Review ✎

Song of the Deep Review – “The Shallow End”


Developer: Insomniac Games
Publisher: GameTrust Games
Reviewed on: PC
Purchased

In Song of the Deep, Insomniac Games have built a storybook narrative and submerged in a Metroid style action motif. The underwater world is wonderful to look at and provides a satisfying blend of exploration, item collection, and puzzle solving. However, the clunky, one note combat makes most of the game unnecessarily tedious, and the deliberately unresponsive movement leads to frustration the more you progress.

Story

The game’s narrative is framed much like a storybook, with a young girl named Merryn recounting a story from her past. One day Merryn’s father goes out on his fishing boat, and never returns. Merryn decides that she must go after her father, fearing that he needs her help, so she scrapes together a makeshift submarine and sets out her adventure. Throughout her journey she will encounter many underwater sea life, both friend and foe, and awaken ancient magic that will help her on her quest.

The story is satisfying, albeit predictable, and does a good job of moving the action forward. There are a few moments where new threats and objectives conveniently pop up in order to add a few more steps to your journey, but everything is wrapped up nicely in the end.

Beautiful hand-drawn stills tell the story at key moments.
Beautiful hand-drawn stills tell the story at key moments.

Gameplay

You spend most of the game floating around the underwater labyrinths in your little submarine. You start with nothing more than a simple harpoon weapon, but quickly upgrade your weapons and movement abilities. You upgrade your engines to boost through heavy currents, and even unlock a sonar that reveals hidden passages to secret areas. The upgrades are satisfying and you are always finding new abilities that open up new areas to hidden treasures.

The upgrades are satisfying and keep you exploring.
The upgrades are satisfying and keep you exploring.

There are two major issues with the gameplay. First, your primary harpoon weapon is boring to use and lacks a satisfying punch when hitting enemies. Later levels rely on locking you into rooms while waves of enemies swarm you. These encounters occur far too frequently, and because the primary weapon is unsatisfying to use they become a chore of monotonous repetition.

The other annoying aspect of the gameplay is the floaty, unresponsive nature of your submarine. In trying to simulate the reality of piloting underwater, the developers have made the mere act of navigating the game’s tight corridors difficult. Often times you will float past your objectives or bounce around treacherous walls after overcompensating an errant maneuver. This is especially frustrating during puzzles that require you to tow an explosive mine that explodes at the slightest contact, forcing you into an awkward game of zero-g tug of war, one that must be repeated over and over until executed perfectly.

Graphics & Sound

The art style and aesthetic of Song of the Deep is eye catching. Each area has a distinctive look; you will navigate colorful coral reefs, explore lost cities made of gold, and precariously explore a pitch-black abyss full of invincible, blind enemies. All these areas look hand drawn and are brought to life with a vibrant color palette. The quick story snippets you get from time to time are told through illustrations in a book, and do a great job of selling the world. The wonderful, mysterious waterscape portrayed here will keep you coming back in spite of the previously mentioned gameplay critiques.Song of the deep featured

The score appropriately conveys the whimsical, yet treacherous world on display here. The little voice acting there is well delivered, if sometimes stilted. Unfortunately, most of the sound effects are hollow and lack depth. Many of them sound like low quality samples, as if there was were better quality versions somewhere that were left out of the final game. Perhaps it was an attempt to simulate the muting effect water can have on sound, however, they simply felt flat compared the vibrate graphics and voice acting.

Performance

Oddly enough, I experienced frequent micro stutter with the framerate throughout most of the game. I’m not sure what caused it, and I tried tweaking the merger graphics options in an attempt to smooth it out to no avail. It wasn’t severe enough to impact my enjoyment of the game, however, it did take some time to get used to.

The graphics options are very limited.
The graphics options are very limited.

Conclusion

Song of the Deep is a well constructed Metroid style action game that blends an interesting story with great visuals. Unfortunately, it is hamstrung by frustrating, rote gameplay, and a reliance on weak combat that makes the game drag on longer than it should. You may want to test the waters on this one before taking the plunge.

PC Specs:

  • Windows 10 Pro 64-bit
  • Intel Core i7-4790K 4.0GHz
  • 16GB RAM
  • GeForce GTX 980 Ti
  • Samsung EVO 850 SSD

OK

Song of the Deep is a fun casual experience that unfortunately suffers from awkward controls and boring combat.

6
Overall:
6

I remember playing Super Mario Bros. and Metroid on the NES with my older brother, and never being able to land on the aircraft carrier in Top Gun. I faked being sick so I could stay home from school and play Quake II once, but now I request days off from work instead of lying. Age of Empires II is still the best RTS, Half-Life is still the best FPS, and I still think the end of Mass Effect 3 was great!