Fathom Preview – 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

by on March 27, 2013

The Kickstarter movement has been running thick and fast for over a year now. It’s given us some gems such as the recently named Double Fine Productions adventure game Broken Age, as well as Star Citizen and some gadgets such as OUYA. However, not everything gets funded when it comes to Kickstarter. There are a lot of decent looking games that simply don’t manage to get the traction that’s needed in enough time to gain their funding, and either don’t get made or have to find alternative routes in order to do so. Death Inc, a game developed by ex-Media Molecule employees was one such project – one that I personally backed – which failed to hit its mark, and now Fathom, a game developed by IronSun Studio, is another game that, at the time of writing this, also doesn’t look like it’s going to get its funding.

We recently had a chance to sit down and play two levels of Fathom, a steampunk inspired puzzle game, and now we’re here to let you know just how it pans out. So, is it something that people will miss out on if it doesn’t get made, or has the power of crowd-funding spoken? Should we listen?

The demo starts with the player taking control of the Bathysphere (I know, I thought of the first BioShock too), an underwater craft piloted by Nathaniel Lockheart which can be controlled – as you’d expect – using the W, A, S and D keys. The mouse controls the direction that the player is looking towards through the use of an on-screen reticule with the left mouse button shooting the vehicle’s minigun and the right mouse button controlling either the bubble-gun mechanic or the gravity gun. The bubble-gun and the gravity-gun can both be activated at different parts of the demo, when the appropriate symbol appears inside the reticule. This is one of the main problems with the current version of the game, and hopefully something that gets fixed if the game ever sees the light of day in a final form. It’s not easy to see which areas of the level can be activated using either the bubble-gun or the gravity-gun, which I can understand as far as puzzle games go, the last thing you want is to be given the answer, but there’s also nothing to indicate what the player needs to do at certain points in the game. You could be looking for a cog in order to activate a puzzle, but that cog is tiny, it’s a similar colour to the background of the level and finding it is going to be an exercise in trial and error more than anything else. When you do happen to find it, all’s well and you can move on with your enjoyment of the game, but finding it in the first place can be frustrating at times.

There’s no doubt that Fathom is a gorgeous looking game though. You’ve only got to play the game for a couple of minutes to see that a lot of thought, time and effort has gone in to making the environments that you’ll find yourself in living, breathing areas in which you can lose yourself. There was one particularly special moment, at the end of the second of the two levels, where the level is fading out to indicate that it’s been finished, only to show a massive behemoth in the background. I already wanted to play the full game before I’d even gotten to that point, but that’s the point that I really knew I needed to back the development of the title (something which I did immediately). There are a lot of moments like that too. On repeat playthroughs I noticed areas of the environment that I had simply missed the first time around, sea animals that moved into the background from the foreground, sunken ships with minute details on them that only the keenest eye will notice on their first playthrough. It’s this fact, that things are in the game just because the developer wanted to put them in there and not necessarily because people will see them, that makes players realise that Fathom is a labour of love.

While, at the moment, it doesn’t look as if IronSun Studio has any chance of hitting their target, I do hope that they find a way to make Fathom a reality. I honestly wanted to play more of the gorgeous looking title, and I’m excited to see if they can fix some of the obvious problems with the gameplay. If they do, however, they could have one impressive little puzzle game on their hands. A lot of the gameplay elements have been seen in other games currently on the market, but I’m pushed to think of one that looks quite as good as Fathom does.

You can read more about Fathom, and back the kickstarter by visiting this page.

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