Aquanox: Deep Descent is another example of an IP that THQ Nordic is breathing new life into. It’s out now on PC – is the next underwater epic worth checking out?
I still remember the original Aquanox coming out on PC, close to 20 years ago. People were still transitioning from Windows 98 to Windows XP, and a lot was being invested in the gaming infrastructure of PCs – specific “3D” cards were still popular and Microsoft’s DirectX architecture was starting to mature. When Aquanox released, it was one of those games that showcased that PCs were now able to do “something new”, having lagged behind the likes of the PS1 for a few years. Obviously some 2001 graphics aren’t going to impress people these days, so I was very curious how the gameplay held up in Aquanox: Deep Descent.
Aquanox: Deep Descent plays out in the distant future, where earth’s surface is no longer habitable after war ravished everything we hold dear. You’re Kaelan, one of the survivors now living under water and a skilled submarine pilot. There’s a typical post-apocalyptic plot here that involves (as post-apocalyptic plots often do) a cult-like movement that’s become a danger to human society, but the setting’s potential is never fully realized and didn’t feel as impactful as, for instance, Bioshock did – another memorable underwater franchise.
The first person underwater action in the new Aquanox isn’t just about getting from A to B, but often sees you engaging in combat as you’re suddenly attacked or find yourself on the offensive as part of an ambush mission. Other mission types include escorting larger and relatively defenseless allies as well as objectives where you have to squeeze through the enemy’s defenses – there’s a good variety here and the underwater setting makes things feel unique. Movement isn’t as rapid under water as it is in standard first person shooters, and the controls reflect this without ever becoming frustrating.
Addition variety comes from the fact that, over the course of the campaign, you can unlock 6 different submarine (called DSFs here), which you can also upgrade to in order to become more agile or fare better in combat. Scavenging for supplies helps you keep your ship in top shape, which you’ll need in some of the more challenging confrontations – where you might need to resort to some of Aquanox’ special attacks that include the ability to launch a small army of drones at your enemy. If you hit a wall in terms of difficulty you can always go back and gather more resources in order to get stronger, but this never felt like it turned into a grind for me and usually wasn’t needed – in most cases you can just take on side missions instead.
In terms of presentation, Aquanox: Deep Descent is a bit of a mixed bag. The underwater visuals look a little bland in stills, but the environment is quite convincing in-game – with haunting lighting effects as you traverse underwater caverns, marine life and underwater human settlements that emerge from the pitch black of the sea. The narrative portion, however, doesn’t feel as refined – with voiceovers that repeat too often in combat and characters/cutscenes that are not much more than stills. Luckily, the underwater action is convincing and gets the atmosphere just right – I enjoyed my 10+ hour campaign and felt quite immersed in the underwater world of Aquanox again.
Online multiplayer is included as well, although I doubt that it will take off – the slower-paced combat that Aquanox relies on doesn’t feel like a natural fit for a quick round against others as it lacks the (narrative) tension you get in the campaign’s underwater dogfights. That’s where the real weight of the game is, and it doesn’t disappoint.