Reviews - Updated on March 26, 2022

At the first acquaintance with Hidden Deep, a sophisticated indie fan should immediately exclaim something like “Yes, this is Barotrauma!”. Indeed, it is hard not to notice the external similarity of the debut work of the Polish studio Cogwheel Software, which, in the person of the sole developer Łukasz Kałuski, creates Hidden Deep, and a sci-fi submarine simulator. In addition, these games have the same publisher – Daedalic Entertainment. What is in front of us – a remake, continuation, modification?

In fact, Hidden Deep, which launches on Steam Early Access on January 24th, is a completely independent project, the author of which has plenty of other sources of inspiration.

We catch up with the horror

However, it was not without ocean depths here either. It is on the seabed, or rather under it, at a distance of several kilometers from the surface, that a research station operates, where the action of the game takes place. This work cannot be called calm: soon after the scientists discovered an anomaly of unknown origin, contact with the scientific group was interrupted and nothing has been known about the fate of the station personnel since then. We have to manage a rescue expedition, the purpose of which is to understand what is happening.

It is clear that in terms of originality, such an outset of a sci-fi thriller (namely, this is how the author characterizes his project) does not have enough stars from the sky. But this is a conscious decision – Hidden Deep deliberately refers to classics like “Aliens” and “The Thing”, trying to evoke familiar emotions. It turns out not bad – the author clearly has the talent of a good designer. Take the same “Aliens” – or rather, the first part of this famous franchise. Do you think it takes a lot for the player to remember the Ridley Scott movie and the oppressive atmosphere inherent in this picture? The developer of Hidden Deep only needed the design of the main menu and the introduction to the mission – it turns out that ambient and text animation are enough.

Hidden Deep: Early Version Preview

2D graphics are not at all a hindrance to claustrophobia.

It’s always uncomfortable at the station – it’s not even about vile monsters who want to feast on our hero, but in cramped locations, narrowing so much in some places that you have to continue crawling. Some caves and technological rooms, which are huge by local standards, are in stark contrast to such “skinners”. The effect of immersion is very worthy, despite the fact that we have just a two-dimensional shooter. Sound design plays an important role in creating the atmosphere. Laconic (like the picture), but immediately adjusting to the desired mood – I like this kind of minimalism.

Minimalism is inherent in the plot itself. There are no dialogues, voluminous texts and descriptions, but what really happened at the station is anyone’s guess. The player is kept on a dry information ration, not satisfying his curiosity in any way, except for small introductory notes at the beginning of each task and occasionally found notes in the terminals. And here, it seems to me, the point is no longer a deliberate approach to such a presentation of the plot, but a banal lack of workers – let me remind you that Hidden Deep is being created by a single developer.

Hidden Deep: Early Version Preview

In terms of “bloody”, the game resembles another indie horror movie – “horror in reverse” Carrion.

Too easy

From here, probably, the main problems of the project stem – the monotony and uncomplicated gameplay. They are solvable, but in the current version they are too noticeable to fully enjoy the gameplay right now. Minus the good work on the entourage, we have a banal two-dimensional “walker” from the 90s, slightly diluted with puzzles for ingenuity.

Tasks boil down to traveling from one point to another, and only in some places you have to think a little about how to overcome the intricate labyrinth of caves or bypass an obstacle in the form of a closed door. There is no research element – the locations here, although large, are empty, and the enemies do not surprise and almost do not frighten. The battles are too easy: death on the standard difficulty level only reduces the life counter, and the character respawns nearby. Death from the paws of monsters will be rare – they are too slow and toothless. Much easier to crash to death, falling from a great height.

Hidden Deep: Early Version Preview

Hook-cat will help to overcome any abyss. The main thing is to learn how to unhook the cable correctly – it is very easy to break down.

At first, this very simulation of physics pleases – despite the 2D, there is a rather cheerful “ragdoll” here, and the inertia and speed of the character’s movement must always be kept in mind so as not to fall into the abyss. The system of interaction with the environment also deserves attention: for example, for traveling in caves, we need a special hook-cat that can fasten the cable to any surface. There are other useful devices: a small spherical reconnaissance drone (and this is already a reference to Ridley Scott’s Prometheus), a rock scanner, explosives plus small arms – where without it?

Hidden Deep: Early Version Preview

Mining combines will help pave the way through the rock mass. Unfortunately, the drill only works in some places – you won’t be able to drill through the entire map.

Sometimes it becomes possible to steer the equipment – these are mining combines, tractors and even cranes. Only engineer characters can control them – the division into classes once again emphasizes that Hidden Deep is being created with an eye on cooperative passage, which is currently only available on one split-screen device and only in survival mode on random maps. They promise to add a full-fledged multiplayer while the project is in early access. The ability to use different characters is also in the single-player campaign – you can switch between members of the rescue team at any time in order to complete tasks that require joint work.

Hidden Deep: Early Version Preview

The whole team works here – the engineers operate the crane and the machine, and the scout shoots the attacking monsters.

The visual style and controls, almost completely copying Barotrauma, played a cruel joke with Hidden Deep. Undoubtedly, the external similarity draws attention to the new project, but if you compare the gameplay, then while the work of Cogwheel Software looks quite pale against the backdrop of the gameplay richness of the submarine simulator. Shooting, running through caves, simple puzzles and just a little bit of vehicle control – against the variety of Barotrauma, which has a well-developed simulation of underwater ship systems, several modes, a single player campaign and a full-fledged multiplayer in which you can have fun with friends.

The two main (but not the only) ways to die are to crash when falling from a height and become a dinner for the local inhabitants.

I admit, I expected something similar from Hidden Deep, but now it is interesting only as an example of good design work, brought to life with a minimum of funds. However, it is too early to judge the further fate of the project – for example, the future addition of a full-fledged network game, which the developer promises to introduce in the near future, can change a lot.

But do we need another Barotrauma in a different wrapper? Perhaps it is better to focus on the plot and on what the author is doing very well even now – creating an atmospheric setting to match the fantastic Hollywood thrillers of the 80s?

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