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Reveal in the Deep (PC) artwork

Reveal in the Deep (PC) review

"Needs a Little More Spark"

I don't often get dollar-store games from Steam because they tend to be often underdeveloped products and/or not worth my time. Reveal the Deep is something I would consider underdeveloped, yet I felt my time was respected. (For the most part.)

Price is something I don't often take into consideration for reviewing the game's quality. However, I do think for an indie team's (or lone developer's) first game on Steam, the price point is low enough that if the game doesn't interest you then you won't have much buyer's remorse. With all that being said, I hope Lazy Monday Games learns a lot from this project to create something with more substantial gameplay like The Swapper while also keeping all the great aspects made in Reveal the Deep.

A Little More Than a Walking Simulator

Unlike games like Home where it has more left to the imagination about horror and the gameplay boiling down to one or two choices, Reveal the Deep has some gameplay and horror elements into its gameplay design. None of which make this game into a full puzzle game, yet it's more enjoyable to play than to watch.

The best design decision for RD is how levels/chapters give the impression of free-form exploration without feeling more linear than it actually is. Messages, items, new pathways that lead back to previous areas, etc. improve an otherwise boring experience of going down a linear corridor with horror-ish moments. On a second playthrough, I would probably find the level design more linear than first impressions; however, that's okay because exploration is all about the sense of discovery, which is what the game excels at for its short time.

One huge oversight in exploration is how areas are split into chapters. There is nothing of a Metroidvania design between each level nor any reason to replay a past level for deeper insight into the narrative. It also means when you want to quit you'll have to restart the area you last played, which is mitigated by how small these areas are when you rush them. So you'll only have to replay 10 mins at most. The other downside to Reveal the Deep's core gameplay is that other than the exploration there's little else to keep your interest. The puzzles are far too bland and simple to keep you engaged.

Needs a Little More Spark

The game's biggest problem when it comes to its puzzles is not that the ideas behind them are terrible; the problem is that they have nothing unique to them or added to make the conventional puzzles act differently.

RD's main puzzles boil down to pushing/interacting with blocks either by pushing them or turning on and off your light source. Other puzzles with light horror elements involve using the headlight to fend off monsters. Lights also seem to have a space-time effect for revealing new passageways to explore or notes to read. The light gameplay gimmick could've been enough to make these puzzles more interesting on their own, but the game never commits enough to the idea to make them original. (Similar to a game like Glare that uses the light-mechanic at the start and then completely forgets about it.)

This issue is why, if the developer(s) took some lessons from The Swapper, they could center a main mechanic for an entire game as well as giving more playtime for their product while not artificially expanding the game. They could also offer a greater sense of challenge, exploration and character to the gameplay. They could also learn some ways to avoid some of the obvious pitfalls for storytelling in these exploration, horror, puzzle-games that have become all to common tropes now to be avoided.

Narrative Quibbles as a Player

I won't be mentioning spoilers in this section. These are rather criticisms I noticed by how the game reveals its narrative, mechanically as well as the content you find. I'll try to limit my examples to the most obvious problems with some specifics mentioned.

The biggest trope this game stumbles across is the same thing you have to ask yourself with H.P. Lovecraft's work: Who is taking the time to draw/write out these notes? Many messages you come across have some detailed images of horrific situations (or make the reader question why are they writing this stuff down) that get in the way of the story. It's easier to swallow when it's some crewmember bored out of his mind doodling some of the crew but harder to accept when tragedies occur.

On a similar point, some of the written material is weird. The ending line for all of Isaac's letters is hard to ignore when the events become more immediate. Context clues you find from exploring can be pure nonsense. One example is a random note you'll come across, "The dinosaurs used to have ears--something that is forgotten by fossil records." Most of the early clues you find, either environmental designs or the protagonist's thoughts, are relevant to the story in some small way. This is in a stark contrast to these meaningless thoughts.

Those are problems I can point to as objective faults of the narrative's design. They don't need to be overhauled, they just need to be handled better so every detail is important and there's just enough explained to keep some mystery in check. (For example, why is it that turning off the light seems to take us back in time? The game never explains this in any way.)

On a more personal note, I would advise not following the staple "Mind is superior to the body; spirit is stronger than physical means" meaning you find in a lot of artsy games. I've yet to find one game where the handling of that idea wasn't pretentious and it wasn't at odds with what the rest of the game is focused on. Unless there is an immense amount of theming into that idea, then adding it in for the hell of it is worthless.

My advice to create a game with meaning is simply this: Stick to creating a story that has details hidden beneath the surface, leave some details open to the imagination, then let the reader/player come to the conclusions of their own. Those types of stories will ALWAYS be more impactful to the reader, and you won't come off as standing on a soapbox; you'll be making people believe their own messages through your game.

Gameplay Nitpicks

  • Jumping off a ladder at the very top is sometimes need to reach the other side or other ladder. This never felt polished to execute properly.

  • Gauging distances for jumping sometimes required the most pixel-perfect jumps to land. It felt out-of-place for this game.

  • Moments where you need to shine in two directions can seem to be trial-and-error sections.

  • The light-on and light-off animation can feel too slow for some puzzles.

  • It's Not the Best, It's Not the Worst; It's Okay

    All these criticisms are said with admiration for what has been achieved so far. I am more often not a fan of horror games, and even the staple jump-scare tactics were effective here as well as the atmospheric horror of the unknown. So coming away from this game with a positive outlook has to mean something from me. In the end, Reveal the Deep is a game you won't regret purchasing if you have some level of interest for its narrative. It won't end with a satisfying conclusion but the hour and a half of playtime you'll experience will be sublime with the feeling of exploration.

    Even when restarting a chapter, you'll probably beat this game under two hours, which makes me worried for the developers' sake. This is another reason why I think they should take the ideas that work here and make a full-blown game to warrant more purchases as well as people retaining their interest with it. Quality made games like this one need to be commended more often, especially when they don't waste the player's time.

    Project Horror 2016
    Project Horror saw one (1) horror review submitted every day through the month of October. This review was part of that effort.


    Brian's avatar
    Community review by Brian (October 30, 2016)

    Current interests: Strategy/Turn-Based Games, CRPGs, Immersive Sims, Survival Solo Games, etc.

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