- Format: PC
- Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: Meat Name Games
- Developer: BeefJack, Dean Edwards
- Players: 1
- Site: http://www.ironfishgame.com/
- Game code provided by the developer
Iron Fish is a great concept for a game, but its execution makes it a constantly frustrating experience. On some levels it works really well, seeing as slightly awkward controls often amplify the strengths of the horror genre, but there’s also a reason that underwater sections in most games are much maligned. Iron Fish takes horror underwater and it works in some respects but not as often as it really should.
Taking the helm of a tiny little submarine, you play as Cerys, a proficient submarine pilot (captain? Can you still be the captain of a one-man sub?) who’s investigating some missing persons under the sea. It quite quickly become obvious that “not everything is as it seems” and that something else might be lurking in the deeper waters.
As for the story? It’s pretty good, there are plenty of data logs and artefacts to find (sometimes in an almost pixel-hunting fashion) giving you glimpses into all sorts of the underwater goings on. It’s interesting, and tries to be different in the way it handles everything. You aren’t a marine, tomb raider or any other sort of violent protagonist, so exploration and puzzle solving become the main features. And that’s where it all starts to go wrong.
The core ideas are fine but the execution is just so poor. There are frequently bugs that halt progress, making you have to restart checkpoints or even just stopping you interacting with certain things. In all likelihood it either wasn’t tested thoroughly or not fixed before or after release. Objects are in places that we can’t reach because we can’t get close enough, certain core mechanics relating to enemies don’t work all the time and it got us killed, sometimes we couldn’t get back in our sub and got killed because of that; the list goes on.
This is the biggest flaw the game has; a monumental lack of polish. It’s easy to see what they were going for and we liked it when it wasn’t breaking in front of us but, when issues pop up as often as they do, every minute played feels like a struggle. One section involved both light sensitive enemies – one attracted by light, the other “scared off” by it – and about three hours spent trying to get one item. It was worsened by multiple bugs and the by then almost random checkpointing that the game has, which sometimes saves when you exit the sub, sometimes not. We even had checkpoints where we’d swum out from the sub and were being attacked.
As a horror game it feels woefully devoid of creeping horror, something it gets better at later on as things get darker and Cerys tries to reassure herself by muttering and whispering to herself. She sent chills down our spine far more often than any of the creatures and the frankly cheap jump-scares that litter the game. As a game comprised of multiple open levels, and in an ocean at that, making it so that there is an element of surprise and keeping things tense is a little difficult; but Iron Fish still manages to do it well on occasion. Those occasions tend to be in the darker areas where you can see no further than 5-10 metres in front of you and you know that turning the lights on to see will only be a bad idea.
When you’re in the open areas the enemies don’t have any frightening qualities. They just hurt you and probably kill you. Sometimes you simply heal up and swim away, but we ended up dying mostly from drowning rather than enemies in the open sections. They don’t feel like much of a threat, and even when they bash your sub every which way you can normally get back on track in a jiffy and escape.
Iron Fish had a lofty goal of making a horror game with underwater physics. It only fails at that due to the lack of polish. We really wanted to love it but it was a struggle to play to completion. If it gets a few more fixes it might just be in a state worth giving it a go but if it remains anything like it is now, don’t bother.