These depths are NOT a place for the simple minded…
Fathom is a 2.5D underwater adventure game which takes place in a puzzle-filled steam-punk world. Circling around the myths of Atlantis, the player is faced with the task of navigating the maze-like depths in which the game takes place inside a small, glass, bubble-like craft. Along the way they must tackle a variety of challenges from defeating ancient enemies and “bosses” to riddles and heavily thought-provoking puzzles. As an adventure game which has a somewhat different style to most of what is leading that market at present, will Fathom have what it takes to capture the gaming community’s ever more demanding attention?
The game still has some work that needs completing before it is finished, at least in terms of adding menus and hopefully a constructive tutorial or set of instructions on how to play. On loading the preview copy of the game provided to Invision to write this article the game booted straight into a level, leaving me sat a little bit bemused as to what on earth I was meant to be doing. Being thrown into a bubble-ship thing in the deep ocean without a clear goal made it pretty hard to catch on to what I was supposed to do in the game and how I was supposed to do it. It really did take me a while of playing with buttons and navigating backwards and forwards with growing frustration before I finally worked out how to progress at all. Needless to say the finished product of the game therefore does need some means of teaching the player and giving them direction. Once you get to grips, at least a bit, with what is going on then it is possible to admire some of the game’s actual playability features.
The physics of the game, always a challenging thing to develop in an underwater game so it seems, are pretty good. Navigating your craft using both its engines and taking into account momentum takes some skill but is pleasantly easy enough to learn. The movement of other objects in the landscape also appears to be what would be considered accurate for the setting. Having never actually spent any time in the deep ocean it is hard to say for sure, but it looks good enough for my expectations anyway. Some of the other devices used in the game, particularly those used for solving problems and puzzles, are also very cool. It is not a simple of case of destroying things with your craft’s weaponry here, but moving objects and really thinking over situations in order to solve them. For example you may have to blow up a rock and move its debris to break a generator and pass through an electric gate. If you can ignore the fact that the electricity underwater does not make sense for the deep ocean for one, but should also spread around and not be so focussed, this is a neat puzzle to solve. The various other puzzles of the game are also quite well thought out as well, and sometimes some thinking time is necessary to decipher them. Aside from the puzzle aspect, there are also old creatures seeking to oppose you lurking in the depths which you will need to deal with using your onboard equipment as well as some tact and your surroundings. This helps to keep the game interesting between the puzzler aspects that it puts forwards by providing variety, and these features have been developed well enough too.
Aside from the gameplay the game looks fantastic. The underwater effects are very pleasing to the eye, the steampunk features are cool as they always are in a game, the environment looks pretty and the ambiance adds to the atmosphere (apart from when you get angry with a puzzle, then it is just frustratingly calm). A very nice world indeed and credit to developers for designing it so. The games music adds very well to its atmospheric effect and almost gives the game a soothing feel. Most of the time this fits well and can help you relax your mind to solve the puzzles. The sounds that your craft makes are also quite effective, however some sound effects used in the game seem maybe a little too loud or pronounced at times given the setting.
There is still some work which needs to be done before Fathom can feel like a whole, complete, and fulfilling experience. Some good progress has been made so far for sure, but a little more time and work is needed before the game can be said to be finished. At present however the game shows good promise as a puzzle adventure with a nice setting which looks and feels good to play. The main problem with the game at present is that it lacks direction and information for the player and really needs this for it to reach its full potential. A good start to what could be a good game, but more certainly needs doing before the game can be a real success.
What Is Good Now? – A nice setting to look at and play in with challenging puzzles and well thought out enemies to give the game variety.
What Still Needs Work? – The game needs a direction and instructions for the player to follow and to learn to play, as this is difficult to work out without.