When Sony showed the first glimpse of Capcom's Deep Down at the PlayStation 4 reveal event in New York City this February, my first thought was: "Oh, nice! A Dragon's Dogma sequel."
I mean, the signs were all there: It looked like a Western-style melee-focused action role-playing game, from Capcom, and its initials -- DD -- echoed Dragon's Dogma. So perhaps not a direct sequel (reasonably enough, given that Dragon's Dogma didn't leave itself particularly open to a continued story) but certainly something in that same vein.
After playing the game's shockingly brief Tokyo Game Show demo this weekend, however, I quickly realized that Dragon's Dogma has nothing whatsoever to do with Deep Down. Sure, there's a commonality in the two games' aesthetics, but that's just a sign of their shared roots in medieval fantasy. Nah, Deep Down is pretty much just an unabashed attempt to bite off Dark Souls' style.
It's clear the moment you pick up the controller and select from one of the two warriors available in the demo. You move clumsily -- "deliberately," if you want to be nice about it -- and the camera is zoomed in preposterously close to your protagonist's shoulder, causing your on-screen avatar to take up about a third of the screen. It doesn't feel entirely dissimilar to the contemporary Resident Evil style, though you get about far more slowly and suffer from much greater limitations.
The game allows you to carry several custom skills into the demo dungeon, including an invaluable spin attack along with more esoteric abilities like "Sync," which has something to do with the moon -- though with the strict time limit on the demo, I didn't have nearly enough time to decipher the explanation of most of the possible powers and instead settled for a random grab bag of skills.
In practice, though, the only one I really needed was the spin attack, which saved me from an instant game over. The demo dropped me into a room in which I was surrounded by three ogres and left me to sort things out for myself. Not so much "fight or die" than "master combat instantly or die," just like Dark Souls. My spear-wielding knight could perform grossly inaccurate melee strikes with the right shoulder triggers (a standard attack with R1 and a forceful piercing thrust with R2), but to stand a proper fighting chance you need to focus your weapon by holding down L1, which throws you into a ready stance -- again, not entirely unlike Resident Evil's aiming mechanics, though it does feel a little strange to use this style with a spear rather than a gun.
Naturally, taking the combat stance leaves you somewhat vulnerable as you move more slowly with your spear readied. On the other hand, you can actually tell what you're going to hit when you're taking aim: A small reticle appears to provide focus for your attacks, helpfully turning red when a foe is in range. Focusing also gives you a much greater chance of countering an enemy action; the ogres seemed to have the upper hand when I flailed wildly, but when we took simultaneous actions as I maintained a ready stance, my spear strikes took priority and frequently shattered the ogres' wooden clubs, leaving them vulnerable.
Still, three of those things attacking from all sides is no fair fight, and one would always knock me out of my combat stance as I bore down on another. That's where the spinning strike came in handy, knocking them all back and allowing me to face them individually. My avatar only had stamina for three of those attacks, but that was enough to get me past the first room (and the stamina gauge for that skill seemed to recharge as I ventured further into the area). After the triple-threat initiation, I only ever had to face two ogres at a time at the most, which made the remainder of the demo much more manageable -- especially as I had a better handle on the feel and workings of Deep Down by that point.
The brief dungeon managed to contain a few traps alongside the wandering ogres -- namely, statues firing intermittent bursts of flame that I had to scoot past. Handily, the enemies were just as vulnerable to the fire I was, though they were much stupider about it, idiotically wandering into the streams of fire in their mindless determination to squash my protagonist into a greasy stain on the floor.
So, in the end, I'm intrigued by Deep Down, but for entirely different reasons than I expected. It's not at all the Dragon's Dogma successor I expected. Yet between its Assassin's Creed-like "combat simulation" premise, its chunky combat mechanics, and the fact that it's reportedly to be presented as a free-to-play game in a genre and format that rarely intersects with the particular commerce model, there's a lot to keep an eye on here.