We goin' deep sea divin'.....
I have this recurring wet dream...no, not those kind of dreams you pervert!! I mean the kind of wet dreams you get from watching too many "Jaws" movies and Jacques Cousteau documentaries. Anyway, in my dream, I'm in a submarine armed to the teeth with really funky weapons trying to recover strange orbs to activate the portal to access the next level. My submarine carries weapons with colorful names such as the Piranha Swarm and the Neato Torpedo. I have to use these weapons to beat the other players in this underwater scavenger-hunt and come out on top. The fate of the world lies within my grasp. I reach the final level and am about to stop the evil Dr. A. Pocalypse's devious world domination scheme when suddenly...I wake up in a cold sweat. It was all a dream...or was it? This is the reality of Single Trac's latest offering Critical Depth.
When you first play this game, the first thing you feel is a sense of a deja vu. This is understandable because the game plays like an underwater version of Twisted Metal with a storyline. It seems that strange alien orbs have been discovered in the ocean deep. These orbs, called Thresholds, hold the key to unimaginable power, and as such, are sought after by a myriad of colorful characters. These characters include Captain Cutlass (Har! Shiver me timbers), the Controlled Information Agency (government types), the Venganzan Liberation Organization (third world guerillas), Dr. A. Pocalypse (mad scientist bent on world domination), Soviet Die-Hards (self-explanatory), Professor Armstrong Iindiana Jones wannabe), Earth Hope (environmental folks), Mordrid Corporation (big business moguls), the Order of Nishroch (druids?), Jack Keon (another Indiana Jones wannabe), Joe Skullion (rock 'n roll dude), and the French Oceanographers (Jacques' lesser known brother Sam Cousteau). Each group has a different sub with a special weapon and is racing against each other to be the first to obtain the Thresholds which activates the portal to the next level. Scattered about the ocean floors are weapons that you can pick up and use against your rivals. Each sub also carries a default line of sight torpedo and four proximity weapons activated by key combos. In the Mission mode, you don't have to kill everybody to win. The idea is to collect all the Thresholds and go to the portal, but hey, where's the fun in that?
The graphics in Critical Depth haven't improved much from Twisted Metal 2 or Jet Moto 2. Objects still break into pixels when you get really close to them or if you run into them. The picture is consistently grainy and murky, but I guess that's good for an underwater game. There is no detail in the subs, but the different battlegrounds are well-created. I especially liked the Arctic with its enclosed spaces and the protruding stalagmites and stalactites. This level was perfect for ambushing enemy subs. The sunken nuclear submarine in the Bermuda Triangle was also a nice touch. The radar (sonar?) in the upper corner was good for locating other subs from far away and the target lock on was very helpful in up close battles. Unlike most other games that have lame-ass soundtracks, Critical Depth surprisingly does not. The background music is a combination of the mating call of the sperm whale and heavy metal, which at times is very ominous sounding and very appropriate for deep sea diving.
The game play is really slow, even in the fast mode. The fastest sub seems like it is moving through oatmeal instead of water. Finding other subs is a chore and you are better off waiting for them to get close to you and then ambushing them from above or below. The controls are easy to adapt to and once you find the right combination to suit your fingers, you are off to go hunting. This humble player used a variation of the Run n' Gun controls from Twisted which worked extremely well.
There are three modes available for playing. The Missions mode pits players against other subs in trying to get all the Thresholds. The Battle mode pits you against a solitary enemy sub and the object is either to sink your enemy or obtain all the Thresholds. The Death Match mode is purely a search and destroy mission. There's no pussyfooting around in this mode. It's sink or be sunk.
My biggest complaint has to be that there is only one view available. It would have been nice to be able to toggle between close and far views to see if anyone was behind me. Also, since the game is played in three dimensional space, depth becomes important as you never know who's lurking above you or below you. Still, the game has tremendous replay value and you can play it again and again and again without getting bored with it. Despite the less than stellar graphics and slow moving game play, Critical Depth is definitely a game worth having. Don't put it down for a second or you could find yourself resting in Davey Jones' Locker...Har!!!