Few gamers stray too far from their usual chosen genres, and I myself am no exception. So when presented with “Reef Shot” from Nano Games, I was a little apprehensive. Nevertheless, I dove straight in, and what was waiting for me at the bottom of this virtual ocean was a refreshing, uncomplicated and delightful experience.
In Reef Shot, you play Scott Burton, a photographer who is tasked with uncovering the mystery of submerged ancient Mayan ruins that lie at the bottom of the ocean. (Hence, the earlier pun). Armed with your camera, you can explore the seas surrounding Robinson Crusoe Island, documenting artefacts and fauna as you go. There are no epic boss battles or even enemies here; you are simply here to swim and search. Throughout your journey, you’ll encounter items from an ancient and lost world, as well as a few other nice surprises that will make the overall experience very pleasurable.
So by now, you may be thinking, “What, that’s it!?” Well the answer to that is yes, but I can assure you that it really works. As you make your way through vast stretches of underwater greenery, swim with the marine life and document the eerie remnants of a mysterious and long- dead civilisation, you will find the whole thing quite pleasing. There are of course, a few other under- water exploration games out there. Some have weapons, and some ooze interaction. But what sets this one apart is the aforementioned mystery surrounding the whole concept.
Most of Reef Shot’s story is delivered to you through the commentary of your enthusiastic companion, Renée. She will feed you information from her boat as you unravel the tale wrapped within the primary objective. It revolves around Mayan mythology and El Dorado, but I don’t want to spoil it, given that this is what gives the game its je nai se quoi. To add to the tones of mystery and wonder are the sound effects. Soft musical chords echo throughout, and exotic instrumentals implement a further sense of perplexity and fascination. The game does an excellent job of matching music to atmosphere. Enter a dark cavern or deep set trench, and the sound effects portray a scary yet satisfying surrounding. Little touches such as these really exaggerate the mood, adding yet another positive to the ever growing list.
In terms of gameplay, everything is pretty straight forward. A brief but informative tutorial at the start of the game brings you up to speed with the controls. After this, everything you need to do throughout your underwater voyage will be made clear by distinctive waypoints that lead you to the general area of whatever it is you may be looking for. Said waypoints also appear near points of interest. From there, you just take pictures to document them, whether this is fish, lost ship wrecks, or of course, ancient ruins. As you progress, inevitably unlocking newer, higher quality cameras, picture taking gets a little more challenging.
Speaking of which, the pictures you take are rated using a five star scoring system. When starting out (with the basic cameras of course), you can earn a maximum of three stars, but it won’t be too long before the full five stars are up for grabs. These stars can then be used to purchase upgrades and equipment, such as Oxygen refill tanks, Photo reels, and bonus missions. You can also pay for the exact location of a certain relic to be unveiled, if you’re having a bit of trouble finding it, of course.
Graphically, the game looks very nice. Whilst Reef shot isn’t amongst the top tier of pretty PC games today, it is certainly easy on the eye. Fish go about their daily business, Shark silhouettes linger on the waves above you, and light rays pierce through the air bubbles that rise up from the sandy sea bed. The Mayan relics emit personality; and the ruins are crisp and believable, making it seem like you’re playing an animated re-creation of an ancient world documentary.
There is of course no multiplayer, but this is a good thing, as it seems too many games today throw in a haphazard and feeble attempt at one, just to gain the accolade. Personally, I think playing Reef Shot with others would also minus half the experience, as it seems very clear that the game was not just intended as an adventure, but also as a tool of relaxation, something which is of course best achieved by yourself.
In conclusion, whilst Reef Shot is amongst the small handful of games I have played this year, it is certainly the best. Not only does it prove that unconventional gaming is stronger than ever, but it contains no machine guns, shotguns, grenades, dynamite, cars, planes, or motorbikes, and it is excellent. In addition, the lack of violence is refreshing, and you only need to shoot one thing here, photographs.
I’m not saying that Reef Shot appeals to everyone, but neither do AAA first person shooters. With that said, if you’re looking for a well thought out, exploration game with a superb concept and intriguing storyline then look no further. If you’re not quite sure, just hold your breath, take a dive, and explore the depths of an extremely overlooked and underrated genre.
Reef Shot is available from Desura for £7.99. Oh, and it's only 500 MB.