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Depthcharge (Arcade) artwork

Depthcharge (Arcade) review


"Gremlin Rises from the Depths"


In October of 1976, the San Diego-based arcade game manufacturer Gremlin Industries made a name for itself as the inventor of the snake video game. Their first two video arcade games, the two-player Blockade and the four-player CoMotion, had players controlling arrows that left brick walls in their paths. The goal for the players was to force their opponents to crash into the walls. These two games were very influential in the video game industry, inspiring numerous clones and knock-offs. While Blockade and CoMotion were fairly successful, rival game developers were able to make more money with little effort, simply by copying Gremlin’s work. Gremlin tried to further innovate the genre by releasing a score attack version called Hustle, but soon realized they would need more variety in their catalog of games in order to stay competitive. Instead of releasing their fourth snake game in a row, Gremlin took a page from Midway’s Sea Wolf, and created a naval warfare sim called Depthcharge.

Originally released in September of 1977, Depthcharge takes place in a war zone in the middle of the ocean. This single-player game puts you in control of a destroyer on the ocean’s surface. The destroyer is armed with an infinite supply of lethal explosives, or depth charges. Packs of submarines pass below you at various depths. Each submarine has a number printed on the side, indicating how many points it yields when destroyed. You have 90 seconds to destroy as many submarines as you can. As you rain hell upon the submarines, you will also have to be mindful of the mines that the submarines send up to the surface. If a mine’s explosion makes contact with your destroyer, your score will be cut in half. If you have at least 500 points when the timer runs out, you will gain an additional 45 seconds of play time. At the end of your play session, you will earn a 30-point bonus for every submarine you have neutralized.

Your destroyer is controlled with two pairs of buttons, spread horizontally across the control panel. The buttons on the left allow you to move the destroyer left and right along the surface of the ocean. The buttons on the right let you toss depth charges off the left and right sides of the destroyer. Once a depth charge is in the water, it will slowly descend straight down until it hits either a submarine or the sea floor. Although you have an endless supply of depth charges at your disposal, no more than six can be in the water at the same time. Therefore, it’s wise to keep spare charges available whenever you can.

What makes Depthcharge fun, as well as what makes it superior to Gremlin’s earlier offerings, is its level of overall challenge. The game starts out slow, but the pace picks up as more submarines enter the fray. Unlike in Gremlin’s previous score attack game, Hustle, the point values of the targets in Depthcharge are not entirely randomized. Instead, their value depends on their depths, with the deepest submarines providing the highest numbers of points. The submarines that move close to the surface move faster than the others and are easy to blow up, but they have the lowest point values, and their sudden appearances may cause them to get in the way of charges meant for more valuable submarines. A considerable amount of strategy and concentration is needed to earn exceptionally high scores.

As with many other video arcade games from the mid-seventies, Depthcharge uses a black-and-white monitor with a colored overlay attached to the screen. The water and any objects above the surface are pitch-black, while the normally white sky and underwater objects appear to be a bright blue, thanks to the overlay. The destroyer and especially the submarines are rendered well considering the game’s time of release. They don’t have many sprites for basic movement, but when one of the two types of vehicles is struck by an explosive, it will split in half and sink a little before disappearing from the screen. The explosives have more animation than the other objects. The depth charges look like tiny “flakes” and constantly rotate, while the mines look like little X’s that shrink and expand as they float to the surface.

One aspect of Depthcharge’s presentation that is arguably more impressive than the graphics is its use of sound effects. Instead of background music, a surprisingly realistic sonar effect can be heard in the background as you hunt down enemy submarines. Apparently, Gremlin Industries asked the Navy for feedback to make sure they got the sound just right, showing just how much effort the former put into it. Other sounds include a series of muffled explosions for the explosives and vehicles. Depthcharge may be one of the first video games to have a true sense of atmosphere, thanks to its clever use of audio.

Depthcharge is a great improvement over Gremlin’s first three video arcade games. While the gameplay may not be as original as Blockade, it has an addictive nature that encourages multiple plays, even with its short play sessions. The emphasis on player skill as opposed to player luck gives Depthcharge a big advantage over its precursor in Gremlin’s product line, Hustle. Although later arcade games such as Sega’s Deep Scan have refined the sub-hunting concept, Depthcharge still retains its entertainment value and overall fun factor. Check this game out for a quality pre-Space Invaders arcade experience.

4/5

Midcore's avatar
Community review by Midcore (October 02, 2018)

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