Hidden Deep preview: 2D terror under the ocean

Something dreadful stirs deep beneath the ocean floor. Heading up a search and rescue team, it’s up to you to journey into a top-secret, undersea research facility and find out just what’s happened to its original occupants – and if you’re as familiar with sci-fi movies like The Thing, Aliens, and The Abyss as solo developer Łukasz Kałuski is, then you’ll know that hissing, aggressive creatures are part of the mystery.

What catches our eye about this survival horror platformer is the physics simulation side of it: as you and your team journey into the subterranean lair, tunnels can collapse, floors might crumble and give way, or freak fires could leave you horribly injured. On the plus side, Hidden Deep gives you a wealth of tools to turn these physics to your advantage: a careful use of explosives in the right place will open up new passages; you can use your grappling hook to winch your way across chasms or up tight shafts (stop chortling at the back); you can even use the abandoned diggers and cranes to bash through walls and other barriers.

Then, of course, there’s the alien threat lurking in all these crumbly corridors. There are flying things that look like fleshy bats. There are maggot-like things that crawl along the ground. The game’s threats are many and varied, and worst of all, they have the ability to take over human bodies without the player noticing. In video game terms, this mean that one of your teammembers could be a deadly alien in disguise – you could even flip control to a member of the team, move them around, and not realise they’re infected until it’s too late. “Sometimes even the character you‘re actually playing will suddenly transform into the alien creature,” Kałuski confirms. “It will be very cool in co-op mode, and I’m currently designing how it should work in the single player.”

Another team member meets a grisly fate. Expect a lot of this in Hidden Deep

Hidden Deep began life around six years ago as a pure platformer – a sequel of sorts to a game called Lost in Mine, which Kałuski made for the Commodore Amiga in 1995. Based in Warsaw, Kałuski was a web developer by trade, but he was determined to return to game development as a side gig, which in time led to him quitting his job to concentrate on Hidden Deep full-time. “At first it was just-for-fun project,” he says. “I hadn’t any clear idea [for the game] besides the miner exploring the mine – also, I didn’t know how to code it. Back then I was working as a web developer and spent only a tiny amount of time on my project. So my unnamed game was evolving very slowly. Three or four years later I got to the point where it started looking interesting, and one day I decided to go full time… I had some life savings and most of that was spent on making this game. Then suddenly I made a deal with Daedalic and they’re supporting me now.”

Aliens, The Thing, Deus Ex, Half-Life, The Abyss… they all went into the Hidden Deep sci-fi miʯ.

With publisher Daedalic Entertainment firmly in place, Kałuski has managed to make the most of the resources he has available: the 2D perspective means he can make quite a sprawling adventure game by himself, while still adding lots of details to add to the horror atmosphere. “The main advantage [of 2D] is that I can put much more content into the game – practically whatever I want to be there,” he says. “On the other hand, 2D also adds more possibilities [for the player] like seeing what is around you instantly, playing with lighting, and so on. You can work more with the player’s imagination, which is very powerful.”

To add to the suspense, Hidden Deep’s levels will be procedurally-generated, so you’ll never know exactly what awaits you as you embark on each mission. Again, you’ll have plenty of tools at your disposal – a floating scanner to help map the terrain, plus a trusty gun for close encounters – but this still the kind of game where you should expect to die often, and under dreadful circumstances. Or, to paraphrase the old tagline from Alien, “In a cave under the ocean, no one can hear you scream…”

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