Sleepy Sentry, K-Project / Slitherine
The long-running X-COM franchise has captured the imagination of gamers worldwide. It’s emphasis on managing a small, rag-tag group of resistance fighters who always try to fend off massive alien invasions is the classic underdog story that we’ll all seen in many alien invasion media such as blockbuster Hollywood films.
One of the titles that many fans consider truly unique was X-COM: Terror from the Deep, since instead of fighting aliens on the ground, you has to take your resistance fighters to underwater environs in an attempt to thwart a sneakier, aquatic alien incursion.
Venerable strategy publisher Slitherine, as part of its K-Project initiative, have recently released a game that is reminiscent of Terror from the Deep. It’s called Stirring Abyss and instead of being set in modern times, it takes place during the beginning of the Cold War era.
Stirring Abyss’s story beings with the sinking of the USS Salem, a submarine that was in the midst of an important mission. The expeditionary crew wind up inexplicably strewn across the ocean floor without any memory of the sinking. They do, however, locate the submarine—flooded but still functional.
One of the things that I immediately liked about Stirring Abyss is that it develops its sense of dread in a gradual way. Your crew members will see only what they can in a circle around them, everything else is shrouded in darkness. As you traverse the deep ocean realm in an effort to locate additional crew members, you’ll fight off massive electrically-charged jellyfishes. But as you progress further into the depths, you’ll soon run into more…disturbing entities.
These include scaled fishmen, bizarre humanoid Orca-liked creatures, and other unnatural denizens of the deep. Each of these monstrous foes has their own strengths and weaknesses you’ll have to find out through trial and error—but hey, that’s half the fun!
Stirring Abyss is a 2D, turn-based game. However, unlike similar games like Age of Wonder – Planetfall or any of the X-COM titles, there isn’t much in the way of tactical maneuvering. You can’t sprint or dodge and there’s no cover system, but that sort of makes sense since your crew members are wearing heavy diving suits.
Therefore, combat mainly consists of closing in on enemies and attacking them with the default knives or spearguns that all of your crew members carry, or unleashing some sort of unique ability such as the science officer’s depth charges that can obscure entire areas of the map. Since this is an H.P. Lovecraft-themed game, your crew will eventually be able to tap into special eldritch abilities that are on par with the underwater horrors you are facing.
In-between missions, you’ll return your crew members to the USS Salem and utilize resources that you’ve obtained to pump water out of the submarine’s various compartments. As you do this, you’ll gain access to new features such as crafting areas and medical facilities. You can choose to rest your crew to gain back health and sanity but be aware that the more your rest, the more that evil corruption spreads throughout the depths.
One issue I have with Stirring Abyss is its 2D isometric layout. Instead of most modern isometric games these days, in Stirring Abyss you can’t rotate your view in 3D. And with all of the debris covering the ocean floor, it’s sometimes hard to see enemies or other important things through all of the boulders, reeds, and other objects therein. There were quite a few times that I’d make a tactical blunder simply because I couldn’t see all of my options during various combat situations.
To its merit, Stirring Abyss does feature some excellent voice acting, a creepy score, and pretty decent graphics. So, if you’re a fan of H.P. Lovecraft or X-COM, this game is a pretty good marriage of the two genres that has enough uniqueness to be enjoyable in its own right.
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