Support Alex, click to buy via us...
Steel Diver plunges you beneath the waves in a battle against an evil foreign power. As a submariner everything around you can prove lethal and the smallest error can lead to a horrible death. A loose plot and eclectic delivery means this fund of risk lacked the purpose and impact it could have had.
There are few who dream of plunging hundreds of meters beneath the waves with nothing but a few centimetres of metal between them and a bleak death. Submarines remain forgotten until the shock of news stories horrify the public. The visions are so vivid of a lonely death so far removed from home that it is impossible not to feel a cold chill. Perhaps none said it better than Sir Winston Churchill, "Of all the branches of men in the forces there is none which shows more devotion and faces grimmer perils than the submariners."
With all this fear and horror Steel Diver is an odd choice for Nintendo. When I first heard about it I imagined a relaxing experience, plunging beneath Lake Hyrule or taking holiday tours around the ocean floor. What I received was very different. I understand the Second World War setting, harking back as it does to the heyday of submarines, when they acted as a vital piece of a nation's defences, but it sits poorly with the Nintendo ethos.
Not wanting to engage directly with the Second World War, Steel Diver's loose narrative veils itself as conflict against a rogue nation in the year 19XX. I suppose there really could be another era in mind, but the purpose of the date and scenario are clear, Steel Diver is set in a time of desperation and limited technology.
It may not sound much like a Nintendo game, but once you start the campaign's disjointed missions the influence becomes clear. Steel Diver submerges you in a beautiful range of diverse underwater environments and with a variety of craft whose controls make the difference between mundane navigation and exciting exploration.
Subtle 3D makes the top screen look like tiny diorama as I direct my craft through icy waters.
Each vessel controls a little differently, not in a way that makes them foreign to command but enough to ensure that attempting each level with a different craft is noticeably distinct. Taking in the smaller subs I find myself manoeuvrable enough to avoid obstacles. By contrast the larger ships are sluggish, but their strength means they can often brute force their way straight through situations that the smaller craft couldn't, heedless of attacks.
Subtle 3D makes the top screen look like tiny diorama as you indirectly guide yourself through icy waters with a range of levers. Taking in my preferred craft, the largest of the three subs, I enter one of the later levels. Subtle 3D makes the top screen look like tiny diorama as I direct my craft through icy waters.
Diving, I adjust my pitch attack an enemy sub bellow me. With depth charges raining down from above I know that I am prone, and that if hit I could easily be locked into my attack vector requiring me to plug any leaks before control could be returned. One of the charges hit me but without puncturing the hull, allowing me the time I need to unleash all four of my torpedoes sinking the enemy sub.
I look at the angle of my decent and imagine the would-be-men inside precariously clutching at what ever is around them to balance as they dive ever further from the safety of the air above. Steel Diver may fuel my over active imagination with various scenarios, but I'm also left to project any sort of reasoning or incentive for each of the encounters and missions.
It doesn't seem to have ever quite made its mind up.
You see, Steel Diver's story is so vague that it inspires no sense of duty or pride. The pomp that I would associate with victory is absent and leaves progress feeling somewhat empty. It's still fun but this lack of emotional resonance makes it unmemorable. The levels often feel more like time-trials than glorious military victories. Is this a racing game or a war game - it doesn't seem to have ever quite made its mind up.
Steel Diver is a rather odd game, and one that misses a strong opportunity. Without coherence or narrative it lacks any sense of the horrors of a real submariner. This is a shame as it will be some considerable time before we see another Submarine game get this sort of profile. I hope Nintendo have a long enough memory to recall these lessons sorely learned.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: