AquaNox 2: Revelation
Darling it's better, down where it's wetter, take it from meeee!
As regular visitors to Eurogamer will know, we like to shoot things. A lot. First person, third person, aerial combat, stompy robot Mech games with ludicrous controllers you need an entire annex to house - all the best ones are welcome in our manor. But what of the urchin faced submarine based first person shooter? If you enjoyed the likes of Subwar 2050, Archimedean Dynasty, and the previous AquaNox, then you're in the right place, and after the deluge of World War II, shooters, Vietnam shooters, sci-fi shooters and stealth shooters, we must admit we were looking forward to a change.
Spurious as it may sound, there's a good reason why the game's based entirely underwater. Well, it's reasonably feasible, anyway. In the year 2666, the land on Earth is now unfit for human habitation thanks to years of destruction, (thanks Tony), and we're all forced to live out our lives in underwater cities and travel around in submarines. There are even yellow ones, but sadly no Blue Meanies, unless you're slightly colour blind. Instead, what we have is a rather serious story that follows the life of young freighter pilot William Drake, who suddenly finds his ship hijacked by a bunch of dastardly pirates of the future, who'll keep him alive if he does what they tell him to do.
Massive attack of narrative
So, faced with no choice but to either turn the game off in some electronic act of Hari Kari, or struggle on against these remorseless bandits we took the latter option, only in the vague hope of finding out what did happen to Drake's father. Did he really go a bit loopy like your Grandmother suggested, or what? The intro cut scenes and dialogue sequences are but the tip of the iceberg, in a game so chock full of conversations and character interactions, it pushes Hideo Kojima's efforts for extensive pre-mission chat.
The basic game mechanic behind AquaNox 2 has you talking to everyone who has illegally boarded your freighter one by one until eventually you're allowed to get in your craft and go on a mission. You can, of course, just hit the escape button every time one of these pirates opens their mouth - but if scene-setting is your bag, you'll be well served.
Once you get called into action, you have to make do with a somewhat underpowered craft - a little slow, weak in armour, and with few meaty weapons. Just as well, then, that the first few missions ease you into the proceedings, demanding little more of you than piloting your craft through way points, zapping a few equally weak enemies, receiving welcome weapon upgrades and then returning back to base for some more story-telling antics.
Persistence is rewarded
Piloting the craft itself works in one of two ways - simulation or first person shooter style. We plumped for the familiar ground of the FPS, and it works exactly how you'd expect - except with the addition of up and down strafing, which helps if you want to dodge incoming enemy fire without going backwards or forwards, and an all-important auto targeting facility. The water inertia struck us a bit of a drag for those used to more fast-paced action, and top speed in the early part of the game can feel like the equivalent of playing an FPS on walk mode. Persistence is gradually rewarded as you progress through the 30 main missions and 70 sub missions, and you're given a continual opportunity to improve your arsenal and every aspect of your craft. Sometimes this is gained through 'paralysing' enemy craft in specific 'search and capture' missions, while other tasks, such as protecting, and/or rescuing NPCs who have found themselves under attack, often results in a handsome award of credits which you can spend in the game's equivalent of the shop.
The much vaunted graphics engine is a success only when Massive puts it to use, however. While we're happy to report no slowdown or glitches of any kind on full detail at 1280x 1024, there are some elements that impress more than others. The often massive enemy ships are all lovingly rendered, and lavished with care and attention to detail, and thanks to the necessarily slow pace of the combat you get to admire them at close quarters regularly - unlike most of the lightning quick aerial shooters we've ever played. The scenery, however, varies from the occasionally highly impressive underwater cities, full of vast structure and turrets to the more general sight of rocky canyons, which don't tend to house a whole lot of detail. There are some nice touches once you're in combat - good, chunky, vicious explosions, but in some of the quieter, dark early levels, you feel there could have been a better variety in the scenery.
Dad, dad. Where did you go?
Upon completion of a mission Drake has to head back to your freighter/underwater city, talk to everyone, upgrade your ship and head out once again to do battle against the hordes of submarine terrorists as you try to solve the mystery of where your father has vanished to. And it's a mystery that Massive has gone to great lengths to explain - and makes sure that you talk to everyone to make progress onto the next mission. We did quiz JoWooD whether the voiceovers in this preview build were representative of the final version, and they were at pains to point out that this area is currently being radically improved. We could go on about this, but suffice to say it's "just as well".
We generally enjoyed the 10 or so missions we played; it's a slower style of game to your average FPS, but the dogfights and full 360 degree nature of the combat make it something of a thinking man's shooter. We're definitely looking forward to the action ramping up as we acquire more powerful, faster ships. If only the game didn't rely quite so much on the narrative element and focused on what it's obviously good at (i.e. the action) we'd be rather more excited than we are. But it's a promising preview build, and we look forward to seeing the improvements once JoWooD delivers the final review copy sometime "soon".
AquaNox 2: Revelation screenshots (PC)
AquaNox review (PC)