When I checked today (12-5-07), none of these major sites-- Gamespot
, or Gametrailers
--has a review for Undertow
from indie developer Chair Entertainment. Some of the sites showed user reviews, or even previews, but it's clear that this independent title has not, at least in the private sector, received the attention that it has rightfully earned.
Undertow has sleeper hit written all over it; however, most gamers have yet to notice. That's the unfortunate bit. For those who have heard of it--those who I've talked to online who've played it--claim its the best thing to come around for Live Arcade since Pac Man Championship Edition
I'd say that's a pretty good way to put it.
Undertow is fast, fun, deep, and simple, all at once. Imagine Battlefield 1942's capture points put into a 2D side-view shooter and you have some idea of what to expect. Undertow's pick-up-and-play attitude is juxtaposed with in a deep strategy core, class-based play, and some very, very pretty graphics. Every game of Undertow, every game
, (even with some medium-difficulty computer AI) is an edge-of-your-seat, nail-biter. And the campaign has enough surprises to make it worth your money.
Chair Entertainment's Undertow is a work of pure quality, one of those diamonds waiting for arcade gamers to dig up and discover. The game's premise is simple--the undersea world with Nemo, the Atlanteans, and the humans has become a little too close for comfort after the Earth flooded. So they, obviously, have to mobilize for battle. (Cue epic battle music!)
Imagine Battlefield 1942's capture points put into a 2D side-view shooter and you have some idea of what to expect.
The story is good fun and doesn't take itself too seriously. And how could it? The Iron Marines (humans) team up with Nemo's son to defeat Nemo? Atlanteans get thrown into the mix, Merpeople riding sharks... That's good stuff. The voice acting may be iffy at times and although the character models aren't "beautiful", a few well-placed lighting effects maintain the presentation and feel of being underwater. A few predictable parts in the story don't detract from the otherwise surprisingly wry and witty dialogue, either. Undertow's story is clever and never stops being fun
. You can skip cutscenes or replay them if you'd prefer. Once you're out of the action a few moments will pass and you're back into it, up to your neck no less. And, best of all, Undertow can be played co-op over Live of System Link, or, better than that split-screen
locally. Finally, a developer that "gets" gaming.Clever
, too, are the controls. You'll be familiar with Undertow's controls if you've ever played Contra or Robotron, or nearly all the other Robotron homages
accumulated on Live in the years since the 360. It's a combination of moving and shooting that within the framework of the game gets a new spin.
What I mean is this: Undertow feels completely different than its contemporaries. With a squeeze of the right trigger you "dash," the left analog guides you, the right directs your fire. Getting around each level quickly is a matter of just holding "X" and controlling your unit. In this mode you sacrifice vulnerability and firepower for mobility, allowing you to quickly get to a capture point. Press "Left Trigger" and you can also launch depth charges, which have a radius of damage that can either kill enemies immediately or put them on the brink. Gravity, as well, is at work in Undertow, so if you launch a depth charge above, it'll sink down before exploding. Keeping the high-ground is a good tactic. One great tactic involves the use of these charges and making "bombing runs" over control points to thin out the opposition, then dive in for the capture.
At any time you can switch classes with the D-pad, and the next time you respawn, you'll spawn as that unit. There's the Marine, a small, quick unit, the Dragoon, who is quick and vulnerable but packs double the guns with half the range, then there's the Corsair, a medium rocket-firing assault force, and the huge Destroyer who adds splash damage to his powerful, slow-rate-of fire torpedoes. The best part is that each of these four units (there are more units promised with expansions) are upgradable. As you kill enemies and capture spawn-points, you get credits which you can spend to upgrade--2000 points gets you to level 2, 3000 gets you to level 3. Upgrading is as easy as pressing Y, to select the unit and then A to upgrade, and can be done whenever you have enough points. When you die, your upgrades stay with you. Keeping this in mind grants each play of Undertow a subtle edge of strategy.
Though most of Undertow's success can be given to it's amazing multiplayer (bots, if you cannot find humans, seamlessly integrate into the gameplay), we have to hand it to the beautiful graphics. Running off the Unreal 3 Engine, and clocking in under 50mb, Undertow is not slouch visually. Each bullet, torpedo, and every creature under the sea trail air bubbles and make ripples. And when a depth charge or a Destroyer's torpedo goes off, it can be a thing of beauty. The game runs from a side-scroller 2D perspective, but for all purposes is 3D. You'll notice rocks crumbling from torpedoes, fish swimming around, minding their own fishy business, and seaweed that wavers. It's a visual treat.
What you'll come for may be the visuals, but you'll stay for the wonderfully rounded multiplayer. Co-op is good fun, but the Conquest versus mode is where Undertow shows it's aces. Often through the Co-op campaign, you'll end up playing these "conquest" types where you try to capture spawn-points to reduce the enemy "tickets" or lives. But when you do it with the human element (for up to 16 players, as I've no doubt mentioned several times), brilliant things happen. Strategies get involved, evolve. Players who like quick units, like the Dragoon, try to take enemy starting points and force a win early. Hulking Destroyers begin traveling in packs of Marines or Corsairs for protection, while offering an impressive siege element. Players who favor small units hide
, waiting for ambushes. These are just a few of the things I've seen in perhaps five hours of play, but the next ten, the hours I've spent with the game attempting to tune my style of play, has been a rollercoaster of adapting to other players and relearning new play styles over and over. That's my favorite part, the adapting to others' styles.
Undertow is a compelling, strategic shooter with tons of replay value. Great design decisions make it not only a great buy, but a game that you'll likely come back to when you're done with Mass Effect or Half-Life 2. The 15-stage campaign might be somewhat disappointing, but the quality and the thought put into the game far surpasses that small blip on the radar. Undertow is 800 Microsoft Points, and worth every "virtual" penny.