Shark Attack Deathmatch (80 MSP) pools together a checklist of inherent awesome (FPS! Sharks! Harpoon Guns! Blood!), set in a breathtaking underwater world that must be seen in order to be appreciated, and hands you the keys to the liquid kingdom. It seems like a can’t-miss concept. In truth, it’s almost all downhill after the game starts.
The single-player portion (and your only option in the trial) is Survival mode, which gives you ten minutes on the ocean floor to rack up shark kills. Arbitrary warning arrows prohibit exploration and keep you in the playing field, though there are dozens of nooks and crannies to hide from attackers and the local wildlife, including a rusted-out ship and airplane. The biggest problem here is, once a shark spots you, in cover or otherwise, you’re pretty much done for. The flash grenades at your disposal help in a bind, but time and time again, it results in a game over. Without an effective counter-attack or danger indicator to ease the difficulty, it’s a one-and-done game mode you won’t likely return to.
Deathmatch is the real draw anyway, which puts up to four players online in that same ocean pen (the option to include sharks does well to keep things interesting) to see who comes out on top. There are pickups for health, said flash grenades, and oxygen, as well as scoring bonuses for going on killing streaks or for a successful melee. You can level up (shown at the end of each round), though there’s no stat-tracking or unlocks to be had for doing so. Even so, the game would hold up well if it weren’t for all the supporting parts that fail to pull their weight.
Oxygen is an ongoing threat. The idea of having to watch your O2 levels is great, and adds a new layer of concern to the deathmatch formula (you can be your own worst enemy), but it’s overemphasized here. From the second you spawn to the moment you drown, accounting for average movement, you have less than two minutes of air. There are refills scattered about, but when you’re more focused on hunting down O2 tanks than defeating your competition, it’s an issue.
Your weapon options suffer too. The harpoon gun is slow and clumsy in either game mode, and the horrible hit detection doesn’t do you any favors. The controls are floaty (no, I’m not being funny with that) to begin with, making enemies hard to line up. Holding the reticle firmly on a shark or human doesn’t guarantee anything either; you’ll really have to lead your target to have any chance at landing a shot. One on one battles are laughable at a distance, a coin toss at mid-range, and resort to knife fights in close quarters. Needless to say, it’s not fun.
It gives me no pleasure to knock it down, but Lighthouse Games Studio has missed a golden opportunity in Shark Attack Deathmatch. What’s arguably the best-looking game on XBLIG at this point, certainly the prettiest in underwater visuals, is wasted on a subpar survival game and an under-cooked multiplayer mode. It’s sounds ridiculous to mention that the strongest part of the package is the screensaver, which lays the time and date down over scenes from the game’s lush environment. Yes, that was the highlight for me. What could have and should have been much better is instead a beautiful shipwreck.
How does the game fare after several months (and patches)? You can find my updated thoughts on Shark Attack Deathmatch here.