Often a big problem with the horror genre is how bigger budget productions lose sight of how to truly deliver a scare. Rather than truly building a tense atmosphere, what you end up with is a lot of unappealing high-res gore and a lot of badly timed jump scares. Reveal the Deep seems like the answer to those games, as it’s extremely cheap, minimalist in every sense, but utterly terrifying.
There’s little to no opening story here, not even a hint as to who you’re supposed to be. All you’re told is that you’re a diver exploring a sunken paddle steamer and a brief tutorial on how to use the basic controls. Beyond that, you’re left to your own devices, and with the constant sense of never being alone.
Above all others this is one, which really cranks up the tension, constantly leaving you uncertain and questioning where to go next. While the graphical tile-set is extremely basic, the true genius stems from the use of light and the sound design. Illuminated only by your headlamp, you’re often left only able to see one way with pitch darkness ahead of you. For all you know there is something creeping right at your very back, and many threats remain skulking in the dark, retaining only the bleakest glimmer of their eyes. This is only enhanced thanks to the sheer lack of any music in the game, only offering the loud thud of your weighted boots on the metal to echo about you, and the constant creak of the vessel in the deep. However, there are often changes, slight shifts in the pitch, which keeps you questioning if you’ve disturbed some massive seagoing leviathan or if something is close by in the dark. Even with this however, it’s astounding how it accomplishes such a sense of isolation as you progress deeper into the vessel.
Such elements would be terrifying enough, but many puzzles require you to switch off your lamp, during which the entire environment can rapidly shift about. At these points the entire map can change, allowing new areas to emerge out of the bioluminescent coral, or somehow shift back to their previously pristine glory. We’ll leave you to discover the truth behind that particular horror for yourself but it’s in these subtle moments that the game really shines. There’s an over-familiarity with gigantic, towering monsters and unstoppable pursuing foes, but there’s always something much more scary in seeing the locked hatch you passed a dozen times before suddenly left ajar.
Unfortunately, the real problem is that the early stages can seem too reliant upon unfamiliarity with older horror genre rules or even platforming elements. Certain enemies don’t offer much more of a threat than simply barring your way and the labyrinthine nature of certain levels can become frustrating rather than truly scary. What’s more is that many aspects seem like more of a proof of concept at times, especially when it comes to the minimalist look (which sadly does lose its edge towards the end) and a lack of any real settings beyond very basic graphical alterations.
Still, for all its flaws, let it be clear that Reveal the Deep is easily one of the single best bargains of 2015 and one of the best examples of how to nail horror. Definitely pick up this one if you have even a few pennies to spend.
REVEAL THE DEEP / DEVELOPER: LAZY MONDAY GAMES / PUBLISHER: LAZY MONDAY LTD / PLATFORM: PC / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW