Sometimes, I think game developers are afraid of water. Count the number of protagonists who will instantly drown the second they dip a toe in. Look at the Total War series, which once boasted epic naval battles, only to omit them from later games. Even games that incorporate the deeps often don’t know what to do with them: the Elder Scrolls games see players awkwardly swinging away at slaughterfish, and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt features Geralt swimming and one-shotting drowners with his crossbow because they couldn’t come up with a way to make underwater combat fun, instead opting to make it brief.
Tidal Shock, meanwhile, seeks to make underwater combat the entire focus of the game. Sure, you have Subnautica, Abzu, In Other Waters, and the sort plumbing the depths, but Tidal Shock doesn’t want to explore the ocean, it wants to fill it with blood. The question is, does the underwater combat at play hold up to scrutiny? Is the relative novelty of an underwater shooter enough to carry this game? Well, maybe. Tidal Shock has its virtues and vices, and it’s still uncertain whether it’ll sink or swim.
- What is Tidal Shock? It’s an underwater 360° arena-based shooter. Collect guns and energy, ride torpedos around, and gun down your enemies. Then, deposit your energy in an ever-moving reactor as you race against other players to activate a tidal shock, if you will – zapping all opponents and ending the game.
- Developer: Moonray Studios
- Multiplayer: 4-8 Online
- Release Date: Early Access May 4, 2020
- Price: $7.99
- Website: www.tidalshock.com
- Reviewed On: PC
Blood in the Water
One of the first things you’ll notice when playing Tidal Shock is the movement. My initial experience was somewhat underwhelming and frustrating. The boosts available don’t take you very far, and I had yet to discover the wonders of the torpedo, making movement feel slow, unengaging, even awkward.
However, things improved significantly once I folded the torpedo into my process and used the boost less as a means of traversal and more as a quick way to jump between guns and health packs and energy clustered nearby. The torpedo presents you with a risk-reward choice, allowing you to move very quickly while risking the possibility of taking an explosion to the face if the thing gets shot or crashes. It never reaches the breezy joy of optimizing movement found in games like Darwin Project, but Tidal Shock still manages to make movement engaging.
As for combat, you get relatively standard shooting mechanics with a deployable shield mechanic somewhat reminiscent of the building in Fortnite, albeit considerably simpler and narrower in function. There’s a decent variety of weapons, and there’s enough at play in terms of maneuvers and tactics that firefights are generally fun. There are even a few fist-pumping moments, like when an enemy gets the drop on you, but you manage to narrowly swivel and blast them in the face with a shotgun, freeing you to gobble up their loot. That said, Tidal Shock’s combat isn’t outstanding. It’s functional and even fun, but it isn’t particularly dynamic or novel. The underwater setting can only do so much to shake the feeling that under the surface, Tidal Shock is just another a standard third-person shooter.
Just Keep Swimming!
So how does Tidal Shock look as it hits Early Access? What can be done to improve it? One issue the game will experience is justifying its existence compared to similar games. That’s not to say it’s significantly worse than its contemporaries or unable to find a niche, but both the game’s sparse content and price tag will be hurdles to overcome. As noted above, the game costs $7.99, as compared to similar titles like Darwin Project and Fortnite, both of which have more robust content and are free-to-play. Free-to-play isn’t the right price model for every multiplayer shooter, of course, but it’s hard to see people choosing to pay for a game that’s less complete than other free, popular choices.
So what can be done? For one, elaborating on the mechanics could be helpful. Throughout my play, once I understood what was happening, no match really stood out from its peers. Looking back, most of the games just sort of blend together, with exciting moments peppered here and there. Furthermore, either matchmaking or tweaks to scoring would help with game balance. There was a string of games wherein one person dominated everyone else repeatedly, to the point that everyone else left, leaving me to sit in the lobby hoping for another game. It seems incredibly easy to maintain the lead once you’ve established one, and experiences like the one I described have a danger of turning people off forever, and that’s something you want to iron out quickly.
These are the fundamental issues at play, but I’m also surprised that the underwater setting isn’t reflected more in the weaponry; where are the harpoon guns and sea mines? Hell, if you added a sort of grapple hook mechanic to the harpoon, that could be another combination weapon/traversal tool, a la the torpedo.
If more tweaks like this are folded into Tidal Shock, if the devs can tease out a more dynamic, engaging core gameplay loop to accompany the competent shooting mechanics, this could certainly drag a decent player base into the deep (last water pun, I swear).