Aquanox: Deep Descent Preview—Topical Dystopia

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Major global superpowers can’t cooperate on anything. Earth is dying thanks to rampant pollution. Key resources are dwindling to comically low amounts. War is breaking out on a daily basis. This isn’t a blow-by-blow recap of our current state of affairs—it’s the setup for Aquanox: Deep Descent.

Yeah, a little too close to home, isn’t it?

That’s by design, though. One of the lead designers described the process of updating the Aquanox series, which dates back to the mid-90s, as being a little tricky considering how dated some of the material was. For example, in the old titles, China and Japan team up to become a global superpower. Both the designer and I laughed for a good minute about that happening, because let’s face it, that’s one of the most unbelievable things about a game in which humanity colonizes the ocean floor.

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For the uninitiated, that’s the basic elevator pitch for Aquanox—humanity has fled underwater to escape the polluted and decimated surface. Through this, new alliances have been formed, and all of them basically hate each other from what I picked up. The struggle for resources is still a reality, and different superpowers duke it out on the daily for them. Each of these struggles could mean the difference between life and death for both the fighters and the colonies they represent.

These fights aren’t large-scale brawls, however. They’re tense, honestly horrifying struggles which only see a few underwater crafts shooting at each other at a time. During these fights, players will have to actively utilize cover like rocks and aquatic plants to juke their opponents and gain the upper hand. With the exception of the siege class, one or two direct missiles can completely bone players and spell a hasty death. This means rushing in with guns blazing is generally a terrible idea, and if at all possible, players are encouraged to take opponents from a distance or avoid them entirely.

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Your ship won’t always be peanut brittle, though, thanks to a robust upgrade system. In a mechanic remarkably similar to personal favourite Front Mission, players can manage every aspect of their ship. Armour, shields, weapons, speed, manoeuvrability, colour, and so many more facets can be tweaked to players’ liking. This being an open-world first-person shooter, players will explore the depths of the world and find the resources to make these upgrades happen. While the demo I saw had a wallet stuffed with 20,000 units of currency, the developer laughed and said plainly, “you will never have 20,000 in the real game.” Challenge accepted.

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In addition to the sprawling campaign, there are also deathmatches, which are a whole lot of fun. Players and their ships get thrown into an arena and have to zip around close quarters firing off shots at each other. This mode helped me get an idea of the weapon diversity, which is significant. You’ve got machine guns, shotguns, rockets, hot bolts of steel, sticky bombs, and so, so much more. While the single player looks significant and likely where I’ll get most of my playtime, the deathmatch mode seems really great and a good way to easily test the different loadouts. I was told that players can expect around ten maps to be available at launch, although that number is subject to change.

Aquanox: Deep Descent looks like a novel concept executed very well. It was surprising to me that the game is in alpha, and even more surprising that it doesn’t even have a tentative release date. What I saw was impressive in its current state, and I feel that it can only get better by the time it launches. With loads of content, a diverse cast of characters, and an intriguing bit of speculative fiction to complement its solid mechanics, I’m looking forward to the final product whenever I can get my hands on it.

Bella Lara Blondeau
Bella Lara Blondeau

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