Despite drawing inspiration from AAA titles like Halo and Gears of War, Deep Black is atrocious. It has a generic, forgettable story told by flimsy voice actors, and the game’s muddy visuals make it difficult to muck through the campaign. Even worse, it suffers from a number of exceedingly poor design choices that plague it at the very core. It’s not just a bad third-person, cover-based shooter, but a black stain on gaming in general.
The PS3 version of Deep Black is the third iteration of the game to see release within five months, preceded by Deep Black: Reloaded on PC in March 2012 and Deep Black: Episode 1 on Xbox 360 a month later. In spite of the slight variations in naming, Deep Black for PS3 is the same crappy game it’s always been. Players assume the role of Pierce, a meathead who wants revenge on someone for some reason. He agrees to do a mission because he’s told it will give him a chance to get his revenge. Soon after, he discovers he was lied to and he won’t get his shot at revenge, but he decides to go along with the mission anyway. Turns out, there’s some kind of secret weapons project going on that a few global powers are vying for. Meathead runs around and shoots things to find out more about this secretive project. Oh, and he swims too!
Like developer Biart’s other game, Depth Hunter, Deep Black has a focus on underwater segments. Though it’s one of the game’s main features, this transition between land and sea can be jarring. The camera has a tendency to stay above water, and there’s often a delay before it follows Pierce into the murky depths. If any enemies await below the surface, they can often get the jump on Pierce since they’ll be temporarily obscured from view.
These sorts of ambushes happen throughout the approximately eight-hour campaign. They’re often fatal and occur on land as well. It happens far more often than it should: Pierce steps through a door only to find three or four enemies springing out of nowhere and gunning him down in an instant. Even with excellent reflexes, players will find themselves at the mercy of the game’s sluggish controls. Triangle performs a roll and Cross enters cover, but Pierce seems to enjoy taking his time to get situated. In most cover-based shooters if a player is in a vulnerable position while in cover, he or she can strafe left or right to a safer place while remaining in cover. Being a meathead, Pierce loves to pop his head up while moving in cover. Enemies love this too since it lets them shoot Pierce even more. Blind firing also makes Pierce vulnerable to enemy fire, and throwing a grenade is even worse. First of all, grenades of a tragically small blast radius and Pierce throws them in a strange arc that often sends them much farther than intended. Holding down the grenade button will display the arc before he throws it, but he actually stands up out of cover to do so. If he’s already standing in cover, like perhaps on the edge of a doorway, he’ll actually turn and stand directly in the doorway before throwing the grenade. Even just tapping the grenade button puts him into this lengthy and vulnerable animation.
Needless to say, dying is frequent, and checkpoints can be scarce. Even though the levels tend to be short, most could use a few more; some levels even lack checkpoints entirely. The developers placed the checkpoints that are there in some very inconvenient places. They’re usually before a cutscene, some in-game dialog, an elevator, or at the back of a long hallway. At least the cutscenes can be skipped, but be prepared to hear characters spout the same bad lines over and over.
Speaking of bad lines, nearly every enemy announces his presence with some form of the lines “Copy that, open fire,” or “Roger, going hot.” At the risk of sounding sadistic, killing them does offer a small amount of solace. The enemies let out some truly bizarre screams and howls, and they’ll even gurgle if they die underwater. These sound effects never truly ease the pain of playing through Deep Black, but they have to be savored since they’re the most enjoyable part of the game.
On the far opposite of the spectrum are the wretched turret sequences. They start out fairly standard, but later ones feature things like enemies spawning infinitely and these flying drones whose shots shake the camera grotesquely and obscure it with bright flashes of light. Obviously, it can be difficult to return fire under these circumstances, and some of the turret sequences take several minutes. In fact, I had played through a majority of the game on normal difficulty. One of the later turret sequences was insanely difficult. After numerous tries and no obvious way to complete it, I had to lower the difficulty to easy, and I’ve completed many of the Call of Duty games on veteran!
The game is also a mess from a technical standpoint. Most of the stock screenshots of the game look pretty decent, but the actual game dark and muddy. It can be difficult to see enemies farther than 15 or 20 feet away, especially underwater. Often times, I found myself shooting at dark shapes and muzzle flash. The framerate varies greatly. On rare occasions, it approaches 60 fps, but generally it hovers around what is probably 30 fps, dropping several frames here and there. In some instances, the framerate drops dangerously low, though this is uncommon.
There is a multiplayer mode in Deep Black. No one plays it. I tried several times to find a match and had no success. With only five maps and two modes, deathmatch and team deathmatch, there’s really no reason to spend time here. Then again, there’s really no reason to play Deep Black in the first place. If you do decide to take the plunge, play it on easy. It won’t eliminate cheap deaths entirely, though it should minimize them. Unfortunately, this makes a decent chunk of the game a cakewalk, but it’s an essential step to remaining sane.