The games market is filled with examples of bad design, poor gameplay, and unrealized potential. However, it's rare to find a game that is completely devoid of redeeming qualities. Perhaps that's why Deep Raider is so surprising. Make no mistake: Regardless of your age, your gaming experience, or even your interest in undersea life, there is no reason whatsoever for you to purchase or play Deep Raider.
Deep Raider is not only several years behind the times graphically, but it also suffers from clunky, confusing gameplay, lame storytelling, and abysmal interface design. To top it off, the package is highly overpriced at nearly $50. Sure, the game comes with a USB gamepad that doubles as a thumb-controlled mouse, but even this bonus item is of dubious value.
The game itself starts out with a poorly dubbed movie that shows some unlucky divers getting annihilated by a giant squidlike creature. An admiral-like character contacts headquarters and demands that they send Jennifer Connors (that's you) to help. Cut to a peaceful Tudor villa on the beach, where the heroine is busy feeding a dolphin. Special agents arrive in a flying manta ray craft to tell Jennifer that her vacation is over and that Sean - presumably the squid-bait admiral guy - is in trouble. From there, Jennifer moves straight into the first mission, which inexplicably begins with a dolphin ride down a waterfall and into the sea.
If you're lucky enough to see the mission briefing while the scenario loads (it repeatedly rendered as a big blank rectangle on our test machine), you'll know that you must reach an underwater base. From there, you will learn the rest of your mission. But where to go? Deep Raider drops you in the water, where you end up astride your dolphin pal, but the graphical clipping plane cuts off all scenery more than about six feet in any direction and lets you figure out the rest for yourself. You have a small compass/radar that shows blips for passing boats and hostile sea creatures, but you'll have no idea where the base is or even which direction you should search. The map screen is an absolute joke - it shows your path as a fat black scribble against a plain blue background. It doesn't show your current location or any of the undersea landscape you've discovered - just a black line that crosses and recrosses itself, leaving you hopelessly lost.
Usually, a game that has such confounding and disappointing gameplay at least has something impressive about it. Not so with Deep Raider. Though the game isn't flat-out ugly, it isn't very pretty either. For example, its graphics pale next to those in the undersea action sim Sub Culture, and that game is now three years old. Don't be fooled by Jennifer's dolphin, either: Deep Raider is nothing like Ecco the Dolphin, a distinctive console game. Deep Raider's 3D models are simplistic and blocky, the animations are jerky, and the special effects are just plain terrible. Explosions - like when you shoot attacking sharks - consist of mottled bitmap convulsions that seem to have been taken straight out of Doom.
The bottom line with Deep Raider is that you should avoid it at all costs. Forget the obvious play on the Tomb Raider name (and heroine). Forget the lure of the game's promised "friendly and wise jellyfish," which doles out hints here and there. Forget the ill-conceived JoyMouse controller that comes with the game. Best of all, forget the game entirely and spend $50 elsewhere.