70% of the earth is covered by water and 94% of all life comes from the sea. So it’s amazing that there haven’t been loads of games set under the waves, delving into what the deepest depths can offer. It’s a fascinating place and only a small fraction of the sea. And it is here where Debris is set.
The closest companion piece that this new game by first-time developers Moonray can be thought of is SOMA. It’s a slow-paced underwater first person action adventure where things down below aren’t quite what they seem. The story is one of the strongest parts of the game and involves three professional divers and scientists exploring deep under the ocean. You play the part of Ryan, who is a videographer specialising in filming underwater scenes. You’ve been hired by the corporation ALTA who is interested in this substance at the bottom of the sea – something called Debris; material from alien meteorites. There is an accident at the start of the game and all three divers are separated from each other. Ryan, with the help of Sonja’s (another diver) RV squid machine, goes out across the world to look for a route to the surface, rescuing Chris (also another diver) in the process. But what should be a simple mission soon gets strange as the real motives of ALTA are questioned and the fish start attacking…
Debris provides a great story that makes you question everything, all the way through the 5-hour running time. The dialogue itself is witty at times, but also quite tense, keeping you guessing to the end. I won’t spoil anything here but it’s a satisfying ending – there are four, in fact – and it deals with some real-life conditions connected to the journey of being underwater for a long time.
Gameplay-wise and it is a very simple game at heart. You are presented with a massive area that at first looks all the same. When Sonja’s RV machine joins you though you can follow the machine to light the way and guide you through the world. There are times when the machine will wander off on its own, or in my case get stuck behind a rock for a while, so at no point will you really want to become too reliant on the little guide.
You can move around with ease, but there isn’t a variation in the speed dynamic, except if you suddenly hit an underwater current that moves you across the water rapidly. For some, the slow pace of the game might put them off and this is because it can feel like an underwater walking sim. But I enjoyed it, and at times it provides a meditative state of gaming. The biggest problem with the game’s pace is when you come across some underwater enemies.
Throughout the experience you will have to negotiate your way past power and breathing problems, when the oxygen in your tank runs out. There is a gauge to keep an eye on, and this shows the number of minutes you have left; in terms of both air and power in the suit. If that reaches zero then you’re dead. Plain and simple. Power is taken away from you if you get hit by an underwater attacker, hit a jellyfish or if you fire your weapon, however you can gain it back by sharing it with Sonja’s RV, gaining power from bits of Debris you find on your travels across the sea bed.
In order to take in the underwater fight you have access to a weapon that has two purposes. The first is to fire flares out, lighting the darkest of areas. The second shoots a spear and by doing that you can take down small fish – as the bigger sharks appear, these might well need three or four hits to kill. But remember, the more shots you fire the more power you use so you have to carefully consider the odds. If you don’t wish to engage then you can hide in thorny areas and trenches to avoid the foes, but the accuracy of how they see you and start charging is something that never feels quite right. In fact, the whole fish fighting isn’t something I’ve enjoyed in the game, especially since you are literally wading through water which doesn’t hold for the most exciting of battles. Oh, and don’t get me started on the giant sea worms – these provide a horrible section of gameplay.
Debris does however look atmospheric and it captures the vastness and barrenness of the deep sea. There are beautiful moments, like a forest of underwater plants that also looks like a nightmare. There are also bits that come across as samey and you’ll feel you need to get to the surface before you go sea blind. The sound is excellent though, with some brilliant disturbing effects combining with the story, all as this ominous creaking undersea world crumbles around you. The voiceover work is very good as well, with some well-committed performances from the three lead actors.
Debris on Xbox One is an enjoyable experience that provides an underwater journey that is relaxing in its pace, but tense in atmosphere. There is a fair chunk of game here for the price and you have the chance to play through four different endings should you choose to do so. The writing and story are some things I loved more than many other elements of the game though, and the overall moral of the tale is a worthwhile one. The fighting mechanics are certainly something I could have done without, as well as putting up with my AI companion getting stuck, but if you’re looking for something deep and like the idea of being trapped underwater then you can’t go too wrong with Debris.