There's something primal about treasure hunting. It has sparked the imagination of many authors, screenwriters and artists for centuries with videogames being no different. The likes of Tomb Raider and Uncharted may be the popular choices but what about the lesser known games? Released on the PlayStation in 1997 by the arcade gurus Namco, Treasures of the Deep takes the archaeological action into the depths of the ocean...
With a publisher like Namco, you know you're not going to get a title to rival the expansive adventures of Lara Croft. At its heart, this is a level-based game with a focus on high scores and I wouldn't say it's a bad thing at all. Hell, one could say the majority of games as a whole rely on this structure. However upon its release it was for this reason that it wasn't received well. It was at the beginning of Tomb Raider's rise into the cultural stratosphere and it naturally became a point of comparison for reviewers. If you delve deeper you'll see the magazine scores vary quite drastically with some giving it as low as 4 out of 10 while others as high as 9.
You play as a freelance scavenger named Jack Runyan who through 14 levels is tasked with finding missing artefacts from sunken ships. Occasionally the missions will mix things up by required some weapons salvages or oil spill repairs. To get your well-deserved payday, you'll have to explore the sea bed until you stumble across whatever you're looking for. That's about it for plot, but it's enough for this type of game.
The water bed is at first invitingly calm and filled with schools of exotic fish and undersea flora that sway nicely with the currents. It looks as convincing as it could ever be on the 32 bit hardware, with the limitations hidden behind a realistically low underwater draw distance. The tranquil start, which is designed to get you used to the fairly complex controls, gives you a false sense of security. Don't get too complacent though, 'cos here be pirates. Not just any pirates either, but sea pirates armed to the teeth with high-tech weaponry and scuba gear. There's also the vast array of marine life to keep in mind too. Some of the waters are shark infested while others host several endangered species that can get in the way. If you kill any of these protected marine animals you'll get docked some serious money so be careful. On the flip side, you can always catch them in your net to nab some bonus cash.
You are armed with two modes of attack. First there's your main harpoon which is your primary weapon. This has unlimited ammo and can fire in rapid succession, perhaps the best way to attack the more sprightly foes you'll encounter. The secondary attack can have many different weapons assigned to it, from mines and torpedoes to nets and an underwater welding torch. You'll mostly stick to the missiles for a decent offensive attack or the nets to "rescue" creatures from their natural habitat. The ammo for these weapons are limited and it's quite easy to miss your target so use them sparingly. Fallen enemies will leave behind bullets or other useful power ups along with a lot of blood that can attract vicious sharks. Additional ammo can be purchased through the in-game shop between missions. This is where the concept of money fits in.
The finances in this game are perhaps my biggest bugbear. Every upgrade, weapon, armour and ammo costs money. That's not necessarily a bad thing - many games include such a mechanic - but here it feels like it's just there to artificially lengthen the game. For example, the later missions that are located at the depths of the ocean are required a particular submarine that can withstand the pressure. This sub costs money. A hell of a lot of money. The only way to afford such a luxury is to replay missions with the sole purpose of getting some coin. Thankfully there's quite a lot and find to do under the sea. Each stage bar the training level has a hidden area as well as sub-missions and their own set of creatures to collect.
The game is played in wither the third or first person, though I recommend the former if you truly want to soak in your surrounding. I found the first person preferable only in tight spaces or when you want an up close and personal (if pixelated) look at that sunken galleon. The best way to do this is to leave your sub behind and explore with just you and your wetsuit. You can interact with a lot of the surrounding ecosystem this way too. For example, you can make small work of a large distance in spectacular fashion by holding on to a nearby manta ray. Away from your vehicle, you have to watch your vital signs as cold temperatures and the dense pressure of the deep can have a negative effect on you. You can upgrade your gear, but that'll only leave a gaping hole in your wallet as it's not as effective as you'd like.
The controls are complex for such a game, but after some time do feel intuitive. I would say that it's bet to play with a USB joypad rather than the keyboard. Even though I've mapped each button to a key that I find suitable, certain manoeuvers are awkward this way. For example, movement is entirely controlled with the shoulder buttons: R1 and L1 are accelerate and reverse respectively while R2 and L2 strafe. To rise or sink on the vertical axis, you'll need to hold both R1/L1 or R2/L2. It takes some time to get used to it but it does become second nature fairly quickly. Ala, Retroarch has no way to map two buttons to a single key making it a bit counter intuitive when using a keyboard. Luckily USB XBox 360 or PS3 controllers works out of the gate with no tinkering needed. This is the best way to play.
The PlayStation was such a popular system that many quality games got overlooked. Despite the naysayers in some publications, this is truly one of those games. The action plays like an undersea flight combat sim, but the location gives rise to far more nuanced gameplay. It may be a little arcadey, and it may not be as deep as the oceans in which it takes place, but there's far more to it than many others of its ilk. It's a fun, immersive experience with plenty to see and do. I highly recommend it.
To download the game, follow the link below. This custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses Retroarch with a Mednafen_PSX core to emulate it on PCs. Keyboard controls are mapped to my preferred optimal specifications. XBox 360 controllers supported. Tested on Windows 10.
Treasures from the Deep is © Namco
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me