Exploring Deep Down, Capcom's procedurally-generated PS4 exclusive

Randomised acts of violence.

Sony's booth at Tokyo Games Show is probably not the best place to play Deep Down. TGS has a deafeningly loud show floor, where rival companies hope to win your attention with ridiculously-dressed show staff and ever-increasing volumes designed to drown out the stand opposite.

Deep Down, meanwhile, feels like a game that should be played at home with the curtains drawn, a furrowed look on your brow and a few fingers crossed, hoping for the best. It's about inching your heavy plate armour forward towards the next tunnel corner and straining to hear what's breathing beyond. It's about feeling protected in your hulking suit, whatever might be up next, then suddenly hating your metal protection for being so cumbersome - you've seen what lies beyond, and now you'd quite like to nip away.

The short demo I played revealed little about the game's overall mechanics and less of the game's plot, which sees warriors named Ravens travel back in time to face what inhabits the dark, randomly-generated pathways of Deep Down's labyrinthine dungeons. The trial level saw my unnamed character face a tribe of pig-faced monsters: tusked, sinewy beasts that look like the chaps Jabba the Hutt had guarding his palace in Return of the Jedi. But these are no mere pointy stick fodder. By default, the demo suggests you explore in "Casual Mode", an option which saw me survive the area bruised but alive. Those who switch it off will have a much tougher time.

The trial began with the choice of two characters (though the final game will support at least four players simultaneously), each with their own style of armour. I chose my heavily fortified fellow over a chainmail-wearing alternative - presumably that option would have been nimbler at the cost of having less protection. After a rare brightly-lit sequence in an open cavern I stepped into the dark. The crumbling, dusty walls soon swallowed me up as I edged forward toward a guttering brazier. I tested my pike-like weapon against a few nearby pots, hoping to find something of use inside. I did not. Holding down L1 and tapping R1 allows you to perform a short stabby swipe, handy for close contact and any nearby terracotta. L1 and tapping R2 activates your standard attack, a powerful thrust that can be aimed manually at key areas of an enemy's body.

It wasn't long before the first pig-guard - he had his back to me, which made him somewhat easy pickings. I prodded him twice in his rump before he could fully turn around, damage numbers spewing forth alongside a shower of blood, his health bar mildly depleted. He charged, I caught him between the eyes with a second volley of slashes, and he was suddenly upon me. I found out later you can perform a quick backstep move to dodge an attack (you have no shield or way of blocking blows manually), but at the time it was another flurry of swift stabs that saved me. I think I had managed to interrupt at least some of his swipes - either way, he keeled over.

Deep Down delights in unexpected surprises and the need for quick reflexes, although with its procedurally generated levels it's unclear how much of this is planned. Capcom's Yoshinori Ono - who turned up in person while I was queuing and demoed the game to a whipped-up crowd - previously stated that the game would be "regulated random". I watched the person in front of me complete his run and saw the layout in his preview was certainly different - at one point he managed to pike a pig-guard around a corner by awkwardly aiming across a gap. Cave sections remain the same length, however, and split up by discrete warp points. These welcome sights mark the end of your trials and can only be activated by waiting on them for a number of seconds - enough to make sure you've made the area safe, and presumably for the next section's layout to be generated.

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Motes of dust float within rare shafts of light. Lost? You can press the DualShock 4's touch pad to bring up a basic map overlay.

Other obstacles include rotating stone pillars that spit flaming arrows, and fire jets that roast both yourself and foes alike. Kiting an enemy into the latter burns off a significant portion of their health, although it's obviously a risky manoeuvre. Another trap saw the portion of flooring I'd stepped on suddenly collapse under me without warning, a surprise both to myself and the guard beneath I happened to land next to.

The only disappointing aspect to the demo was how little it revealed of the game's other systems. You collect dollops of sparkling blue mana from downed enemies and find a similar reward in certain chests. Some of this substance fills up gauges for special attacks - such as a whirlwind strike where your knight windmills his pike around - but what else it did wasn't apparent, nor was any other detail on how your character might be upgraded.

How much of what I played was a scripted event? How many other people had the same experience? I can't say. But whether through pure luck, scripting or, most likely, a mix of both, Deep Down's unpredictable underworld always compelled me to continue on. Its surprises were frequent enough to make my character's slow-paced plod an adventure, and never unfair or repetitive enough to become an interruption. I'm reminded of standing in the first, brightly-lit area, having only scratched the game's surface. I can't wait to go deeper.

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