Review: Reef Shot (PC)

Here’s a nice marine diversion for you. Behold, bubbling to the surface all the way from Kraków is Reef Shot.

A refreshing, uncomplicated experience from Polish developer Nano Games, players find themselves unraveling a nicely-packaged mystery surrounding submerged Mayan ruins in the warm equatorial waters off middle America. One part edutainment-lite, one part “experience” – think ThatGameCompany – and you’ve got Reef Shot in a nutshell.

Using the pretext of underwater photography, players follow waypoints around a variety of marine environments, snapping shots of fauna and artifacts for points. These points can then be invested mid-mission into things like tank refills, bonus mission locations, additional photo film reels and such. This is not a game of reflex nor mental taxation. We are simply here to search for things and record their presence.

And it works. On the premise of simply bubbling around in the ultra-clean troughs and sandbanks, through the crisp, drowned archaeological remnants of a long-dead civilization, it works. Reef Shot is one of a handful of diving games, and while not quite as environmentally pleasing as Depth Hunter or as majestic as Endless Ocean or Aquanaut’s Holiday, Nano Games’ debut effort — built on the studio’s proprietary engine, no less — works as a piece of earnest, low-gear entertainment. There is nothing high-octane here, and while the shot composition technique of the photography can be sometimes tricky, it is never truly out of the reach of even the most casual of players. Reef Shot is the quintessential slice of family friendly software.

And yet I feel like I’m doing the title a disservice by simply suggesting as such, which is going to be the big challenge for Reef Shot elsewhere. Outside of the family edutainment circuit, this is one hell of a thing to market. Depth Hunter had the hook of being a spear-fishing simulator of sorts. Endless Ocean included a lot more interaction than what’s on show with Reef Shot. What Reef Shot does have is that aforementioned mystery to weave together these quiet, ruminative dive sessions.

Through the ever-present and enthusiastic commentary and direction of Renée aboard the dive boat, you’ll be given primary objectives along the route of each mission that feed into the unfolding mystery. I shan’t spoil the tale, but it does revolve around the search for El Dorado and Mayan mythology. Coupling the legitimately well-conceived and well-presented narrative with one of the better game scores I’ve heard this year — relaxing synthesizers offset gently by injections of exotic ethnic instrumentation — there’s something rather delicious about Reef Shot when nestled quietly within the bombast of modern gaming experiences.

There are moments of legitimate awe that are very effectively rendered in Reef Shot, primarily the result of a clean engine with emphasis on lighting and depth. Seeing silhouettes of manta rays drift in the semi-darkness of a deep dive is magical. Finding a small school of brightly colored fish shoot past in a subterranean cave as you kick slowly through a luminous sprout of weeds. The crisp definition of Nano Games’ Mayan reconstruction might lack the true sense of grit and decay ruins of antiquity are part and parcel of, but there’s something fantastical and abstracted about it. It is as though players are being let loose inside a segment of 3D animation from a ancient world documentary, evincing uncomplicated lines and highly defined planes. Something you’d see under narration by Zahi Hawass and featuring an CG rendering of the assumed internal ducts of the Giza pyramid.

So while I do wish there was more in the way of plant and animal life populating the trenches, caves and sandy depths of Reef Shot, I’m just as entranced by the stark economy of the world Nano Games have created. What is there is gorgeous. The mechanics are simple to grasp, the sound design absolutely gorgeous and the story itself an enjoyable and well-told affair.

Is Reef Shot for you? Well, if you’ll excuse the nebulousness of the answer, Reef Shot certainly is if you’re one of those people who are primarily looking for an “experience.” If you’re looking for anything more than a beautiful, languid swim in the depths, Reef Shot might not be one to paddle after. As it stands, this great-looking low-impact diving and photography game is one to round out and balance a library that needs a little downtime.

Reef Shot is available from Desura.

A fine game for those moments where you need to take a breath.

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