Chair Entertainment comes out of nowhere to bring us one of the most surprisingly fun Xbox Live Arcade games we’ve played this year. Undertow mixes all the great elements of a dual analog stick shooter (like Geometry Wars), but throws your character in the depths of the ocean as you set out to protect your base and take over the enemy team’s control points.
The gameplay is simplistic; you navigate your character with the left analog stick while directing fire with the right analog stick. The object of the game is to protect your base from enemy invasion, but also capturing enemy control points in the process. This is done by getting your teammates in close proximity of the control points and waiting for the ticker to change to your color. Neutral control points will change to your color right away, but if it’s under enemy control it will take twice as long as the ticker shifts from enemy colors to neutral to friendly. The developers interestingly enough through in a storyline with cutscenes. While it’s not necessary to actually pay attention to the story to progress through the game, we found the dialogue to be quite humorous.
The best way to play Undertow is with your 16 buddies on Xbox Live. Up to two teams of 8 can play through Conquest mode that has you trying to capture control points like the single player campaign and Team Death match, which is a mass killing spree. Playing with your friends can be a lot of fun as the pace is a lot more intense and the banter can often be hilarious. There’s also a co-op Campaign mode that allows two players to swim through the single-player story.
Battles are constantly waging in all areas of the map so you’ll have to check the status of your base and control points by monitoring the display labeled with different colored dots. If the dots are in your color then you’re in the clear, but if they’re black you might want to head over to that area to take possession of the control point.
For a water based game the action is relatively fast. Frenzy paced, actually as you’ll constantly find yourself claiming and re-claiming control points. You may be frustrated at first as you’ll find yourself dying more often than not, but once you get used to the objectives, clear more spawn points and start using the vehicle modifiers (using the D pad) you’ll have a lot of fun.
There are four different vehicles your character can use ranging from weak to strong armor. Weaker armor moves a lot quicker and allows your character to get a good offensive handle on the enemy and stronger armor will make your character move around like a slug. After swimming around in the scuba armor it can be difficult to use the stronger armor because you’re not as nimble and tend to take more enemy blows. The addition of the vehicles adds to the strategy of the game and once you find your niche you’ll be owning this game. Vehicles can be upgraded with points you gain by capturing control points. Your individual ships can be increased up to three levels. Each ship must be leveled up individually so if you favor one ship you may want to stick with it because if you die you’ll respawn in that ship at the maximum level. Increasing your levels allows your ship to gain more hit points,which is good in a game that has you dealing with a constant offensive from the enemy.
Undertow is essentially a 2D side-scrolling shooter, but the ocean world is a beautiful 3D environment. We especially like the depth of field effect of the water as you get closer to the surface. Simple idea, but it’s pulled off well and gives more depth to your surroundings. Most of the environments you’ll navigate through include claustrophobic caverns, enemy control points and plenty of seaweed.
For an Xbox Live Arcade game, Undertow has surprised us on all fronts. From its simple but tight gameplay to the wow factor of the graphics that the Unreal Engine is known to make possible. While the gameplay is easy, we found the level of difficulty to be perfectly balanced and the vehicle upgrades to be a welcome addition to the standard shooter. We enjoyed the single-player campaign, but there’s nothing like a 16 player team death match. We can safely say that Chair Entertainment has a hit on its hands and we can only hope they continue to break new ground with future releases.
- Score: 8.9