Depths of Fear: Knossos – What We Think:
Inspired by the Greek legend of the labyrinth, Depths of Fear: Knossos sees you walking in the sandals of Perseus, descending the labyrinth of King Minos to face off against such mythological monsters as the centaur, the griffin and the gorgon Medusa, each of whom presides over a different section of the labyrinth. The twist is that you can’t actually fight them (at least, not with any chance of winning) until you make it to the bottom level and recover that monster’s amulet.
Stealth and Sandals
So the most important weapon isn’t your sword or spear, but your torch; you need it lit to explore the procedurally generated levels, but you’ll need to put it out in a hurry and pray to Poseidon that there’s a deep enough shadow to hide in if a boss monster is hot on your heels. This creates some real moments of tension, augmented by the game’s brilliant sound design, which features ominous retro synthesizers that grow louder as monsters grow closer, as well as the chilling cries and bellows of the monsters themselves (the goaty bleats of the satyr are especially terrifying).
Unfortunately, the effectively spooky atmosphere is ruined by numerous issues. For one thing, the combat is distinctly unsatisfying; there’s no sound at all when your weapon connects with an enemy, which is a real pity considering that sound design is probably the game’s best asset. Boss battles are won and lost seemingly at random; your best bet is to hide and wait for the inexorably rising lava to finish the monster off, which hardly feels befitting a legendary hero descended from the gods of Olympus.
There are also numerous programming issues. The procedural generation of the labyrinth itself occasionally leads to unintentionally comedic moments ranging from ludicrous (wooden furniture floating apparently unharmed in molten lava) to game-breaking (level entrances that drop the character directly into that same molten lava).
Glitches unrelated to level design also crop up pretty regularly; while zombies can be lit on fire with your torch or by stumbling into lava or traps, there’s a bug that occasionally turns such flaming zombies invincible. At one point, another bug restored my saved game to a spot where I was unable to move.
Finally, the game seems unusually graphics-intensive, which seems especially disappointing since the graphics itself are what might be charitably described as “old school.” A game with such a distinctly mid-’90s visual aesthetic should not be crashing your video card.
Plus and Minos
Depths of Fear: Knossos is a terrible first person action game; the controls are floaty, there’s little sense of feedback from weapon attacks, and boss fights rely more on luck than on skill. That said, despite the presence of classic dungeon enemies like zombies, skeletons and giant insects and a shop that sells nothing but weapons, this isn’t actually an action game at all. It’s a game about hiding in the dark from monsters.
Depths of Fear: Knossos is far too frustrating to recommend. It’s a shame, too, because this is a game with a unique aesthetic, atmospheric and tense while also brimming with retro charm, and making it through a level unscathed gives you a real rush of accomplishment. Unfortunately, that rush is no match for the constant aggravations of poorly implemented combat and bug-ridden programming.
Depths of Fear: Knossos is available on Steam