Keith's Crappy Videogame Blog


Red Ocean (PC, 2007, Germany): Dry As A Bone
September 20, 2012, 2:03 am
Filed under: Red Ocean (PC, 2007, Germany)

Developed by German-based Collision Studios and published by DTP Entertainment AG (Germany’s second biggest independent games publisher), “Red Ocean” earned itself the German Developer Award “Deutscher Entwicklerpreis” in the “Best Action Game” category in 2007. A star-studded affair covering more than 30 categories and including hundreds of entrants, the “Deutscher Entwicklerpreis” has also bestowed awards upon the likes of Crytek (for several of the “Crysis” games), publisher Ubisoft GmbH, and a bevy of other high profile game organizations and titles over its eight-year history.

But, you say, you’ve never heard of “Red Ocean?”

OK then. Collision Studios licensed and modified the pretty-much-famous Gamebryo Engine to build the game. You know, the same engine behind the likes of “Fallout 3,” “Epic Mickey,” and several Sid Meier titles. You’ve heard of them, haven’t you?

Oh, but you’re sticking to your guns and telling me you’ve never heard of “Red Ocean?”

Well, where the hell have you been??!! Oh, that’s right. You were probably off somewhere playing a good game instead. (Insert groan here.)

Well to get you up to speed (even though the game is five years old and I’ve only gotten around to playing it now myself…), the developer says their semi-sci-fi-contemporary-shooter is characterized by “firefights in collapsing underwater tunnels, structures that are obliterated by flooding, sinister frogmen hunting for the intruder, volatile explosives everywhere, and a conspiracy involving deadly biological weapons.”

Oh, so that’s what this game was about. Okay, I guess.

Alright, enough smugness. In “Red Ocean” you play as gruff-voiced Jack Hard (hmmm), an ex-military officer who has blown all his savings on a boat. To get by, he now runs his own diving business “Treasure Dive Inc.,” taking wealthy clients on exotic treasure hunts to sunken wrecks all over the globe (at least that’s what the game manual says). In the game’s brisk and barely explained introduction, a mysterious individual named Hammerson has hired you to explore a WWII-era Russian U-boat lying dormant at the bottom of the ocean 200 miles off the coastline of the Corvo Islands. The two of you jump in together, but Hammerson swims away from you quickly, finds a kind of door into the U-boat (or maybe near it), he disappears into it, and leaves you cold. Next thing you hear over your headset is his anguished cry. Intriguing!

Or, at least, that what I think happens. You see, much of the action surrounding this hasty introduction remains unseen with just some vague watery images accompanied by confusing voiceovers to guide you. Before you get your bearings, the game changes into first-person perspective, and you’ve entered an underwater facility of some kind. Welcome: Now you’re playing. In the first few feet, you find Hammerson’s dead body, and you snatch his revolver.

Suddenly, a voice pipes up over your comm channel. It’s a CIA operative explaining that Hammerson was an agent tasked with investigating the defunct, sprawling Russian underwater science facility that you are now standing in. You were simply his unwitting cover.  Apparently, terrorists have taken over the facility and have reinitialized some of the old Soviet research into high-tech weaponry…or whatever. After taking a few more steps into the facility, trap doors lock behind you (of course), and the rest of the game consists of a race to escape the same old metal-and-glass hallways, natural caves, labs, elevators, and storage rooms you’ve seen countless times before, taking down angry terrorists with guns. Of course, the CIA operative dude in your earpiece guides your every step and peppers you with forgettable banter and bad one liners the whole time. Sounds like a standard shooter to me. Let’s go!

But back in 2007, Collision Studios claimed it was not making a standard shooter, not by a long shot. Their hook? Oh, the water. Much in this game would be water-driven. For example, the company line touted that “the player has to use the immense power of the ocean for his means. The unique twist: Players will deal with water in all 3 states of aggregation. In liquid form, it not only enables you to approach enemies unnoticed by diving, but can also conveniently drown a baddie. At sub-zero temperatures, it quickly becomes a dangerously slippery surface, and hot steam is nothing to mess with either. Whether above or below the water line, Red Ocean by Collision Studios will literally take your breath away.”

Sounds good, yes? The problem is that when all was said and done, water dynamics barely appeared in the game at all. There is a room or two that must be flooded so you can float through, and another very short section where some swimming-and-shooting is necessary (although I’m still not sure how guns work properly when submerged exactly). But I was never offered the opportunity to use water as a weapon to drown my assailants. And what about slippery ice? I never encountered any. And steam? Well, there is a vent here or there blowing steam, but it never had any ill effect on my health bar and was nothing more than an environmental effect. In short, the entire water hook advertised by Collision clearly…evaporated (heh heh)…as the game was developed. Except the title; it’s got the word “ocean” in it, after all.

