Insomniac Games alongside their new partnership with GameTrust (GameStop’s all new publishing brand), have lovingly crafted a deep sea exploration title, with Irish flavour, in Song of the Deep.
Song of the Deep is a Metroidvania-style action-adventure game following a young girl’s quest into the deep blue sea to find her missing father. Combining discovery, skill, and suspense with an ongoing voice narrative (only not nearly enough of it) liking it to games such as Bastion, this underwater journey will challenge players to explore, experiment, and sometimes frustratingly re-navigate areas of vast ocean landscape.
I have to admit, submarines scare me and I can’t even bring myself to step near one. So, I am more than happy to let a 12 year old girl do it for me. This girl’s name is Merryn and the games tale begins with some beautifully illustrated scenes and some great narrative from Siobhán Hewlett (Mass Effect 3, TV’s Sherlock & Torchwood) that sets the adventure up nicely.
Merryn’s father always tells her of the deep blue and its mysteries, the many fables of the ocean. Tales about entire cities made of coral and magical creatures that speak. After one of his many fishing expeditions, Merryn’s father, doesn’t return home. Believing something is terribly wrong, the young hero decides to build a submarine and sets out to look for him. It turns out Merryn’s father wasn’t telling fables after all.
The game itself is a bright and vibrant 2D style side scroller and that description really doesn’t do it justice. The folks over at Insomniac have never played with this genre class before and wanted to do something fresh. Taking inspiration from Irish mythology, you can see they really did a great job at bringing you in and keeping you there for its almost 10+ Hour campaign (more if you want to find and collect everything). A labour of love went into it and you can see it right here in this Behind-the-Scenes Video with creator Brian Hastings of Insomniac Games and his big inspiration, his daughter.
As any other game in this genre does, it sets you on a set path and gives you an objective to follow. With many adventure and exploration games of the past, the gamer should be rewarded for veering off the track and exploring places you wouldn’t normally think of going. Song of the Deep however, seems to very mildly punish you for it, blocking access to hidden areas and needing to find upgrades or items to continue your progress and this is fine if you’re given a clear path to do so, but you’re not. I found myself getting lost with its massive scale more than once. There are portals that can warp you across to different sections of the map, but these are so far apart and take a fair bit of travel just to reach them. By the time you get to one, you might as well have done the hard yards yourself. It really does hurt the overall flow of SOTD’s gameplay.
I find it isn’t always beneficial to have a huge open world to explore in every genre. It’s becoming a bit stale as of late. With every single title released seemingly a sandbox. But, I have always been one for a tight knit story and fairly linear path for game progression (think Ratchet & Clank). As i get older, i find i don’t have the time for five or more games on my shelf that require 40-80+ hours to complete.
There really is just too much back tracking to keep me interested for long game sessions at a time here. Coming across coloured clam shells seems like a great example of fun puzzle solving. Match up an item in the area to the clam shell, but no. After multiple attempts and nearly eight or so items, the damn shell spits it out. So i gave up and moved on, angry at myself for not figuring it out. Thankfully the environments, story (what little it did have) and the haunting but beautiful musical score by Jonathan Wandag kept me invested in what otherwise would have lost me after a few hours.
Most of the other environmental puzzles work well and even if enemies are few and far between, when they do arrive on screen, they usually arrive in some thrilling fast encounters. Your weapons consist of using you submarines grappling hook initially, then later, upgrading your vehicle to accommodate better weapons. Even being able to leave your sub and have Merryn swim into hard to reach areas (only after finding another unclear item to unlock the ability).
There really isn’t much more to tell you about this title other than possible story spoilers. Suffice to say it’s a great game for the cost of an arcade title and not a full priced one (Ghostbusters I’m looking at you).
If you love the nostalgia of the genre and you have the time to invest, then this adventure is for you. It feels shiny enough to feel new, but sadly, with its outdated map mechanics, and no real reason to come back a second time, it may take a lot more patience than it’s possibly worth.
I truly feel that, if this hopeful new franchise goes anywhere from here, it will only improve. I admire Insomniac for trying something new and on most levels (pun intended) it really works. But it will only be as strong as a gamers patience can be. Song Of The Deep is a bold move and I was curious enough to make it out of the depths. You should give it a go too.
Review Score: 6.5 out of 10
Highlights: Stunning Environments and Soundtrack
Lowlights: Seriously large areas that takes too much time backtracking.
Developer: Insomniac Games
Release Date: July 12th 2016
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows PC
Song Of The Deep is rated PG and was reviewed on PlayStation 4.