From 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to The Hunt for Red October and even Down Periscope. There have been numerous submarine movies over the years, but far fewer games. With Diluvion, developer Arachnid Games aims to place a new entry in the pantheon of undersea adventure games.
With an art style inspired by Jules Verne as filtered through a classic Disney movie lens, Captain Nemo and the Nautilus would feel right at home in the world of Diluvion. The backstory goes that sometime in the distant past, the gods (or some calamity lost to legend that is now blamed on a divine hand) caused the seas to rise and flooded the world. Some locations tried to slow the rise with walls, but in the end, the whole world was swallowed by water, with a massive ice cap covering the surface. The remaining inhabitants eke out a life underwater, with various converted habitats and submarines plying the distances between livable bubbles.
Enter our faceless protagonist. After choosing one of three basic submarine types at the start of the game, players find themselves at a seedy undersea bar to hear a tale of the Endless Corridor; a legendary passage to fame and fortune. One slight hitch: the Endless Corridor is significantly beyond your sub’s current crush depth. Attempting to go there in your current state will crush your sub like a soda can – not a pleasant day for anyone aboard.
So begins your quest. Gated upgrades allow you to improve your sub: faster, tougher, greater firepower, and deeper diving. For the right price, you can also switch to one of the other available classes. Sub classes differentiate from each other in the amount of weapons and armor they can carry, speed and maneuverability, and crew capacity. Each sub has four unique stations: Sonar, Navigation, Guns, and Torpedoes. Each of these stations is (eventually) manned by unique members of your crew. Additional crew can be hired, and used to either staff one of the four positions, or allowed to sit in a common area where they can perform ship repairs during combat.
Hired crew can also have their attributes upgraded in four possible areas. These attributes provide various bonuses when crew are stationed in a specific room. Crew stats, coupled with the submarine upgrades, comprise the majority of Diluvion‘s RPG systems. One major difficulty I encountered with hired crew was that I could find no way to assign specific crew to specific jobs. The problem here came that I might want a crew with a good stat bonus to torpedoes to be in the torpedo room, however, there was no simple way to make this assignment that I found.
Traversing the depths of Diluvion‘s world gives ample opportunities to depart from the main quest line and explore. The oceans are dotted with landmarks that appear on your map once found. Wrecks and abandoned habitats litter the seafloor, sometimes guarded by old mine fields or other enemies. Depending on your sub’s crush depth, some of these mysteries may lay tantalizingly out of reach for a time, tempting you to come back later and re-explore areas that open up after an upgrade. Trading vessels and pirates roam the currents between habitats, looking to ply their wares, or for a quick score.
For a world that’s been underwater for centuries, where life clings to the most tenuous of threads, there sure are a lot of pirates to blow up and loot. Roaming bands are trouble enough, but many of the story missions throw groups of four or more into combat against you at once. Unfortunately, combat is probably one of the weakest elements of the game. Individual enemies can be somewhat easily dispatched by lining up a couple of good broadsides, but multi-submarine combat is often an exercise in frustration. One particular sequence saw me win only by sheer luck, doing a snatch and grab on some required piece of loot from a heavily guarded location, then getting blown up only after successfully crossing a save point. When the game reloaded, the chasing pirates had been reset away from me.
Another issue is a consistent breaking of the game’s navigational system. In theory, a stream of golden fish (inspired by fishermen’s tales of ancient navigation techniques) is supposed to lead the player to the next objective. In practice, this works right up until you dock with something other than your mission objective. Undocking will have you find the school of fish has disappeared. Hope you remembered what compass heading you were on!
Docking, is another pain point worth a note all by itself. In the Diluvion world, ships dock by firing two little harpoon things that connect to the docking port or the target sub or habitat, then reeling in the connecting ropes until hatches are connected. In practice this works… sometimes. Other times it’s an exercise in frustration as your sub attempts to unsuccessfully dock again and again with some target vessel whose geometry is awkwardly arranged relative to your sub. It’s a level of awkward hook-up attempts not usually seen outside of Tinder Fails.
Controls are helpfully laid out, and fully re-mapable. While I learned that I preferred a keyboard and mouse approach, I also found the game perfectly playable on my trusty Xbox 360 gamepad. A more advanced HOTAS setup with my CH Products Combatstick and Pro Throttle was slightly less successful, however that’s also an entirely unnecessary level of complexity for this game. Diluvion is far more a vehicle based RPG than it is any kind of simulation.
The story as it plays out is pretty well written. There’s no voice acting beyond a few grunts and vocal clutter; all interaction is done through text. There’s nothing wrong with this, though the game’s habit of not remembering that certain dialog bits have been viewed when loading a save can get a bit aggravating after a while.
Despite its flaws, Diluvion delivers a good story and a solid set of core mechanics. There aren’t a lot of submarine games that take an RPG approach to narrative and interaction. Arachnid Games also continues to actively support the product (as of two months post-launch) releasing additional submarine content and patches to deal with some of the major launch issues.