Insomniac Games' Song of the Deep opens like an illustrated children's storybook. It tells the tale of a young girl, Merryn, whose fisherman father one day doesn’t return from a fishing voyage. She waits up all night, but by morning there is still no sign of him. When she finally sleeps, she has a vivid dream of her father trapped beneath the sea, and she decides that she has to go to his rescue. To that end, she builds a rickety submarine from old spare parts, and starts off on a fantastic undersea adventure.
What transpires is a side-scrolling Metroidvania in which you pilot said rickety submarine around a non-linear environment in search of Merryn's captive father. The upgradable sub starts off with a basic claw that can grab things, and can also fire missiles, which are ideal for blasting through basic walls and fending off the many deadly creatures that float around the marine environment. In some respects, grabbing items reminded me of Atari's classic coin-op, Gravitar. When you pick up an object with the claw, it has weight and momentum, which affects the way the sub handles. Indeed, you can grab an item, and swing it around like a slingshot and throw it.
This mechanic is intrinsic to some of Song of the Deep's puzzles. At one point in the GDC demo I played, I had to use the claw to pull up a gate, then quickly grab the severed head of a statue, and hurl it through the gate before it closed again so that I could reattach it to its body. The timing of this set of maneuvers was particularly tricky, and it took me several tries before I was finally successful – it was a case of getting the measure of the in-game physics and timing my throw correctly to hurl the statue's head back onto its body.
In another area, I had to use the claw to grab hold of hooks in rocks to stop the sub from being swept away by the current ripping through a narrow tunnel. As the current ebbed and flowed, I used a newly-found boost mechanic to speed the sub along to the next hook before it got pushed back. Again, the timing was critical, and there was little room for error.
As I delved further into the demo, I got to a point where Merryn was able to get out of the sub, which was necessary for her to swim through a narrow gap in the seascape that her craft was unable to navigate. Within this new area I discovered a series of puzzles that involved turning mirrors to refract light to specific nodes. The beams of light were different colors, and I had to bend the red and green beams so that they hit a node that was marked with a yellow light (it took me a few moments to remember that red and green make yellow), while bending the blue beam away from the node. When I did this successfully, a door slid back, allowing me to head back to the sub and bring it into the new area – which is classic Metroidvania.
There was another puzzle like this at the end of the demo, with six beams of light, and multiple colored nodes that had to be lit up in sequence to open a series of gates. It was very tough figuring out which of the myriad of mirrors I needed to turn to refract the light beams, but solving it was really enjoyable – it was just a very well designed puzzle that is apparently indicative of many of the game's challenges.
Although I only got to see a small fraction of the game, Song of the Deep really impressed me during the short time that I spent with it. For starters, it looks absolutely gorgeous: The game's undersea world is beautifully rendered, and its flora and fauna is weird and wonderful. The puzzles I encountered were really challenging, yet fun to solve, but what did it for me was the feel of the sub – it's very responsive, and has perfect underwater inertia that just feels fantastic as you guide it around.
Quite how the rest of the game will play out remains to be seen, but I'm really interested to find out. Apparently there are boss battles, and plenty of other dynamic physics-based puzzles to solve, which, if what I've experienced so far is anything to go by, should make for a really enjoyable game. My hopes are high!
Song of the Deep is set for a release this summer on Xbox One, PS4 and PC. I'm definitely looking forward to it.