Song of the Deep

A game by Insomniac Games for PC, PS4, and Xbox One, originally released in 2016.
Song of the Deep tells the tale of a girl named Merryn whose father is a fisherman of limited means. Every day, he sets out on his fishing boat, and every night he returns home to Merryn – who comes to greet him on a cliff overlooking the sea – and he tells her grand tales about giant sea creatures and great underwater cities, which she believes to be fairy tales.

But one night, her father fails to return home. After waiting a full day for his return, and dreaming of him in peril beneath the waves, she decides to take matters into her own hands. Using scraps of wood and metal found by her father during his fishing expeditions, Merryn manages to cobble together a functional submarine. She climbs inside and sets out to sea, diving below the surface to seek out her lost father and uncover the mysteries of the deep.

Story takes the forefront, with the narrator – and her lovely Irish accent – relaying the events of Merryn’s journey and offering descriptions of the surrounding environment, mysterious structures, and dangerous creatures. Merryn remains a silent protagonist, but the narrator relays her apprehensions when encountering danger, and her persistent determination to find her father.

Atmosphere is strongly present as well. The underwater world is divided into themed regions, with some offering abundant sea life, while others are dark and quiet, and still others feature ancient ruins teeming with dangerous foes and the occasional bit of mysterious and powerful technology. The game makes strong use of light and color to emphasize the differences between regions and help set the mood of the game, accompanied by a soundtrack that soothes during exploration and intensifies during combat sequences. Enemies and environments are presented in 2D, while Merryn and her submarine are 3D.

As the game begins, the player takes control of the submarine in a shallow underwater area, awash in blue as sunbeams penetrate the water’s surface, revealing colorful plants and rocks. Among these are plants called glowkelp – as relayed by the narrator – which light up as the sub passes, revealing a trail of light as the vessel moves amidst the florae.

Soon, the submarine is pulled down into an elaborate cave system by strong currents. Upon discovering and following a strange clockwork seahorse, the player is awarded an upgrade in the form of a claw that extends forward from the submarine. The claw is a multi-purpose tool that can be used to smash through wooden barriers (but not stone or metal), as well as pick up objects, pull switches, and even combat enemies.

Enemies may be smashed directly with the claw or players may pick up objects in the environment to toss at their foes, or to swing around on the end of the claw for direct contact damage. Time-based challenges require the player to pick up explosives and deliver them to destructible walls before they explode. Even more challenging are sequences where the player must tow a floating sea mine through hazards and enemies without causing it to explode by letting it touch the walls of narrow passages.

Enemies come in a handful of varieties, with jellyfish and spike-emitting foes appearing most frequently, and tougher variations of these creatures appearing later on. Occasionally, the player encounters projectile-tossing creatures and enemies that can dash quickly at the submarine, requiring a bit more strategy, but for the most part, the player faces the same few enemy types again and again throughout his adventure.

These common enemies tend to swarm the player’s position and they all go down with a couple of hits with the claw, making such encounters repetitive. Additionally, many of these creatures have a tendency to continuously respawn for no discernable reason other than to further encumber the player.

Checkpoints appear frequently, and these not only save your game but they also fully restore our health and energy. (Narratively, these Tyne Wells are not restoring Merryn’s life, but merely showing her one of her possible futures, which is a nice touch.) Even so, your health refills automatically over time, and some enemies drop health restoratives when killed, making combat fairly easy until the player begins to encounter insta-death traps later in the game. In addition, by exploring the environment, the player can find health and energy upgrades that permanently increase these stats.

Exploration generally rewards the player with treasure. In fact, there is such an abundance of treasure lying on the ocean floor that one wonders why it is that Merryn’s father is so poor. The player can collect coins, pearls, gems, and statues of varying denominations and trade them with hermit crabs for a number of submarine upgrades, which offer marginal ability increases. These include a longer range and more damage for your claw, enhanced turbines to help you move more quickly and fight against opposing currents, the ability to draw in nearby currency and restore more energy, and various weapon upgrades.

