Deep Sea Heads-On Preview

Imagine playing Silent Hill 2 while wearing a gas mask. Got it? Now imagine playing Amnesia: The Dark Descent blind. A little harder? Imagine the two simultaneously. It’s the scariest game you’ll never play.

deep sea

Describing Deep Sea using the lexicon of existing games is a feeble attempt; it’s as original an experience as they come. Creator and curator, Robin Arnott, travels to art, culture, and gaming conventions across the country to bring the lucky, unprepared masses his (usually) brief experimental experience in the “subjectivity of perception.” At the foundation, it’s a game of echolocation — hear a sound and try to spatially place it. At its core… sensory deprivation is a fickle master.

After Arnott cleans the ghillie-style blue gas mask, he helps me engulf my face with it, offering the advice, “You want it to be pretty tight.” So I pull the straps tighter as if strapping into a parachute. I’m already blinded by the mask and even logical distinctions have begun to lose value. As I place my hand (perhaps too) firmly on a joystick in front of me, Arnott completes my immersion with a set of noise-cancelling headphones. I can hear my breath repeated to me, only I’m underwater. Breathing in, I’m Darth Vader. Breathing out, bubbles.

I quickly notice that in order to hear the male and female voices directing me, I’ll need to control my breathing, to the point of holding it. The voices instruct me to locate a sonar beacon blipping in my right ear. As I veer the joystick right, the sonar swells gently in my left ear. I fire a tentative shot with the only button in the game, a trigger, and I hear a congratulatory connecting sound. Then madness takes over.

It’s tough to make out the conversation, presumably taking place in a submarine nearby, but the sound of panic in their voices is unmistakable. For a moment, I allow myself an out-of-body moment, pondering how transfixed I must seem to passersby on the E3 show floor, but I’m sucked back in by a low rumble. I can’t tell if it’s to my left or… Damn, I breathed out. I wait for the bubbles to clear.


The rumble becomes more distinct, like a whale’s call, or maybe a dolphin, but much deeper. The bass vibrates in both ears and I fire a shot. Nothing changes, so I redirect in an arbitrary direction — it’s too close to call. I fire again, the rumbling stops. A long period of silence, who knows how long, becomes almost unbearable. Then the voices return. Apparently the next one is big.

The familiar bass rumble returns, but more powerful, less distinct. I can’t get a read on it, or even begin to locate it. So I just start shooting and moving. There’s a delay between shots, enough to alert me that the creature is closing in. A tense violin creeps into my field, obscuring my direction further. Then a menacing bellow. It’s loud now, so loud. I didn’t expect it. What’s that noise? Oh, right, it’s me drowning.

And in just fifteen minutes (what I’m graciously assured is a “standard” time) Deep Sea has ended. Arnott informs me that one poor bastard made it forty-five minutes in the mask but eventually lost, as is the point. I try to tell Arnott what it was like, but all I can call it is “unique” and “amazing” in my immediate post-trauma stress.

What it is, really, is a lens to explore the senses, especially the ones I’m forbidden. Never has sight been as valuable as when I lose it, and never the physical sense of a bated breath as unnerving as when it’s thrown back at me. The aural horror is a tried methodology, but combining the aesthetic with functionality while crippling the more reliant senses is an unnerving dance I wish everyone could experience. It may not be the game you were looking for but trust me, it’s a game you want.

However, Arnott confirms that Deep Sea is meant only for conventions or similar showings, definitely not for retail. Along with a recently gathered team, he has begun work on a Kinect project called Synapse, an emotional opposite to Deep Sea, which he hopes to bring to Burning Man 2011 with financial support (a sordid tale, I’m told). In the meantime, keep an ear out for the sound of terror muffled by a haunting blue gas mask and you might be lucky enough to try Deep Sea.


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Author: Dan Crabtree View all posts by
Dan is Managing Editor for GamerNode and a freelance gaming writer. His dog is pretty great. Check him out on Twitter @DanRCrabtree.

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