Song Of The Deep
PC, PS4, Xbox One
This gear-gated bedtime story is the latest of a recent slew of in-house passion projects from heavyweight studios. A ten-hour undersea fable about an inquisitive and resourceful fisherman’s daughter who builds a rickety submarine to rescue her missing father, Song Of The Deep was inspired by creative lead Brian Hastings’ desire to create a positive role model for his own daughter. Merryn is certainly that: hopeful, courageous and impressively hardy. Alas, a similar combination of unblinking optimism and resilience is needed to finish her game.
For the most part, Song Of The Deep is content with being pleasantly unremarkable. Its aquatic setting never quite feels authentically hand-crafted, and it never inspires the sense of awe suggested by a lovely but overwrought soundtrack, which swells over new discoveries that rarely warrant such swooning.
As you head towards the next glowing X on your map, you’ll invariably bump into the odd barrier. Wooden obstacles can be punched through with your sub’s magnetic claw; for sturdier blockages you’ll need to drag around mines, which usually involves pulling them through narrow gaps before attempting to swing them into position and letting go without getting caught in their blast radius. It’s typical of the kind of cumbersome, patience-testing challenge here: you’ll often find yourself shunted about by sonar waves and strong currents, or slowly herding obstructive jellyfish with your headlights. Later, you’ll spend some time with an extended light-reflection puzzle, which involves repositioning a series of mirrors, and was almost certainly more fun to design than it is to play.
Exploration is prioritised over combat, which is sensible since the latter is rather basic. Your claw is enough to clobber most enemies; you can use missiles to deal with the rest. Yet the sub’s sluggish movement and the motor’s slow recharge rate discourages you from hunting the collectibles that would make probing these depths more palatable. The narrator’s presence, meanwhile, lessens the sense of discovery: it feels less like you’re venturing into uncharted waters so much as bumbling about before cueing up the next chapter.
If the storyteller’s soothing lilt encourages you to drop off, the closing stretch is a rude awakening, as you’re locked into cramped rooms stuffed with tedious volumes of bola-chucking anglerfish, spine-spitting urchins and clusters of jellyfish that rush you before exploding. Otherwise, Song Of The Deep is more successful as a lullaby than a fairytale: by the time you’ve beaten a lackadaisical final boss, you’ll probably be feeling pretty drowsy.
The more organic environments are among the prettiest in the game: presumably we’re supposed to be dazzled by an underwater city, but with its levers, gates and pressure plates, it can’t help feeling familiar