It’s easy to see why deep-sea diving makes an attractive environment for video games. It’s something that few people will ever experience, it’s exciting, and the sea floor is a beautiful place. In recent years, games like Ecco the Dolphin (Dreamcast) and Endless Ocean (Wii) have brought the dazzling underwater ecosystem to our TV screens. Now Mission: Deep Sea delivers the experience on the iPhone, but in a new way. Thanks to its most recent update, it’s a game worth getting excited about, even if it’s not quite perfect.
SCUBA is for suckers. Real divers control turtles.
In this unique game, you take on the role of a sea turtle. That’s right: in humanity’s ever-reaching conquest of all things in nature, they have gained the ability to remotely control sea turtles to do their bidding, including such awesome tasks as taking a photograph and locating barrels.
A few of the tasks are a bit more thrilling (like rescuing a sea captain and hunting for missiles amidst ancient sunken ruins), but there are only five short missions in all. In the previous version, each mission was a race against an arbitrary clock that was gunning for your sanity. Losing missions because you just needed a few more seconds was frustrating primarily because there was no logical reason for it to be there. Now the clock only serves to help your score, and missions don’t end when the clock reaches zero, which is a vast improvement.
Mission: Deep Sea follows a basic pattern. You swim, follow your radar, perform the desired action, and achieve victory. The draw here is not really the gameplay, but impressive graphics that help immerse you in this world.
While the draw distance is closer than we’d like, we suppose that’s easily explained by the murkiness of shallow waters. The textures, however, are some of the clearest we’ve yet seen. The sand, especially, looks like sand rather than garbled or pixelated mesh. Sea creatures are well-designed and represent their real-life counterparts with some accuracy. The ocean in Deep Sea seems a bit too lonely at times, but it’s hard to fault what is clearly a step in the right direction.
Shouldn’t there be a peanut butter fish too?
Controlling your sea turtle is accomplished by tilting the device or making careful swipes across the screen. As the turtle has two flippers, you must use two fingers if you wish to control manually. Swipe out to the sides to move forward. Swipe only to the left to turn right. Swipe down to the corners with both fingers to ascend. It takes some time to get used to, especially as the turning initially feels counterintuitive, but you do eventually get the hang of it. The chief problem is in making tight turns and small forward movements, which is not easy with either control method, and you’ll often find yourself overshooting your target, draining precious seconds from the clock.
In the end, this is a great-looking game that simply lacks enough content in its five missions to be fully absorbing. Mission: Deep Sea feels more like a demo than a full game. A free roaming mode helps by adding longevity, as the missions quickly become stale, although we’d love to see more massive environments to explore.
Swimming in the sea is meant to be savored, but this is a game that only gives us small bursts of that timeless pleasure. With more missions and tightened controls, this could be a real hit, but as it stands, it falls a little bit short of the mark.