Death in the Water 2 is a wave-based underwater survival horror game that was created and published by Lighthouse Games, a studio that consists of just two people: an artist, Neil, and a coder, Edward. Small studios are nothing new to the video game industry, however, the first impression Death in the Water 2 leaves on you is very impressive, and feels like it represents the work of a much larger team.
The art direction and visuals of Death in the Water 2 are astounding. Everything from the seaweed gently swaying in the current, to the player’s own fully-modeled body writhing and twisting in the water to change directions looks great. Turning around in a panic and catching a glimpse of your own flippers is something that resulted in more than one heart attack for this review.
"Everything from the seaweed gently swaying in the current, to the player’s own fully-modeled body writhing and twisting in the water to change directions looks great."
Going even further, the diffused light from the surface dances across coral, rocks, and ruins, the ocean floor pops with color, and the environments you explore during your dives are as complex as they are well-rendered. There are underwater wrecks, the skeletal remains of giant sea creatures, and hulking metal frameworks to explore. Whether you’re floating over brightly-colored coral reefs or navigating dark caves filled with tunnels and aggressive aquatic life, Death in the Water 2 manages to be a visual feast at all times.
Speaking of the aquatic creatures you’ll come across, those are also an achievement. The quality of the models and textures, the way the underwater lighting is set up, or maybe even a combination of both of those things result in creatures that always look real. Aiding that realism is the way these creatures act and react to the player. Every shark, snake, and fish moves exactly as you would expect it to, and there are even some interesting touches to the animal AI that result in things like feeding frenzies if a few sharks catch a whiff of blood from a smaller creature, or come across a carcass on the ocean floor.
These things are fascinating to watch, but you can only spend so much time observing. Eventually you’re going to need to defend yourself, and Death in the Water 2 is as visceral as it is beautiful. The way these animals recoil after being shot with a speargun is wince-inducing. Snakes and eels spasm and whip their bodies away from you, and most sharks turn sharply and re-angle themselves for another attack. Not the Sand Tiger Shark though. That thing is like the Terminator and just eats spears for breakfast, completely unfazed until it has at least 5 metal rods sticking out of its face. Terrifying.
"Death in the Water 2 is as visceral as it is beautiful."
While the visuals and AI are worthy of praise, you also have to give some credit to the game’s sound design. Playing Death in the Water 2 with headphones is as close to diving as you can get while staying dry. The occasional glugs of your air tank, the bubbles being released from treasure chests, and even the sound that is made when the player bumps into the environment all sound very lifelike and believable, as if you were actually submerged in thousands of gallons of water. If every one of these sounds in the game weren’t actually recorded underwater, then it’s not clear how they managed to pull this off.
The gameplay of Death in the Water 2 consists of being dropped in a sizeable, open section of underwater map, exploring the area to look for treasure chests, and then fighting off a wave of mind-controlled sea creatures that are under the thrall of the game’s Big Bad: the Kraken named Death.
Before you have to deal with the stress of underwater fighting, it feels like you’re given ample time to find the treasure chests. But good luck finding them all, and god help if you’re colorblind. These chests are HIDDEN, and blend in so well with the rocks and seaweed around them that they are incredibly easy to miss. Additionally, the mini-map can only point you in the general direction of a chest, so it ends up not being much help as you scan areas from top to bottom without finding anything.
While some chests might seem impossible to locate, you’re going to want to find as many of them as you possibly can. The treasure they contain is very important because you use the currency you gain from it to purchase new weapons, equipment, and upgrades in-between dives. You can get by with the starting speargun for a while, but you’re going to want the shotgun, some grenades, and the explosive pistol before too long.
"Playing Death in the Water 2 with headphones is as close to diving as you can get while staying dry."
Once the time to explore expires, the Kraken emits its call, and you then become the primary target of every aggressive creature nearby. This is where Death in the Water 2 goes from relaxing exploration game to terrifying survival horror in the blink of an eye. Dodging sharks and hearing their jaws snap next to your head is pretty bad, but it’s even worse to be approached by a fast-moving underwater snake that has a thin, difficult-to-target body when it’s still, let alone in motion. The enemy variety and aggression increase every dive, which can become unmanageable if you aren’t unlocking and upgrading weapons. But, as long as you are, Death in the Water 2’s gameplay is solid.
The first few times, at least.
Despite its fantastic presentation, sound, and gameplay concept, it quickly becomes apparent what the limitations of a game made by two people are. Once you’ve completed the first several dives, you’ve essentially done everything in Death in the Water 2. There are new environments each dive, and later on you even fight non-natural creatures like Sirens and Death itself. But nothing in terms of gameplay really changes from the beginning to the end of the game, and there is a noticeable lack of enemy variety. It’s really just the same handful of sharks, a few snakes and eels, and the occasional lionfish to deal with. The Sirens are a rare but welcome addition.
There’s a thin story that’s not all that interesting to follow doing its best to tie things together (although the few voice lines are delivered very convincingly), and figuring out how to best deal with a new creature mid-wave is thrilling, but being presented with the same gameplay 15 times in a row results in an empty feeling by the time you reach the credits. Especially when the final fight with the leviathan is more infuriating than exhilarating.
"Despite its fantastic presentation, sound, and gameplay concept, it quickly becomes apparent what the limitations of a game made by two people are. Once you’ve completed the first several dives, you’ve essentially done everything in Death in the Water 2."
Yes, Death in the Water 2’s experience is stymied by limited gameplay. However, it’s also important to note that Lighthouse Games appears to be iterating on this concept quite a bit. The original Death in the Water is a $2.99 Steam game where you shoot at the same sharks with the same speargun until you die. No Sirens, no interesting environments, and definitely no Kraken. Framed in this context, the jump from the first Death in the Water to its sequel is like going from a web-swinging Flash game to Spider-Man: Miles Morales. It’s the same concept, but it’s been improved and expanded upon so much that it’s a completely different thing.
If Lighthouse Games ever makes a third Death in the Water game, the work they put into this sequel bodes well for the heights, or depths, the series can go to.
This game was reviewed on PC.
Good sense of immersion; Great art and sound design; Core gameplay loop is solid.
Lack of enemy variety; Gameplay doesn’t evolve outside of new weapons and upgrades.