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Indie Game of the Week 144: Reveal the Deep

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I suppose it was unavoidable that I'd pick a horror game on this particular date, given that Bonfire Night is only five days away with all its terrifying conflagrations and loud noises from the fireworks. Reveal the Deep might not be the scariest game I have in my Steam backlog, but it explores venues of the horror genre that few other games and media does: the suffocating claustrophobia of the deep sea, trapped in a diving suit and with nothing but darkness and waterlogged corpses all around.

Reveal the Deep is a 2D adventure game with some mild puzzle and platforming aspects; while the latter makes up the bulk of the gameplay, it feels the game developers were more in the mind of delivering a slow-burn spooky tale in an atmospheric location. Particular attention has been given to the sound design: the ominous creaks of the submerged wreck of 19th century steamboat as you pass through its innards are omnipresent, but you'll occasionally hear noises you can't account for too. One of the game's significant mechanics, which also complements this tense ambience, is that the player must turn off their diving suit's lamp to solve certain puzzles. The ship is in this accursed state of limbo, and when the lights are off some of the ship's areas glow with an unearthly luminescence that reveals how the ship appeared prior to its sinking, like a ghostly echo of the past. This past version of the ship might have a different configuration of platforms to navigate if the illuminated way was impassable, and several epistolary artifacts left by the ship's passengers - diary entries, unsent letters, sketches - can be perused in these snapshots of the ship's better days. It's not new to create a horror game where turning the lights off and plunging your own self into darkness is occasionally required, given the way it allows these games to overlap game mechanics with a means to force players out of their comfort zone in the manner all horror fiction should, but it's still used to great effect here even with the limited visuals of the low resolution pixel graphics. (It might be fair to say, even if it's a backhanded compliment, that the sound design is doing most of the heavy lifting in setting the mood.)

An example of a light-based puzzle. These blocks will only rise when the player's lamp is off, allowing them to reach new heights. However, when they're not floating, they can be pushed into opportune locations.
An example of a light-based puzzle. These blocks will only rise when the player's lamp is off, allowing them to reach new heights. However, when they're not floating, they can be pushed into opportune locations.

Reveal the Deep certainly isn't a long game - I logged about 100 minutes for my sole playthrough according to my Steam profile - but it rewards those who take the time to meticulously explore with more reading material and thus more context behind the calamity that caused the ship to sink to the ocean depths. The personalities and eventual fates of the passengers, the cause of the incident, the identity of the player character; some of these facts are weaved into what little story the game has but most are gleaned from wandering off the critical path and finding areas that might require a little more puzzle finesse to discover. I'm sure I left a few notes behind in my journey through the ship's hold, for as small as the game world is, because the maze-like design of the ship and the way new passages open up depending on whether or not you have your lamp on makes the wreck an occasionally challenging place to fully reconnoitre.

I'll be real: this game does a lot with very little. It's a small-scale, low-key underwater spook game that takes just over an hour to complete and works best as a brief chiller hors d'oeuvres on this most fearsomely festive night of the year. Don't go in expecting something as elaborately staged as something like SOMA: though there's certainly a lot of thematic similarities (both games seem obsessed with covering half their aquatic environments with weird black goo) we're talking several zeroes fewer on the development budget. If you're looking for an effective horror game on Steam that's more about suspense and ambience than gore, and only have pocket change to drop in the current Halloween sale, there are far worse options at your disposal.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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