The deep-sea is one of the most atmospheric locations for a video game on the planet. Even if you're not making a horror game, simply setting your game at the bottom of the ocean is a great way of having the entire thing feel isolating and eerie. Of course, that doesn't necessarily work if you're making a 6-DOF shooter underwater, then populating the game world with characters taken from Privateer. AquaNox: Deep Descent is the latest entry in the AquaNox series, a couple of early 2000s underwater 6-DOF shooters, expected to be released at some point in 2020.
AquaNox: Deep Descent is a Kickstarter-funded resurrection of the original series presented by THQ Nordic. It was originally announced back in 2014 but was successfully funded in 2015, meaning that it has been in development for about 5 years. The story is present, if a little confusing. It's the far future and everything has gone Waterworld, except instead of being above the water, everything is going on down under. You play as one of several characters woken from deep-sleep to help out some faction or another in the new fish-eat-fish world that exists beneath the waves.
Despite my assertion that the deep-sea is an atmospheric location for a video game, that doesn't translate so well in AquaNox: Deep Descent. Rather than music and background audio that reminds you you're beneath the sea, you instead are treated to action movie-style music for the most part. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. After all, you're mostly fighting underwater pirates, so perhaps atmospheric wasn't what they were going for. It's a shame too because combat could have become more intense with the feeling of millions of tons of water threatening to crush you constantly on your heels.
The combat and controls are surprisingly intuitive for a game set underwater. WASD movement is pretty standard, and you can rise and sink on command which gives you those coveted 6-degrees of freedom we're looking for. You can also spring using your booster jets which is very useful if you're getting bored on a long journey and want them to be shorter. There's also a dodge mechanic to help you avoid taking a torpedo up the tailpipe when facing off against baddies.
In general, combat in AquaNox: Deep Descent feels okay so far. Not great, not terrible, just okay. When you're facing off against tiny little undersea critters they can be pretty hard to track, and your literal first mission in the game has you culling 100s of the little buggers, and it doesn't tell you that they won't stop until you take out the nest, so you end up either wasting all your ammo or just tanking damage from them to take out the spawners. Luckily you do at least start with a bunch of healing items to get you through.
The other bugbear in combat is when you're up against enemies with machine guns. Your dodge move works against missiles or other projectiles, but machine guns work like old-school hitscan weapons. If you dodge out of the way of machine guns, they just immediately seem to track to your new location and begin firing at you. When you have about 8 enemies firing at you they can chew through your shields in seconds too and no amount of dodging is going to help you there. Plus the GUI is a bit unclear, so trying to find your enemies before they reduce you or the target you're escorting to swiss cheese is a bit of a pisser.
There is something of an exploration element, or at least there seems to be. Other than the tutorial the preview build only contains about two missions so there's not much free-roaming going on, but when I compared the game to Privateer earlier it wasn't all just about the enemy characters. You can dock at underwater bases to buy and upgrade your weapons and ship and to interact with the locals. I can imagine that if the game was a bit more open it'd be quite fun to just sort of explore the underwater world visiting locations and scavenging to make a living.
AquaNox: Deep Descent does seem to have a scavenging element to it, but again in the preview build it's a little anemic. You can find clusters of resources by exploring the winding pathways of the map, picking up resources you can use to construct health and ammo. This could potentially be a very interesting part of the game, having you exploring far away hidden locations to discover rarer resources. In the tiny portion of the map you're given, you don't need to do it. You can just load up on ammo and health kits and be on your merry way without discovering or using anything.
Overall, Aquanox: Deep Descent has quite a lot of potential. It's difficult with such a small snapshot to judge a game that seems like it's designed to be so open and explorative, but so far it seems like from a control perspective everything is going quite well. The combat needs a bit more work to feel fun, which is a shame since it's the main thing that you're doing at least if the preview build is anything to go on. With a strong narrative and atmosphere AquaNox: Deep Descent could potentially turn into something worthwhile.
TechRaptor previewed AquaNox: Deep Descent on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developer.