The deep-sea is a terrifying place, so the idea of settings a post-apocalypse story in the deep sea makes a lot of sense. AquaNox: Deep Descent is one such game, a 6-degrees-of-freedom underwater shooter set in the far future where all of humanity is trapped under the sea. As a group of recently-revived people, you must take to the seas with your underwater attack vessel and discover the reasons for humanity's current state, as well as recover the memories that you lost in the freezing process.
AquaNox: Deep Descent is a reimagining of the original AquaNox series that started back in the late 90s. This latest entry was Kickstarted in 2015 and is now finally ready to see the light of day. Deep Descent was developed by a small indie team based out of Serbia and is being published by the folks over at THQ Nordic. With a nearly 2 decade gap between the last game and this one, fans are almost certainly clamoring for a return of the series. There certainly seems to be a lot riding on this game.
As mentioned previously, AquaNox: Deep Descent puts you in the shoes of a team of 'cryos', a bunch of people who were frozen before the world went up in smoke who find themselves revived hundreds of years later. You wake up with no memory but have to immediately fight your way through a swarm of enemy ships to escape into the wider world. With amnesia dogging your every step you must decide who to trust and what path to take as you explore this brave new world of undersea danger and excitement.
If my little write-up has got you all good and excited for an undersea adventure then you might find yourself a little disappoinGetted. You're not going to find anything particularly interesting from a narrative perspective in the game if the red flag of amnesia wasn't a big enough give away. The plot revolves around who you are, why you were frozen, who you can trust, etc, but none of it matters. The player has no agency over any of these questions, since your dialogue choices don't seem to effect the plot at all.
A linear story can be enjoyable if it's well-crafted, but it's hard to say that about AquaNox: Deep Descent. A post-apocalypse story is cliched enough but adding amnesia to that mixture doesn't make it any more palatable. This would all be forgivable if the characters were any good but none of them are. The player characters are all as bland as they can be, seemingly swapping character traits at random depending on what is most necessary at the time. It's hard to get a read on any of their personalities or to get invested in them for that matter.
This is also true of the NPCs, some of which you're clearly expected to care about before the end. It's all because the game is incredibly badly written from top to bottom. The NPCs are bland, and even the enemy dialogue that gets blasted at you whenever you're under attack doesn't give the game any character. The voice acting probably didn't help. It's mostly fine on the main characters, but any of the incidental ones, such as the multitudes of pirates, sound like they were recorded by whoever happened to be walking by the office that day.
Moving on from the story and characters, AquaNox: Deep Descent doesn't do that much better in the gameplay department. One good point it does have is that controlling your vessel in the water is actually very intuitive and easy to learn, at least if you use a controller anyway. After only a few minutes you'll find yourself navigating even the smallest of gaps with surprising ease, and that's good since 99% of the game seems to take place in either cramped corridors or tight undersea caves.
Unfortunately, that's where the good stuff ends, and the blandness makes a return with the vengeance. Every single mission in the game, except for one, is either "go here and kill thing" or "go here and press button then kill thing". Your entire time in the game is split between scavenging for resources to upgrade your ship or to craft essential items and shooting bad guys with your various weapons. You simply move to wherever the mission marker tells you, kill the other nameless ships that show up, then go to the next marker.
If you think that the gameplay sounds about as interesting as a seminar on paint drying then you'd be about right. A big factor in the overall tedium of the game is just how long you have to trek between different locations. Each of the various ships in the game has different speed values, but even the fastest one can leave you puttering along the ocean floor for what feels like an eternity. There's nothing to liven up the commute either, bar the occasional scavenge point or glowing shark to shoot at.
Then there's the difficulty curve. AquaNox: Deep Descent doesn't really have a curve, so much as a couple of brick walls. When the game starts you'll find yourself being nicely challenged depending on which difficulty you chose, but within an hour or two, you reach the game's worst mission. The quest in question requires you to protect a mining vessel from wave after wave of enemy ships. These ships come from all directions, and all aim directly at the mining ship no matter what you do. I failed this mission 4 times, all because the ship wouldn't stop exploding.
In the end, the only way past this mission was with diligent use of the Quick Save feature. I feel like the developers knew this was going to be necessary since they mapped the quick-save right onto the controller for easy use. If only they'd made it possible to turn quicker than a snail on quaaludes then the quick save might not have been necessary. Then again, while we're wishing, they should have made it possible to actually draw aggro from the enemies as well.
Once you get past this one mission the game goes back to being relatively fair again. Then you find a gun called the 'Shard', and enemies might as well just give up. It has insane range, does tons of damage, and can't be beaten by anti-homing countermeasures. Then there's the 'Advanced Shard' which is even more insane. As long as you keep scavenging for resources to make ammo there's very little in the game left to trouble you. Even the final boss went down relatively quickly, although I did have to hide and build more ammo and health items when the bugger decided to get all its health back.
The most depressing thing about AquaNox: Deep Descent is the little glimmers of what could have been. As you go through the largely-linear array of missions you stop at bases to talk to people and stock and upgrade your ship. These little ports remind me a lot of Wing Commander: Privateer, in a very good way. Each area seems sort of designed like a miniature sandbox that you can explore around and complete side missions in for extra money and resources to upgrade your ship further. The problem is that these sandboxes aren't really that connected at all.
There's no overall world map to look at so I can't tell where anything is in relation to anything else. It also doesn't help that almost everywhere looks pretty much the same. There are some minor differences, such as putting a different colored filter over the screen, and a different landmark or two, but it's just so bland and samey. I never really learned the routes of where I was going or anything, I just went to the different markers on the map until I was told to go to the next mini sandbox. If the world was more connected, and if there were some interesting characters or stories to discover in the ports then maybe I'd have been more interested in the world.
Overall, AquaNox: Deep Descent is the definition of bland. It's not so bad that it's unplayable, but in many ways that makes it much worse. The story is bland, but not so bad that it's hilarious to play through. All you'll get if you do pick this game up is a story that has been told a thousand times in much better ways, and gameplay that stops being interesting after you leave the first area. If you're already a fan of the series and have been desperate for it to make a comeback then you might be able to squeeze some sort of enjoyment out of this, but you'd honestly be better off playing the originals on GOG again.
TechRaptor reviewed AquaNox: Deep Descent one PC via Steam with a code provided by the developer.
- The Controls Work Really Well
- Bland Characters and Storyline
- Almost Every Mission Is The Same
- Every Location Looks The Same