Hidden Deep isn’t the typical sort of game you expect from Daedalic Entertainment. Death lurks around every corner, as do countless mysteries as you uncover a minable 2D world packed to the brim with dreadful atmosphere. Beneath the ocean floor, something evil lurks, buried in the earth — and if the latest demo is any indication, it’s a journey horror fans have to get their hands on.
Developed solely by Cogwheel Software’s Łukasz Kałuski, Hidden Deep is neither a whimsical adventure nor a rollicking multiplayer title. Instead, it’s a fascinatingly brutal hybrid of Aliens, Half-Life, and Lost Vikings. Throw in the body horror nightmare of John Carpenter’s The Thing for spice as a hive of awful creatures threaten your efforts to recover a lost mining team deep beneath.
Though the build demoed was early pre-alpha, Kałusk is achieving the sort of scale and depth whole teams have struggled with, and it’s all built in his own custom engine. Dynamic destruction and physics are one thing, but it’s another thing to be able to seamlessly hop between squadmates and those squadmates’ drones and vehicles and even have the ability to remotely pilot machinery. Hidden Deep isn’t just your run-of-the-mill survival-horror game.
You have to manage resources, including your fragile squadmates. Valuable information must be read, for instance, to time a window of safety without breaking anything or killing a squadmate. Crossing a gap might be a question of platforming or careful use of industrial equipment. Scouting ahead with a drone is useful, but it leaves its pilot vulnerable. What few NPCs you cross paths with might be not trustworthy either. Hidden Deep is primed to not only capture the squad-based horror of Aliens, but the inherent vulnerability and isolation that come with dividing your forces and facing a horde that defies explanation.
The world of Hidden Deep is cruel, yet immediately begs to be explored. The sprite work of Hidden Deep is fantastic, as is its sound design. The fluidity of the dynamic animations makes every creature seem that much more alive, as tentacles sway and sickly man-bats force themselves into the air. Much of the soundscape presented was purely diegetic, with the HUD resembling a remote command center as you order your soldiers further down into the depths. If you’re itching to put up a fight, rest assured your team has some potent-sounding weapons, though against a horde or in a vulnerable position, that’ll only get you so far.
Rather than leaning on its 2D nature, Hidden Deep digs, err, deep to push the limit of what you can do with lighting and pacing. Dynamic lighting and oppressive shadows leave you wondering what’s just beyond the cone of vision. It’s all incredible to watch (an earlier build is currently available to try for free on Steam), boasting impressive presentation even this early on, which includes the many gut-wrenching ways your soldiers can die. Flesh monsters, cave-ins, sonic blasts, bad falls, equipment malfunctions — not since Dead Space have there been quite so many ways for a sci-fi horror game to brutalize you in a Game Over. With over two dozen enemies planned, there are plenty of beasts waiting in the darkness.
Despite how that all may sound, Kałusk isn’t interested in being cruel to players. Though currently not decided, he explained in an interview that he’s inclined to allow players the freedom to manually save in the vein of Half-Life, which he cited as a major influence on the game’s sound design and use of industrial equipment for environmental puzzles. Players will also acquire additional equipment over their playthrough, granting them an edge, including two different drone types.
However, perhaps the biggest edge is the reveal that Hidden Deep will now support co-op, both local and online. The co-op gameplay we were shown had two players freely piloting whichever character they desired, though Kałusk expressed an interest in supporting a full squad of four players. In the event your teammates injure themselves non-fatally, a healing system is currently being developed.
So to reiterate, the features in Hidden Deep are not yet finalized. While the progress so far is greatly encouraging, various aspects are subject to change. Yet it’s by letting players try it early that Kałusk receives valuable feedback, and as a personal passion project, Hidden Deep is thoroughly impressive and rich with potential. With a release window planned for later this year, it won’t be long until players can discover what’s Hidden Deep beneath the sea soon enough.