Depths of Sanity Review (PC)

Depths of Sanity Review: Struggling to Breathe in a Nightmarish Ocean

 

Depths of Sanity | Featured

I’m a fanatic for Metroidvanias. Don’t ask me why, I’m just drawn to them time after time. But I hadn’t really played one like Depths of Sanity before. This game eschews a core fundamental that generally exemplifies the genre – it’s not a 2D platformer. Since the game takes place underwater, you have a full 360 range of movement for your submarine. And while I was curious to see how that translated to the experience, ultimately, Depths of Sanity left me disappointed by what could have been.

 

Under the Sea

 

Depths of Sanity | Mission

 

You play Abe Douglas, a nautical commander, on the search for the missing Baroness submarine. Not only did he have a hand in picking the crew of the missing vehicle, but his own son is on board. So he’s really motivated to find them and hopefully return to the surface safely. Unfortunately for Abe, he has no idea what he’s getting himself into. Instead of a straightforward mission, he unknowingly dives headfirst into a Lovecraftian nightmare that will quickly make you question what’s actually happening.

 

Cthulhu Is Calling

 

Depths of Sanity | Madness

I should say here, I love the premise and atmosphere of the game. It’s dark, mysterious, and oozing with menace from every dark corner. A large reason why is the outstanding sound design. The music always matches the mood, and it escalates right before things get dangerous. One perfect example is when Abe finds an audio recording from the Baroness, about how a crew member started hearing impossible songs under the ocean. Cue the soundtrack suddenly changing to a sweet and utterly terrifying song before horrific Sirens start turning out the lights and attacking you. I wish the atmosphere was representative of the broader experience, but that’s not the case. Because where Depths of Sanity really drops the ball is with how it actually plays.

 

Submarine Controls Are Worse Than Tank Controls

 

Depths of Sanity | Locked

Now, I’ll preface this by saying I’m not a keyboard and mouse gamer. I find it awkward and unintuitive. So I was hopeful that my gamepad would do the trick. And while I thought it worked at first, I quickly discovered several problems. The game’s default controls involve aiming with the left stick, holding A to accelerate, and firing with the shoulder buttons. I found it was easier to tweak it so I could accelerate without the A button, and could just control my movement with one joystick. While this was more manageable, I found the game would unexpectedly change the control scheme back to the default without warning, making it nearly impossible to get around. One time it even wouldn’t let me aim with the joystick, and forced me to use the mouse instead.

Depths of Sanity | Blowfish

That’s not the end of my trouble with the game’s controls. Even when Depths of Sanity is working decently, there’s a recurring problem. Many times pressing a button wouldn’t cause anything to happen. I’d press the attack button, only for my guns to remain silent; or I’d try and switch secondary weapons, and discover nothing had happened. This made combat in the game a huge hassle. Since you move in 360 degrees, it’s an added challenge to even aim in the right direction before unloading on a foe. Add the floaty nature of the controls, and it’s easy to have momentum move you out of range as you’re firing.

Depths of Sanity | Drill

As a result, I often avoided combat when at all possible, and rushed past enemies. This wasn’t always easy. Though some foes mostly ignored me, swimming about in set patterns, others were much more aggressive. They would fling themselves off walls and explode when I got too close; others would fire bursts of water, pushing me into traps; perhaps worst are the angry sharks that repeatedly headbutt and chomp you, quickly killing you if you’re unlucky. Perhaps worst were the octopi. One variant would literally cackle before shooting projectiles at me, swimming out of range when I tried to respond. Another would fire gouts of ink to blind me for several seconds at a time. Not to be outdone, there are plenty of deathtraps, such as sharp coral shelves, naval mines, and arcs of electricity. It can get overwhelming really quickly. Having said that, I did mostly enjoy exploration in the game. It just would have been much better if I ever felt properly equipped to fight the aquatic horrors waiting around every corner.

 

Unleash the Kraken!

 

Depths of Sanity | Whale Boss

Despite my general disdain towards the controls, I did enjoy the boss battles in the game more than standard encounters. A primary reason for that is most of the bosses are much larger than regular enemies, meaning it’s less of a chore to actually hit them. The first one is a giant, albino whale that tries to ram you. Another are the aforementioned Sirens, who attack you in a group. Every boss battle is different and a substantial challenge. I just wish the controls didn’t make them that much harder. When I was fighting the Sirens, I was silently praying my guns would fire when I wanted them to. In fact, my usual strategy with combat in the game was to pick a line of fire, unleash a stream of bullets, and hope a few would catch my enemies.

 

Beautiful Darkness

 

Depths of Sanity | Luminescence

Overall, the visual style of Depths of Sanity was pretty satisfying. Though they tended to overuse really tiny pixelated creatures, I appreciated the diversity of enemies arrayed against you. The game also makes good use of dark and light to keep you anxious, not knowing where threats are lurking. Musically the game is utterly fantastic, with atmospheric music and great sound effects. Sadly, as good as the sound design is, it’s not enough to outweigh the many other problems the game has.

 

More Dead Weight

 

Depths of Sanity | Logs

I hate bringing up more problems, but I have to mention a few more quirks that held Depths of Sanity back. One annoying issue is that Steam achievements didn’t seem to work as I played, which was a bit disappointing. Also, though I appreciate all the logs you find from the Baroness crew, they’re way too wordy. So much so that it didn’t take long before I just started skimming them for anything relevant, and ignoring everything else.

 

Let It Drown

 

I really tried to enjoy Depths of Sanity. It’s a unique take on the Metroidvania genre, and it introduces some neat ideas. Sadly the execution of those ideas were held back by the awkward and consistently problematic controls themselves. As a result, even though the game has really great atmosphere and interesting concepts, most fans of the genre will likely lose patience incredibly quickly.


Final Verdict: 2/5

Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: Bomb Shelter Games; Developer: Bomb Shelter Games; Players: 1; Released: November 1, 2022; MSRP: $14.99

Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.

Josh Speer
Got my start in the industry at oprainfall, but been a game fanatic since I was young. Indie / niche advocate and fan of classics like Mega Man, Castlevania and Super Metroid. Enjoys many genres, including platformers, turn based / tactical RPGs, rhythm and much more. Champion of PAX West and Knight of E3.

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