Game ReviewFeb 14, 2017 at 5:17a PSTby Hubert Sosnowski

Diluvion review – ugly duckling of underwater survival

Alright, landlubbers! Pack yer belongings and in you go to the steel can ye call a submarine! We’re headed to battle sided with Diluvion. What are you saying? The ship’s leaking? Nevermind, we’ll manage, lads…

PROS:
  1. Magnificent atmosphere;
  2. Playability – despite all flaws;
  3. Exploring and salvaging – after you master the controls;
  4. Pretty spectacular and challenging battles;
  5. Simple but satisfying survival mechanics;
  6. A couple of interesting turns of the narrative; nice story in general…
CONS:
  1. ...though it could have been executed better;
  2. Graphical glitches;
  3. 2D animations are very basic;
  4. Annoying auto save system;
  5. Constraints of the map.

Discovery is in our blood. Even if nowadays many of us would rather spend their evenings in front of a TV screen or go out, there are still people in whom some untold yearning awakens every time they gaze upon the stars or the choppy sea. What can such people do in this world, where blank spots on maps have been once and for all filled with satellite pictures; where every patch of land can be scrutinized in Google Earth? One of the possible escapes is Diluvion.

Why the grumpy title, you wonder? This game has been founded on Kickstarter and developed with publisher’s support; the limited budged is, unfortunately, conspicuous.

If, however, you’ve a particular affinity to Julius Verne’s books, and your heart rate increases at the briefest sight of steam/diesel punk accents that have all the seeming of Disney’s Atlantida or Treasure Planet, then you can feel at home. That is, if you’re comfortable living at the bottom of the ocean.

Across sandbox-meadows measureless I go…

Entering hyperspace in 3, 2, 1...
Mario was here.

Diluvion is a quasi-sandbox survival game with simple elements of strategy and a pinch of RPG, in which you command a submarine. You roam the seabed looking for loot; upgrade your ship and – in time – your headquarters; you trade and discover new places and secrets of the submerged universe. You will also tango with other crews – mostly pirates crammed in their own vessels similar to yours. From time to time, though, you’ll face much bigger fish.

As regards the survival layer, you need to make sure there’s enough oxygen and food. Both of these resources are steadily decreasing – the more mouths to feed, the more rapidly the reserves shrink. Those are admittedly very simple mechanics, but they diversify the experience.

The game by Arachnid Studios takes us to a world in which gods have punished the mankind with a great cataclysm, then exiled the survivors into the depths of the sea and sealed the surface with an immense ice dome. All hope is not lost, however, because according to a legend at the very bottom of the ocean one of the deities had buried something that can help humans get back to the surface… And in the meantime? Well… humans are a species that adapts quickly. Cities and research stations are soon built at reasonable depths, and adventurers embark on all sorts of different ships and vessels and are now roaming the vast sub-marine universe looking for fame, loot and trouble. Just like us.

We play the part of an inexperienced captain of a shabby old submarine, who’s surveying the ocean floor in search of anything useful. The goal is to evolve from prey to hunter, but the beginnings are never easy – only one officer on board, and an unfortunate expedition that we barely survive. We become involved in an unassuming, picaresque story that references the mentioned Disney movies, albeit is a little bit more depressing and at times more lurid.

Later on, a couple of officers joins the fray (apart from them, the player also hires low-rank crew, however they don’t influence the story that much). Each of these characters comes with a certain background, and their personalities are sketched rather neatly. The thing is that the whole concept doesn’t make nearly as big an impression as it would had the main arc been given more attention. A couple of more engaging dialogues would certainly help to form a stronger relationship with the crew, giving more gravity to the most important moments of the game. Unfortunately, in the current shape, this is just a nice – if half-baked – story.

Steampunk ambient

Sometimes there’s no other way.

The game compensates for these shortcomings with its setting and atmosphere, however. The surreal ocean can sometimes be quite intimidating, especially when one ventures away from human habitats, and fantastical buildings are substituted with ship graveyards and… well, let’s say that people with arachnophobia might have a hard time at one point.

The steampunk aesthetics permeate the whole game, with the characteristic gears, dials, cylinders and Victorian ornaments, oil and rust. The vessels look like hybrids of kettles and marine predators (with a couple of examples definitely lopsided towards the kettles). Some of the locations are outstandingly well done, and visually, the game could have made a great impression if the animations were more detailed (or if there were any animations at all, some might want to argue).

When the player decides to dock somewhere or check the ship’s status, they’re taken to a 2D view. The backgrounds and characters aren’t bad – which cannot by said about the way people move, or rather jerk; it looks utterly horrible and can ruin the atmosphere. If you remember The Banner Saga, this will make you weep. It’s the first element that’s visibly burdened with the game’s low budget and – unfortunately – no the last one.

Finding Nemo, shoaling edition.

There aren’t many games about underwater voyages nowadays. There’s even fewer games that are not so dead-serious and realistic about this. It’s easier to find a game about flying saucers, indeed. So, if Deluvion managed to drum up your interest in this matter, I recommend the good ol’ Aquanox. It’s also an underwater shooter with a post-apo flavor, although it would be easier to compare it to Mad Max than to Disney’s Atlantida.

Well, this ship does leak a little…

The torpedo guy looks like he doesn’t like his job.

