Terror From the Deep was a DLC pack ahead of its time. Released less than a year after Mythos Games’ X-Com: Enemy Unknown, it presented a near identical scenario to the original game with the same objectives: shoot down alien saucers and investigate the crash sites, all the while researching alien tech to help you defeat the underlying threat. It was still very much the same game, but simultaneously went beyond a new texture palette and expanded mission structure.
For a start, whilst TFTD might have had been set deep beneath the waves, its difficulty was hovering somewhere around the stratosphere. You can make all the plans you want, but when four of your soldiers unload entire clips into a Lobster Man and all he does is blink, then it’s probably time to panic. Difficult is the wrong word to use when talking about TFTD, because it isn’t hard, it just doesn’t end like you expect a game to. I was under the impression that, like other games, the credits would roll once I’d destroyed the alien threat but instead I was made witness to a horrifying and methodical destruction of mankind.
One by one soldiers would fall, torn apart deep beneath the waves. Each new technological advancement made would briefly bring false hope, before being spat on by a new and even more terrifying alien threat. Finally, the last bastion would inevitably be overrun, reserves torn apart and Earth’s last hope ground mercilessly into the seabed.
Apparently, there’s another ending when the humans win. I can’t vouch for its truth as I’ve never seen it. It’s probably just a rumour.
I’m guessing Microprose knew their market would predominantly be players of the first game, people who – after X-Com – thought they’d finally got to grips with tackling the original’s deadly terror missions. Hardened veterans. However, there’s making a sequel challenging, then there’s making half the aliens impenetrable to basic firearms and forcing you to fight them anyway. Unlike Enemy Unknown, Terror From the Deep doesn’t hold back, hurling deadly creatures in your direction within weeks of the game’s start. Lobster Men, Bio-Drones, even a dinosaur with guns mounted on its back. The game doesn’t care, it just wants you dead.
Attacks on land were just the start of your problems. When you received the call that a shipping route had been attacked, you could be certain that not all of your boys would be coming back. Within a cramped and claustrophobic atmosphere aboard freighters and cruise-liners, you’d search room by room, knowing that any shower cubicle could be hiding a terrifying Lovecraftian monstrosity. Finally, after seemingly hours of searching, the last threat would be destroyed and you could breathe a momentary sigh of relief.
Only momentary though, that’s not the end of the mission. Your successes above deck would be rewarded by having your wounded team plunged deep into the bowels of the ship. With little ammo remaining and threats hiding in every shadow, any mistake here could be costly. Neglect to check even one corner of the narrow winding passages and an alien would inevitably leap out of it, destroying your remaining soldiers with its smug orange claws.
Those lucky souls that did happen to survive the terror missions would find their problems only just beginning. Not content with simply kicking you when you’re down, TFTD suffered from several game breaking bugs that occasionally prevented you from researching necessary technologies. In short, if you climbed the wrong branch of the tech tree, the game could become impossible to complete. Of course, the game wouldn’t tell you that, it would just let you fruitlessly fight on until your inevitable defeat. Add to that a hilarious bug that had a tendency to reset the difficulty to Superhuman when you weren’t looking, and you’d be hard pressed to prove the game wasn’t deliberately setting out to make your life a complete misery.
It’s great though. Once every couple of months I’ll return to Terror From the Deep, my memories filled with nostalgic thoughts. I’ll fall in love again with its archaic graphics and its unique under-sea battles. I’ll chuckle fondly at its curious idiosyncrasies, like being able to throw grenades underwater. Then I’ll encounter a Lobster Man, and it’ll all come flooding back to me.
I often wonder why I insist on inflicting it on myself. Perhaps it’s as an escape from the constant debate that modern games are being ‘dumbed down’. Perhaps it’s a small hope that one day I’ll get the upper hand against impossible odds. Perhaps I just enjoy sending pixelated men to their doom. I’m not overly sure, but come back I always do.
Would I recommend it? No. If you told me you’d seen it, I’d tell you to run. Run as fast as you can and don’t look back, because once it’s got you in its slimy grasp it will never let you go. It is, however, currently available on Steam for just £2.99, the same cost as a sandwich. On the other hand, sandwiches don’t spit on your sobbing wretched body for thinking you’re good enough to eat them.
Play it now, and when you lose, don’t say I didn’t warn you.