Hidden Deep Early Access Review – Survival horror done right

Gare – Friday, January 28, 2022 12:53 PM
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Now, those that know me tend to be aware that survival horror, as a genre, has always been rather close to my heart, and that I’m always eager to jump at the opportunity when a promising new title pops up on the horizon. So, when I see a game that promises to be more than just a haphazardly put together series of cheap, loud jump scares – something with actual thought and effort put into it – I lean closer and go “okay, this could actually be good”. Well, I’m happy to report that Hidden Deep, a game no doubt inspired by classics like Aliens and The Thing, is just that. As in, it’s actually good. Not perfect, mind you, but it is still in Early Access, so there’s plenty of time for improvement.

Into the deep

The premise itself is simple yet effective, and while there isn’t much in the way of overt storytelling, Hidden Deep more than makes up for it with its excellent take on survival horror gameplay. You’re controlling a rescue team sent down to investigate a sub-oceanic research facility that’s mysteriously gone radio silent – your job is essentially to find out what happened and rescue potential survivors. And while you do, in fact, encounter various alien monstrosities along the way, Hidden Deep is far from being a mindless bug hunt. It’s more about careful exploration and the slow yet methodical process of carrying out a series of objectives while also dealing with unexpected setbacks from time to time. It’s all wrapped up in a tense, sci-fi horror atmosphere that makes exploring every new tunnel a genuinely thrilling experience, largely because you never know what surprises (one could even call them pranks) the developers might’ve prepared for you in the next area. And that’s honestly great. I died countless times while playing Hidden Deep, and not a single one of those deaths was frustrating; it’s more of a “dammit, you got me!” kind of moment, where you simply chuckle to yourself and try again. Hell, some of my accidental deaths were outright hilarious, and served only to further elevate my enjoyment of the game and its borderline mischievous nature. You ever walked off a cliff and plunged to your doom in Dark Souls because a player’s message told you there’d be a hidden path ahead? It’s a bit like that.

Gadgets and guns

At the core of Hidden Deep’s gameplay lies the hi-tech gadgetry at your disposal. During one mission, you might be required to scan the ground for potential weak spots where new pathways can be blown open with explosives, while in another, you’d have to command a pair of engineers to operate heavy machinery like cranes, hanging elevators and massive trucks used for digging additional tunnels. You also have access to a grappling hook that makes vertical traversal (for example, going up or down a mine shaft) rather convenient, while floating scan-balls can scout ahead and even electrocute monsters or remotely activate switches. There’s a lot of tools to play around with, and the levels available in the Early Access build each give you an opportunity to put them to good use.

I also enjoyed the the game’s handling of difficulty. Your progress is only saved between levels, meaning that each and every map (some are 15-30 or so minutes long, while others can stretch to an hour) must be completed in a single sitting; and while dying will immediately have you respawn at a nearby location, you only have a limited amount of “lives” for every level, so constant failure and a reckless handling of resources is something you’ll probably want to avoid. In one particular case, using up all your gadgets can even lead to permanently getting stuck on a level with no other solution left but to restart the whole thing from scratch. To many, this may feel frustrating, but I personally enjoyed it – the game’s cold indifference to me, the player, not conserving the resources at my disposal was indeed quite refreshing, and it’s what survival horror should really be about.

Bat country

If I’m to name one big gripe I have with Hidden Deep, I’d say it’s the game’s lack of enemy variety, at least in the current Early Access build. The trailer I watched before diving into the game promised some truly disturbing content – soldiers with their heads splitting open like during that one blood test scene in The Thing; the corpses of former marines bending backwards and moving like spiders, and so on. Instead, I was fighting two things in particular during roughly 95% of the game: flying bat monsters and giant spiders. And the occasional worm. That’s about it. And while this wasn’t a colossal issue for me personally, as I enjoyed the exploration/problem-solving aspect of the game a lot more than its combat, the fact remains that in a title that radiates some fairly heavy The Thing vibes, you’d normally expect some Thing-y… things… to happen. This is one area that I would most certainly love to see expanded throughout Early Access, as more potential threats and a greater variety of monsters could really do a lot to amplify the game’s already rock solid atmosphere.

Final thoughts

Overall, I’m fairly pleased with Hidden Deep. The spooky, uncertain atmosphere is spot on, and the core gameplay loop gives you just enough sci-fi gadgets to play around with to be consistently satisfying. Couple that with several hilarious “oops, you died!” moments and you’ve got yourself a winning formula… that desperately needs more than 2-3 enemies in its roster, because there’s only so many giant spiders and bats I can fight before wanting something else – something more bizarre and disturbing. Still, other than its oddly lackluster lineup of enemies, Hidden Deep is a moody and enjoyable descent into a dark, claustrophobic hell whose every nook and cranny is a joy to explore.

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