Based on a little known adventure game called Subculture for the PC, Deep Fighter borrows a lot from that original game. Using most of the equipment and minerals from its inspiration (like the OR System and Thorium crystals); migrating players from the computer game will surely feel right at home. If you're unfamiliar with the sub-level universe however, there is still no need to worry, Deep Fighter is extremely easy to get into (and even easier to play).
Set in a war-torn community hidden beneath the sea, Deep Fighter requires you to pilot different submarines and accomplish certain story-based missions. Whether or not you succeed in a certain mission can often affect your progress and access to bigger and better equipment. With an ultimate goal of building the Leviathan Mother Ship to fly your people out of hostile territory, you'll want to succeed in your tasks as quickly as possible. Of course, nature's hazards and your mysterious mortal enemies, the Shadowkin, have other plans.
To combat your foes you're provided with an impressive amount of weaponry and tools. Ranging anywhere from heat-seeking missiles to stun darts (for subduing the local sea life), your inventory is managed rather effectively, and using your equipment is as easy as pressing either the left or right shoulder buttons. Deep Fighter is played from both a first-person perspective (for a big chunk of the action), and a third-person behind the ship view (usually when hauling cargo).
With almost forty scenarios and six humungous environenments, you aren't going to finish this game off over the weekend. And even though similar games that have come before it may have had a greater amount of levels and increased play time, I can't think one that was as diverse as Deep Fighter.
Evading the run-of-the-mill "seek and destroy" setup, Deep Fighter challenges you to think as much as you blast. Proposing various missions that will see you breeding fish, activating perimeter defenses, and even racing your wingmen in attempts to test out new engine modifications, Ubi Soft and Criterion's least advertised Dreamcast jaunt was and still is as "deep" as the moniker says. There's even a couple of Intense boss fights thrown in every couple of missions or so, and just like the days of 16-Bit, they'll push you as much as they wow you.
Super-detailed textures and ass-kicking water effects help to create a fantastic and believable marine land. Enemy subs, gigantic fish, gargantuan jelly-fish queens, and even rocky seabed canyons are extremely easy on the eyes. The only real gripe I had is that since the game takes place underwater, a lot of the areas can end up appearing the same. Repetitive or not, you can't deny how good it looks, even today the game holds up nicely.
In fact, Deep Fighter does just about everything extremely well. In addition to the simple controls, overly creative missions, and the pleasant eye massage, the soundtrack too is top notch. Equivalent to any oceanic movie you've seen in the last twenty years, the score is sporting some serious kick. The game's composer, Richard Beddow deserves praise. I just find it unfortunate that the voice acting doesn't quite live up to the same standard.
Speaking of actors, this game has them ... and not just in the vocal sense. Deep Fighter features full-motion video cut-scenes straight out of the old days when Sega and Sony experimented with FMV.
I did stumble upon a bug or two during the course of play. The first one occurred when I was defending the Mother Ship construction site from Shadowkin scouts, there were four of them on my screen and I quickly demolished two of them ... when all of a sudden, the other two vanished. Strangely, the event music was still playing and although I looked around the entire area for more enemies there were none to be found and I was stuck in the mission with no way out because of a glitch.
The other problem I encountered came in the form of sound effects and voices. Occasionally my weapon's fire noise and the admiral's speech pattern would go into high speed mode. Without warning his instructions to me had become incoherent... I reset and tried again, and they were fine. Perhaps another week in the studio could have fixed these little problems?
Overall though, I enjoyed my time with Deep Fighter. Simple and complex at the same time, the relaxing atmosphere and intelligent mission structure had me yearning for retries at failed scenarios for hours. I highly recommend it.