The game crumbles under the weight of its numerous mistakes. The gameplay’s a lot of fun, but only if you manage to hack your way through the initial chaos and lack of clear explanations. Mastering the controls takes some time; it’s not very intuitive, and the tutorials don’t seem to help a lot. Nevertheless, when you finally manage to get your foot through the door and begin to understand the ship, the game becomes quite enjoyable and winning each battle gives you enormous satisfaction – underwater clashes aren’t very easy. Firing a couple of accurate shots and then boarding the enemy is a treat. Too bad that sometimes – when the action becomes more intense (and especially near walls and in smaller locations) – the game seems confused and the camera goes south – which can really boil your blood.

The available areas aren’t altogether gigantic, but you may get lost anyway. There are some flaws to the navigation mechanics, and the map doesn’t help one bit. I mean, it doesn’t even indicate the player’s current position. I can understand that at the beginning the submarine has no equipment at all, so this may be logical (you know, inexperienced captain could theoretically have problems with calculations and navigation) but when a sonar officer joins the crew, such upgrade of the map would be desirable.

You may resort to the compass, which (more or less) shows the direction you should follow, but it doesn’t solve the problem. I should also mention that my crew didn’t turn out very helpful either; when asked if they knew where a certain location was, they answered, “Yeah”, but weren’t so kind as to even remotely indicate that place on the map.

Adding your own markers would also make things a whole lot easier. Especially since even your headquarters are never marked on any map (that’s a place to upgrade the ship and hire better crew), so you have to make mental notes every time the game switches to another location (there are three in total). That I could get over if only the field of view were wider, which it isn’t, so you can’t really marvel at the diversified fauna and flora of the depths. I did try to increase this parameter, but it resulted in a weird sort of blur on my screen, forcing me to reboot the game. Those are some severe shortcomings in case of an exploration game.

The poor visibility can really spoil the fun.

The graphics go awry even more often. My ship got stuck between textures more than once – I managed to reverse into safety, fortunately. Some 2D elements are not displayed properly either: I’ve seen backgrounds that didn’t match… the more interesting is the fact that everything seems to be running smoothly in the 3D department, perhaps field of view excluded.

The auto save system is far from perfect, too. I gather that checkpoints were placed randomly around the world (minus the cities – there it’s OK). Diluvion doesn’t save our conversations with the crew about recent events – dialogues sometimes have to be repeated. Then you have to watch out when exiting the game. A question along the lines of, “Has there been a checkpoint after this fight that took me an hour to win?” is advisable before quitting. The only silver lining is the fact that you can revisit the foul lexicon of the mariners if you have to repeat such battles.

The developers admitted more than once that they took their inspiration from the Dark Souls series, and you can feel it. While roaming the ocean, you not only learn the main plot, but also slowly put together all the pieces of the lore: the story of exiled human survivors, the fragments of which can be found on hidden maps. There’s a couple of hard battles in the game as well, among them one which will be twice as challenging for those of the players who are afraid of spiders…

…but it keeps going

It's a good thing that the compass helps sometimes.

But you know what? I can forgive all Diluvion’s mistakes. Despite the technical shortcomings, the game sucked me in like a whirlpool. Exploring the ocean, discovering new places, collecting items and upgrading the ship – all of these are genuinely fun to do. The game can awaken your inner child, raised on Verne and Stevenson. There’s that adventurous zest, compelling to visit all the places, see what’s around the corner.

Diluvion, despite the neglected narration, makes you feel as if you were in a book about a group of rogues and rascals – outcasts, who always have a lot to say and tend to unwittingly get involved into some sort of trouble every time they dock somewhere. The action really gathers pace when you manage to get to the second zone of the three available.

The locations are quite evocative of a mighty, massive and malicious ocean, although they’re not gigantic themselves. The devs provided a great balance between unconstrained travel, combat and story-based missions. When simply cruising, you can feel the traveled distance, but it doesn’t become boring. You’re en route, and it feels right. If, on top of that, you get lost, and happen to discover a wreckage with some nice hidden loot, the feeling’s even better.

Titanic?

When I think about it now, this game somehow reminds me of the first Gothic. It’s very rough around the edges, but the world is intriguing, charming and incredibly playable – provided you grant Diluvion some credit and turn a blind eye on some elements. The main issue is the fact that the insufficient budget is too often obvious – the game just lacks that final polish, and the abundant glitches, shortcomings and elements that were underdeveloped constantly remind you that this is only an indie project from Kickstarter. If it weren’t for that, Diluvion could have joined titles like Bastion, This War of Mine, The Banner Saga or Limbo in the collection of the best indie games.

All things considered, giving this game a shot is not a bad idea at all. You can denounce all the game’s bugs and ill-conceived ideas, but there’s one thing that is beyond any discussion. Diluvion is a game made with passion and dedication. You can feel it at every step (every nautical mile?). Keep a stiff upper lip in face of the inconveniences this game throws at you, and you’ll be in for one hell of an adventure. And there’s no saying the devs won’t patch the game up in the future.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

I have a weakness for stories about submarines. They’re at once fascinating and unnerving: stories about people sealed in steel coffins, which were thrown into water by someone and are supposed to cope with the wrath of Poseidon himself. I was raised on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Hunt For Red October. Hence the dozen or so* hours I spent with Diluvion were anything but wasted. I’m crossing my fingers for the guys from Arachnid Studios – I hope that all leaks in their ship will be plugged, and that we’ll hear about them again soon enough.

*The devs were talking around 10 hours of gameplay, but if your abilities to navigate the virtual world are close to mine, you can add a couple more.