Sometimes, there is a genre from your youth that dies off at some point, and you didn’t even notice it happening. For me, for a while at least, it was 3D platformers. Once the PS3 and Xbox 360 generation hit, they were pretty few and far between, though they’ve made a comeback now. For some, it would have been the cinematic platformer, otherwise known as the step platformer, in the vein of Prince of Persia, Flashback, and Another World. Well, Hidden Deep seems to be something of a revival for the form in the most traditional sense, although this time a horror theme has been added for good measure. I got a chance to take a good look at the early access version of the game to see if this genre should be left buried or not.
Hidden Deep is a game primarily about descending deeper and deeper into a caver filled with horrible monsters who want to kill you. Why are you doing this? Because you’re in some sort of military outfit and you’ve got orders to follow damn it. You also have extremely limited health, lives, and abilities, making this one of those ‘ultra hard’ games for people who can’t sleep at night with a sledgehammer repeatedly hitting them in the genitals. Jokes aside, the game is intentionally difficult but does offer an easy mode that removes the limited lives if you’re more interested in the story instead.
Speaking of story, Hidden Deep certainly has one in there somewhere. For the most part, it’s communicated by the order you’re given by a mysterious voice over the radio. There are rarely any named characters as most of the people in each level tend to be randomly generated in terms of names. They also don’t really speak for the most part, so there’s not much in the way of personality to get attached to. Considering how easy it is to die, that’s probably for the best.
As I mentioned above, the game is certainly aiming for a very realistic approach to platforming, as you would have found in an old cinematic platformer like the original Prince of Persia. You have a limited jumping ability, falling so far will kill you immediately, and you can’t rely on any super-human powers to come to your aid. The main difference here seems to be slightly in execution. In previous cinematic platformers, your movement almost felt like it was on a grid. Whether you were running or walking, it was always immediately clear when you were going to stop. That’s not always the case here, and as the survivable fall distance is so low, that can be a problem.
Another big difference for Hidden Deep is that most cinematic platformers didn’t give you a handgun and a grappling hook. Those are some pretty awesome additions I have to admit, but all-in-all they only add to the fact that the controls take a fair bit of time to get used to. I think it’s fair to say that Hidden Deep will appeal to a very specific kind of person. If you want to be challenged and have missed a more realistic approach to platforming in recent years, then you’ll find a good experience within. However, no one could blame you for getting frustrated by the controls in the first few levels and giving up forever.
It’s also worth mentioning that the story sections are relatively short altogether. There’s a decent amount of content here, but it’s definitely lacking a certain amount of polish, especially as you get further into the game. This is 100% early access, with the only things keeping the game alive other than story content being the challenge mode that lets you run through randomized missions to your heart's content. These are a pretty decent addition, and because you can change the settings on them you can potentially be playing these for hours if you enjoy the gameplay enough.
At the end of the day, the biggest failing of Hidden Deep right now is just its lack of diverse content. Everything is set in the same underground industrial setting, with the same weapons, characters, and types of enemies. If the game really wants to thrive then the early access period is going to need to see a whole lot of new content, and quality of life improvements. It also doesn't help that the combat is incredibly janky and imprecise, and there are a fair few bugs to contend with as well.
Having said all that, it’s not like Hidden Deep doesn't have bags of potential. The core gameplay loop is here and it’s relatively engaging. You have to take every moment cautiously and really tip-toe around. It works really well with the oppressive, claustrophobic atmosphere created by being locked in a deep cave. The main concern is whether or not the game will be able to keep the storyline, enemies, and environments interesting when they’re constrained by the game’s tightly-focused setting.
TechRaptor previewed Hidden Deep on PC via Steam with a code provided by the publisher.