As you take your first cautious steps across the sludgy ground of Hidden Deep’s cave systems, a wave of associations swarm your mind like an invasive alien virus. This game is inspired by some of the greats of grim sci-fi, of bad science gone very bad – it has the cavernous atmosphere of Aliens, the shrieking body horror of The Thing, and even hints of Half-life.
But with its atmospheric 2D stylings, Hidden Deep also harks back to the great cinematic platformers, as you explore its world to figure out what the hell happened here in the bowels of the Earth.
With Hidden Deep having just crept into Steam Early Access, here’s everything you need to know about the sci-fi horrors that await.
You start the game as a scout from a rescue team, sent into an underground science facility to extract the missing researchers. As you find researchers, you’ll get to give them commands or even take direct control of them to utilise their unique abilities. The scout, for instance, can use a grappling hook to swing over chasms and rappel up to higher ground, while the engineer can operate vehicles to unlock new parts of a level or move cargo around.
This game understands that every great videogame hero needs their seemingly-functional but-actually-badass tools, so to that end you can use a scanner to search for hidden ways through the caves or scout for enemies up ahead, then send out a drone to gun down monsters so you don’t have to.
Eventually – if your nerves allow it – you’ll learn the ways of this hostile environment, harnessing the heavy machinery of the facility to burrow deeper into it, or using demolition charges to blast through walls, opening up shortcuts that link the (relative) safety of earlier areas with the brooding mystery of new ones.
Of course, you’ll also have adequate weaponry at your disposal to help you tear through the sinewy, mutated monstrosities that await you. However, this weaponry isn’t quiet and ammo isn’t infinite, so with each encounter you’ll need to decide when to fight, and when to flee.
Swarms of flesh-eating spiders, nests crawling with fiends and dangling protrusions waiting to entangle you are just some of the horrors of Hidden Deep. And don’t assume that just because you’ve cleared a previous area it will still be safe when you next return…
By the time its Early Access journey is complete, you’ll be able to play through the entire game , which developer Cogwheel Software says will clock in at over 20 hours of terrifying suboceanic traversal.
Fortunately, you don’t need to face this nightmare alone. Right from Day One, you can enter Hidden Deep alongside a friend in local co-op in ‘Escape the Sector’ mode, revelling in giddy fear together as you try to reach the exit together.
There are three other challenge modes to dive into. Whether you’re retrieving a data disk, protecting reactors from melting down, or simply wiping out every monster in a level, each challenge map randomises objective and monster placement so that you never get too comfortable, and are always forced to ‘stay frosty’.
Hidden Deep is out now on Steam Early Access. Brave souls can buy it now, and be part of its expedition to full release as it grows into a fully-fleshed creature. You can also follow publisher Daedelic Entertainment’s goings-on through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram, or even get involved with the community at Discord, where you can chat games and perhaps find a co-op partner to plunge into the Deep with you.