Review: Deep Beyond is a beautiful bitesize experience, but the story is all on the surface

Deep Beyond

I’ve more recently been of the belief that the majority of big budget video games made these days are far too long. Specifically, the open world adventures in the likes of Assassin’s Creed or Starfield from last year are designed to last hundreds of hours.  Deep Beyond is a short walk-’em-up or walking sim, in the vein of something like What Remains of Edith Finch. Visually however, it is most reminiscent of Lucas Pope’s Return of the Obra Dinn, seeing as it uses predominantly only monochrome colour schemes and relatively low resolution environments.

You play as Lilly, a young woman growing up on a small island off the coast, seemingly in Alaska. When Lilly was a kid, her father was lost at sea, meaning she was raised by her father’s friend, Howard. Howard is an archaeologist who has been searching for the last piece of the puzzle which will lead them to a fabled chalice which has been lost at the bottom of the ocean for centuries. Alongside your ever-loving companion dog Chester, you set out to dive to find the missing artefact. Unfortunately, things immediately don’t go to plan, with Lilly’s ship ransacked and Howard in danger, leading Lilly on a quest to save him and also maybe recover the chalice along the way.

Deep Beyond: Island
You can explore essentially all of the island where Lilly and Howard live.

While the individual plot beats are generally fine, the biggest issue with the game is the lack of depth. The voice acting is delivered proficiently but there is no intrigue here, everything feeling very superficial. Each step is telegraphed from well ahead, and even when there is some drama, it’s always resolved very quickly. I was actually very strongly reminded of the Tintin comics, given Tintin always gets into various scrapes but there’s never any doubt that he and Snowy will always emerge unscathed. I was never drawn into the story that was being told, and never felt I got to know Lilly or Howard more as characters, never able to suspend disbelief. Given the length of the game perhaps that’s understandable, but I still felt disappointed that the narrative fell flat.

What doesn’t fall flat at all though are the visuals. The starkly two or three colour environments, from oranges and yellows to dark greens and blues, provide a surprising amount of detail to what otherwise could be plain environments, the low resolution shading and shadowing also working really well. Much like Obra Dinn you can also zoom in on various parts of the world to examine certain things, and will sometimes be rewarded with an additional bit of expository dialogue from Lilly for doing so. While the levels are small they’re still nicely varied, including a couple of deep sea dives, an exploration of the island where Lilly lives, and a large tanker.

Deep Beyond: Sunken ship
Into the sunken galleon.

Between the walking elements there are also some fairly light puzzles, nothing taxing but they help to break things up, such as having to move the broken strut of a crashed aeroplane in order to climb a cliff, or using a crane to manoeuvre a catwalk in order to reach a higher area. There are also some bits which feel like they should be stealth sections, but as far as I’m aware there doesn’t seem to be a way to fail these. Ultimately, this is a game which is story first.

That is unfortunately my biggest issue with Deep Beyond; its story simply isn’t interesting. It’s a gorgeous game to look at and your dog Chester has a surprising amount of personality while he accompanies you around some levels, but the overarching story it tells is slight and superficial. For its low entry cost and short runtime that’s not a dealbreaker, but this could have been something much more memorable had it connected emotionally.

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