Deep Down sparked considerable intrigue at Sony's PlayStation 4 reveal event back in February, especially for those of us with a weakness for a certain invigoratingly challenging, sublimely designed 2011 breakthrough hit
with a similarly dark-fantasy, demons-and-broadswords aesthetic. I was very much up for a Capcom-created next-generation dungeon crawler, having enjoyed the flawed but fascinating Dragon's Dogma so much.
With that in mind, the news a few weeks ago that the game is set in 2094 in New York was deeply confusing - how does that mesh with medieval-looking dungeon crawling? Apparently the player can touch artefacts to transport them inside their trapped memories, but given that New York has only been around since the 1600s, how does that work? Do you run in round touching things in museums like a curious, disobedient child? Is there an Assassin's Creed-like Animus set-up?
The Tokyo Game Show demo didn't really answer these questions. There are futuristic-looking elements to the interface that suggest an Animus-like device. The on-screen character was clad in thick armour and brandished a spear, creeping through dark corridors where light from the outside crept through cracks between the stones or spilled from torches, but the UI was all Minority Report-esque floating icons and annotations. Beginning outside what looked like an old temple, the demo quickly shepherded me towards a portal that took me deep into a randomly-generated dungeon.
To get the obvious comparison out of the way, the combat is nowhere near as fast, fluid and flexible as something like Dark Souls or Monster Hunter, at least not in this demo. You creep forward slowly, through corridors whose right-angled turns hide what's ahead of you, and aim the spear with an L button and thrust it with the R buttons, either a quick jab or a powerful lunge. Special moves, mapped to Triangle, included a whirling strike and a forwards rush. I also had bomb-like magic objects that could be aimed and thrown ahead of me, either lain as traps or chucked directly into enemy faces in an explosion of flames.
Playing through the same demo twice, the two dungeons that the game laid out for me were very different, though they looked broadly the same. First time through, the ground gave out beneath my feet within a few steps, plunging me down into a pit with an ogre. The second time, there was a twisting corridor leading to a hidden door, with traps that spat fireballs. First time through, a childlike voice in the background kept going on about the wonders of alchemy as I crept through corridors; second time, it was a female voice asking for help. The monsters seemed to be randomly placed too, though there was only one in this build - an ogre-like creature that swung with a blunt club.
Oddly, getting hit my monsters didn't really seem to do much except stagger me, though that may just be a feature of the demo. There's no block, just a quick leap backwards, and jabbing the spear at the right time sometimes interrupted or deflected the ogre's swing. I had more success with the bombs, planting them at the ends of corridors where I'd seen an ogre lurking. At this stage the dungeons feel more like puzzles to navigate than arenas full of creatures to overcome.
There were chests and floating orbs scattered around the place to pick up, but there didn't appear to be loot in the traditional sense: no armour, no weapons. Again, this might not be the case in the full game - I'm hoping for a good selection of weapons beyond the spear, and the early screen shots seem to indicate that there's more. The most impressive thing about this Deep Down
demo was the atmosphere; you can't always see what's ahead of you, the dungeon felt cramped and dangerous, and the sound was ominously minimalist. You can hear the slobbering of an ogre somewhere in the near vicinity, even if you can't see it. It's also extremely good-looking, especially the lighting. The animation still has a way to go, but the environments look very much like a next-generation game.
The demo ended with another portal and another mysterious voice, this time saying "welcome back" as the screen zoomed out on some kind of artefact. Then it ended, leaving me still unsure what to make of it. If you're expecting a Capcom version of Dark Souls, Dragon's Dogma is still the closest thing to that, at least based on this evidence. Deep Down feels more like a modern re-imagining of the classic dungeon crawler than an action-RPG, a next-generation 3D render of something like Etrian Odyssey's labyrinthine corridors.
Deep Down is enduringly mysterious, then, and it's still not remotely clear how its futuristic American setting gels with its old-school dungeon-crawl gameplay. It's safe to assume that the combat is deeper and more varied than this demo indicates, but there's a lot left to find out.