I've never been scuba diving, though I imagine it can be quite the relaxing affair. Checking out the reefs, the fish, and just marveling at what is essentially a whole other world sounds pretty wonderful. It would stand to reason, then, that a game about scuba diving and taking pictures of the beautiful underwater scenery would be an equally relaxing affair.
Reef Shot definitely can be relaxing, in between all of the intrusive story bits and distracting objective markers. It wants to take you along for a ride, but in most cases, I'd rather be steering the wheel myself.
*Note: All photos used in this review were taken by me within the game.
Reef Shot (PC)
Developer: Nano Games
Publisher: Nano Games
Release Date: November 21, 2012
There is a story in Reef Shot, one about discovering ancient Mayan artifacts and trying to uncover the mystery of El Dorado, the lost city of gold. The story does an okay job of keeping the player interested, since the possibility of discovering a lost city is definitely intriguing. The problem is that the game quickly shifts focus from taking pretty pictures of colorful fish to taking pictures of brown slabs and carved rocks.
Taking pictures of fish never truly goes away, but it does begin to feel more out of place. After a long series of artifact photos, Reef Shot will randomly require the player to photograph a fish again, as if to remind them that they are underwater and there are fish around. It's strange to hear the in-game partner go from freaking out about ancient ruins to calmly describing a fish at the drop of a hat.
Perhaps the worst part about the story is the ending. After an incredible amount of build up surrounding El Dorado, as soon as the last picture is taken in the last mission, a text box just pops up congratulating the player on performing this incredible feat before booting them out to the main menu. Underwhelming would be an understatement.
Each mission consists of taking pictures of either fish or artifacts in order to advance. Every photograph must meet a certain quality requirement, which is measured in stars. For example, a one-star photograph means you should go back to art school and a five-star photograph deserves to be framed and put in a museum. The game isn't as clear as it could be in terms of what constitutes each level of photograph, though. Even worse, when a four-star photo is needed and a three-star photo is taken, the game doesn't give any feedback as to why it was only a three-star photo. Sometimes I felt as if I was photographing works of art, only to get a two-star photo, and I was never quite sure why.
An utterly bizarre decision, the option to save all photographs to your computer is turned off by default. It even turns off again at the beginning of each mission! I find it very odd that in a game about taking photos, photo saving is always turned off unless the player remembers to turn it on.
Reef Shot also directs the player around the map by placing objective markers. Each mission boils down to moving to a marker, taking photos, moving to the next marker, taking more photos. There's no freedom whatsoever in how missions progress; the game is extremely linear. In fact, it even punishes the player for just swimming around and taking photographs, since both oxygen and photos are limited.
It is possible to spend earned stars on "perks." These perks include refilling oxygen, adding more photographs, or locating the fish or artifact needed to complete the current objective. Sidequests are also unlocked by spending stars. Doing so not only costs the player some stars, but also oxygen and photos, so unless a sidequest is done quickly and efficiently, it could result in a failed mission.
There is no checkpoint system in place, so a failed mission means starting the entire thing over again. Chances are that failure will not come often, but when it does it is incredibly frustrating. I think I would have preferred the removal of a fail state over an actual checkpoint system, however. In a game like Reef Shot, it would be nice to be able to just explore the ocean floor and take as many pretty or ugly photos as I'd like. I kept hoping that a free-roam possibility would unlock upon completing the story mode, but regrettably that never happened.
The game looks good enough to convey the vast expanse of the ocean floor and the loneliness of diving deep, but almost every artifact is drab and ugly instead of beautiful and interesting. The fish also don't react to the player's presence in any way, and in fact most of them clip right through the player. There aren't many music tracks included, but the few that are set the mood extremely well. For the most part, the music is upbeat, but gets more somber during a deep dive and sets up the tension of being so far below sea level.
Reef Shot could have been much, much more than what is offered. As a first-person adventure game, it does little to stimulate the player to keep pressing on, except perhaps to hopefully see more fish variety. If you're like me and want to just meander about the ocean floor and take some photographs of virtual fish to relax and enjoy yourself, Reef Shot offers very little.