While the game seems to be strongly focused on exploration, there is very little to explore in the early going. In traditional metroidvania games, the player occasionally encounters areas he cannot reach because he has not yet obtained the proper upgrade. In Song of the Deep, however, the player encounters impassible areas almost constantly.

When entering a room with three possible ways to move forward, you can expect two of them to be blocked. You’ll find destructible walls with no means of destroying them, opposing currents that you cannot overcome, and numerous treasures lying just beyond narrow passages that your sub is too large to breach. In fact, most of these pathways remain impassible until much later in the game, and most side paths simply reward additional currency.

Checking the map interface reveals the extent of the blocked passages, which funnel the player through a complex but ultimately narrow path for the first half of the game. Instead of using the map to seek out possible opportunities for exploration, it is more often used to check for the huge flashing marker that indicates your next objective, which is generally the only place you can reach.

Things appear to open up a bit when the player reaches a huge trench called The Maw, which offers a wide open area that can be freely explored, including a darkened area at the bottom that has insta-death enemies that will seek you out if they see your submarine’s lights or if you get too close. This provides a few tense moments as the player hunts for valuable treasures in an otherwise optional area, but it eventually reveals a dead end that cannot be explored until later.

Moving back up toward the flashing objective indicator reveals that even the openness of The Maw cannot be fully explored as currents push the player toward the right-hand side of the trench in order to route him though a specific set of challenging enemies. This culminates in a sequence where the player must grapple onto a series of anchors that are hanging down from wrecked ships, as he fights his way through opposing currents to reach the top.

Boss creatures appear occasionally and range from mechanical creations to hulking beasts. One of the more interesting encounters takes place against a giant spider that has made its home beneath a wrecked ship. This is also one of the lengthier encounters, as the player is tasked with pulling webbing away from the ship to cause it to break, and there are six sets of webs (although enterprising players may find that more than one set of webs can be removed at a time).

In the first half of the battle, the player breaks open cocoons to distract the spider and reach these webs, and the second half requires the player to dodge acid balls that the spider spits, while staying on the lookout for webbing that can be hurled back at the creature to occupy it for a moment as it works to break free. During this encounter, the player must continue to deal with common nuisance enemies that spawn in from the sides of the screen.

Winning the battle unlocks torpedoes, which allow the player to hit enemies at a distance, break open tougher barriers, and even attack foes while also using the claw, and there are several upgrades for this weapon. Other ability upgrades include a boost maneuver, searchlights to illuminate dark areas and scare off certain creatures, and sonar that helps you hunt for secret passages and activate detonators.

The player also earns the ability for Merryn to leave the sub Blaster Master-style and swim through the aforementioned narrow passages, and this technique is used frequently for puzzle solving. Unlike her frog-fetching counterpart, however, Merryn can teleport back to her vessel at will.

Much of the player’s progress is made through environmental puzzle solving, with various switches to activate, statues to assemble, and anemone-lined passages that can only be passed by following a fish that causes them to retract.

Statue puzzles begin to grow more laborious as the pieces are placed further away from their destinations, but this is nothing compared to the overdrawn detonator and laser manipulation puzzles in the back half of the game. Laser puzzles require the player to navigate a complex array of machinery to get beams of light to touch certain points in order to slowly open up adjacent rooms.

Song of the Deep was developed by Insomniac Games, a studio based in Burbank, California and founded by Ted Price in the way back days of 1994, with Alex and Brian Hastings joining soon thereafter. The studio made its initial splash with the Playstation-exclusive first person shooter Disruptor. From there, they followed up with the Spyro the Dragon series (only the PS1-era games; not Skylanders) and the Ratchet & Clank series before returning to the FPS genre with the Resistance series. The studio is also known for Fuse and Sunset Overdrive. Song of the Deep was developed by a small internal team.

The studio partnered with GameStop to publish the title under the GameTrust banner, with physical releases of the console versions appearing in GameStop stores.