Sharks are evil! Don't believe what the Discovery Channel tells you, great white sharks are not the misunderstood apex predators of the ocean depths. No, they are savage monsters with hearts filled with hate, and an insatiable hunger for human flesh, bones and organs.
We have all seen the movie Jaws, and its many appalling sequels, so we know exactly what sharks are capable of. As a result of these movies, 80's kids grew up with an inherent fear of the ocean and what possibly lurks beneath the surface. It is this primal fear of the watery unknown that Lighthouse Games calls upon to get your pulse racing and your nerves twisted.
Shark Attack Deathmatch puts you in the flippers of an unknown diver, armed with only a speargun, a knife, and a flashbang. With these tools you must murder all other divers you come across. There must be some pretty special treasures buried in the sea bed to warrant such homicidal behaviour, but this is never explained. This is pure online deathmatch folks, none of your fancy capture the flag or horde modes here, just man vs man in a fight to the death. Throughout each 10 minute battle, multiple great white sharks circle and skulk around the ocean map, minding their own business until their tiny brains snap and they decide that you would make a delicious snack. Avoiding them is paramount as an encounter with one will never end well, once they rush at you the last thing you will see is the inside of their huge gaping jaws as they chomp you into mincemeat, a cloud of crimson marking your departure from this world. You can dispatch the sharks with several spears, but you had better make sure you finish the job quickly as nothing pisses a shark off more than having metal spears fired into his flank. The resulting torrents of blood will also attract others, so you had better make a hasty retreat too.
The one map available is fairly big, enough for the 4 maximum players to engage in tense battles, and initiate sneak attacks on unsuspecting divers. It consists of a central cavern system, a downed passenger plane, and a sunken ship that creaks and moans as you explore its small interior. The movement feels very much like you are underwater, and it is a nice change to be able to move freely around in a FPS.
The graphics are very polished for an indie title, with the underwater world looking convincing, sea debris surrounds you like underwater snowflakes, schools of tiny fish glide by, and harmless sea animals such as turtles, conga eels and manta rays pass you by. Your vision is slightly cloudy which gives a realistic impression of viewing your surroundings behind a plastic mask, and the stream of bubbles you leave in your wake all combine to deliver an environment that feels alive. The sharks are the highlight here though, and seeing the menacing figure of a great white slowly passing by a porthole, with the sunlight shining through the surface to dazzle you, is very impressive.
Music and sound effects are minimal but work a treat, with the creaking ships, oxygen replenishment sounds, and spears whooshing through the water all sounding authentic, it is an excellent example of less being more.
Gameplay is fun and intuitive, and swimming through the depths, constantly looking around to check for other divers or sharks, is a tense experience. Combat is slower paced than your usual FPS due to the underwater setting, but it works all the better for it. Aiming has to be carefully considered before firing as spears are slowed down by the water and can give away your location, indeed, hearing one glide past you can often startle you, resulting in swimming for the nearest cover. There are tense stand-offs with other divers as you fire speargun at them. The reload is reasonable slow so you will be strafing and hoping not to get hit by their projectiles as you ready your next shot. Dropping the flashbangs can temporarily blind them giving you time to escape but it can also disorientate you too if you do not look away in time, and of course, there will be other divers coming from other directions. The knife also has its uses, mainly used for slashing frantically at an enemy who is too close, but it is effective and also offers a deeply satisfying kill should you swim up behind an unaware diver. Your oxygen level is constantly depleting but you are able to replenish this with the few oxygen tank pick-ups that appear in fixed re-spawn points around the level. It depletes faster when you hold down the 'run' button, so you have to use this sparingly, mainly when trying to evade an enemy.
There is a single playergame in the form of survival mode, which tasks you with killing as many sharks as possible in 10 minutes, without being eaten. It is enjoyable and challenging, and offers the same tense feeling while swimming around it pales in comparison to the excellent online deathmatch mode.
There is even a screensaver included which shows a shoulder cam view from one of the passive sea creatures as they casually glide through the ocean, accompanied by relaxing music. It even shows the date and time and is certainly a pleasant extra. It's like watching Blue Planet without Sir David Attenborough's silky narration, and will certainly be popular with stoners.
Lighthouse Games have stated that there will be extra weapons and maps released as free updates in the near future, which can only improve the game. At just 80 points to begin with, it makes this an absolute no-brainer for anyone considering a new game, indie or otherwise.
If you fancy some tense underwater deathmatch action then you can't go wrong with Shark Attack Deathmatch, and I highly recommend it. There are plenty of people playing it online too, so dive in (excuse the pun) and join in. Just watch out for those damn sharks.
- Impressive graphics and use of sound
- Great underwater atmosphere
- Tense deathmatch battles
- Sharks look great and add fear to proceedings
- Only 80 points, with free updates to come
- Only one map for now
- sharks vanish after their death animation
- Aiming can feel slightly off sometimes