. Gone are the decrepit steel walls, gone are the broken floors on which your metal boots stamp. Instead there are wooden floorboards linking you to distant rooms; paintings on the cabin walls; the murmur of voices in the canteen. Journals and letters appear on tables which reveal the malaise of the ship’s Victorian passengers, who begin to suspect that something is not quite right with the crate that has been recently boarded onto the ship. As your arm reaches up to tap your helmet your light flickers back on, pushing you back into the decaying ship. The first chapter of Reveal the Deep is a slow burner, based mainly on exploration and getting a feel for the story of why this ship ended up at the bottom of the ocean. But lingering on the edges of the first chapter are glimpses of burningly bright eyes in the dark, slashing tendrils whipping at you from innocuous holes in the ship’s walls. Solving puzzles as you go, you voyage deeper into the hull to begin chapter two.
Like something out of H.P. Lovecraft, the interior of the ship becomes wreathed in black sludge. Statues that look unnervingly human protrude from the floor, only to crumble into dust when you get near. From the dust rises something small, round, black, with bright eyes and a wide toothy smile…but at the sight of your light it flees, screeching. Chapter two is where the creatures which lurked on the edge of your sight before become bolder and torpedo towards you with high pitched cackles. What was the occasional enemy at the beginnings of the level turns into dozens, appearing in front of you and behind, though easily scared away by your beam of light. But when you can only shine it in the direction you’re facing traversing chapter two quickly becomes a case of sporadically switching which way you’re facing to chase off the hordes, which can become tiresome.
Is it you, the deep sea diver, or the ship which is in a strange liminal place, swinging between the present and the past? It doesn’t take long to figure out that the creatures lurking in the hold are a product of that malicious crate which so many of the journals warn about, so it’s not difficult to see where the game is going. Nor was it difficult to see what the effect of Reveal the Deep had on me; I now have a gentle thassalophobia (fancy word for seeing the sea makes my knees feel a bit like jelly) and the thought of deep sea diving is something I doubt I will ever be comfortable with.
Image courtesy of www.lgdb.org.