But underwater sequences in games are notoriously problematic anyway, so it might be a good thing that the promised watery gameplay never really materialized. And the truth is that “Red Ocean” doesn’t suffer because of this. It is simply an average shooter, and there’s no way it could have ever been anything else.

Trudging (on dry feet) through the underwater facility, encountering hallway after generic, cookie-cutter hallway, while fighting three to five frogmen/terrorists at a time and crouching behind large wooden crates is acceptable at best. The game looks okay for a 2007 title; lighting is well done, and there are a few attempts (with underwater vistas) to make you feel like you are far under the surface of the ocean. Color is at a minimum but not completely absent. At least once per chapter there is a larger room where a battle or boss fight occurs—in one case it is a dry dock enclosing a sub, and in another, it is a large circular room that houses what might as well be a nuclear reactor. These rooms tend to break up the monotony to some degree, but “Red Ocean” is a very old school corridor crawler through and through. Make no mistake about that.

Alas, much like the paper-thin narrative here, the characters are nobodies. I believe Collision tried to paint your character, Jack Hard, as a kind of burned-out beach bum, a low-key figure who simply wants to hang out and fish on his boat but finds himself embroiled in a shootout against terrorists while locked in this underwater semi-sci-fi facility and “making nice” with the CIA operative guiding him on the communicator. But none of these actors feel like real people by any stretch of the imagination. The voice acting is sub par, mechanical, unconvincing (say it’s not so!…at this point if I play an eastern European game that actually has good voice acting, I will probably faint dead away), and the dialogue is poorly written (probably due to a stiff translation).

But nothing in the game is absolutely atrocious, honestly, and nothing is broken. Overall, the title runs in a fairly confident way; everything works well enough. As is my regular modus operandi, I played it using my Xbox Controller with my Wireless Receiver for Windows and the keyboard emulator Xpadder to map the controls. The game ran smoothly, didn’t choke. The majority of the weapons fit the standard pistol-rifle-shotgun-grenade profile, and they do the job. The skins on the weapons looked pretty good for 2007, I thought. Thankfully, though, there are two experimental guns you acquire rather early in the game that help to give the title a little bit of character. One of them is a plasma gun that throws balls of light and knocks enemies to the ground. Not particularly exciting, but as your projectile travels towards its target, it can pick up and drag moveable items in its path (say, barrels or crates, for example) which are then hurled at your enemies. Kinda fun. Also, the plasma ball bounces off every surface until a living target is hit, so doing ricochet shots around corners can be fun.

The other less traditional weapon is a laser gun, which acts more like a machine gun, with an extremely high rate of fire. Ammunition is carefully placed (so it is not super plentiful nor too scarce), exploding barrels abound, and the game uses medkits and not regenerating health (typical for the time period this game was made). Overall I’d say the combat balancing is just right. Enemy AI is probably best described as half-aware: Sometimes they dodge, sometimes they don’t; sometimes they’ll advance to your position, and sometimes they will hang back and wait for you. The variety, again, seems well-balanced for a title from 2007. The catcalls from the enemy terrorists get repetitive and tiring, but that’s a standard complaint. The music was highly polished overall, actually, and it was a symphonic score (probably synthesized, but well done—as usual, I killed the music track after the first chapter, so I don’t have too much to say about it). I didn’t come across any puzzles, and there are no step-n-fetch quests here at all. The entire point of “Red Ocean” is to get from entrance point A (at the beginning of the game) to exit point B (the end of the game). Keep it simple, stupid.

This faint praise aside, there is one glaring issue. And that is the length of this point-A-to-point-B excursion. For an advertised “full fledged” game, made in the year 2007, this puppy is incredibly short. Yes, I’ve played even shorter games made after 2007 (I think I finished the “Terminator Salvation” movie-tie-in game in something like three pathetic hours, wtf), but I think I may have found one of the earliest instances of a game’s length being abbreviated yet still being hawked as a full-length feature. Clocking in at a short 7 chapters, which anyone could probably blow through in a single evening (though I tried to take my time), it is kind of hard to think of “Red Ocean” as a complete game, and the short length makes it difficult to connect to the game’s already flimsy narrative and characters. I mean, it has the requisite beginning, middle, and end, but any fat (or uniqueness) that might have been there has been completely trimmed. Oh, maybe that’s not a bad thing either. Just surprising though.

So, just like this game, I’m going to keep this short and…well, short. Can I go play “Borderlands 2” now?

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