In 1998, Sega Enterprises came out with a game for their latest gaming console, the Sega Saturn, that Americans would have loved as much as, if not more than, Resident Evil. It was action-packed, only moderately difficult and had a great military-sci-fi storyline. Think of the movie Alien, except at the bottom of the sea. Yeah, we would have loved it. Except it was never released in the United States. This game, Deep Fear, is a 3D, survival horror that takes place entirely underwater. Not only must you fend off parasite organisms, but you must do so in the cramped quarters of submarines and engine rooms, in barracks and laboratories, and you must do this while keeping an ever vigilant eye on the air quality of your surroundings. Because the fear is not only in the monsters you face; it is also in losing precious oxygen. This is Deep Fear, a game that could only take place at the bottom of the sea. It all goes down on a sort of naval command post, submarine dock, research facility. Something has introduced a horror onto the Big Table, as the facility is called, and suddenly crewmen, researchers and experimental animals are turning into monsters. Sounds cool? It should. It's part Alien, part Deep Blue Sea, and part Parasite Eve. Of fucking course it sounds cool.
You are John Mayor, a former Navy SEAL turned civilian, who is the Big Table's search and rescue chief. The Naval C.O. depends on your expertise when the Big Table finds itself in an emergency situation. You'll be doing rescue missions and underwater ordnance disposal, but things quickly get ugly when monsters burst onto the scene. Your mission then becomes frantically protecting the Big Table personnel.
Throughout the game, you explore various areas of Big Table, searching for items essential to your current objectives. You'll notice the game controls somewhat like a Silent Hill game (however, Deep Fear is compatible with the Sega analog controller). And the monsters are essentially zombie organisms, as in Resident Evil. And much like Resident Evil, you will know a zombie is in the area by the sounds it makes before you can see it. All of this creates a very familiar gaming atmosphere, and I mean that in a positive way. Deep Fear has elements you can find in many other great survival horrors, but in many ways it is better. It has more action than Silent Hill. Better controls than Resident Evil. A more coherent story than Parasite Eve. And more so than these three games, Deep Fear strikes the perfect balance of difficulty and playability. Lots of save and reload chances. If you are used to challenging adventure games, you might find Deep Fear to be a bit easy. But let's just say you won't be breaking any controllers over this one.
The story is engaging, the characters have interesting back story or side story, and there are lots of little touches here and there that lend authenticity to the environments and story. In other words, although the game is science-fiction and perhaps futuristic (I mean, it's an underwater military base we're talking here), it is believable and it is plausible, and this makes the game very enjoyable to play. By comparison, I believe the Silent Hill series suffers terribly from this. Silent Hill stories are head-scratchin' awful. Deep Fear, on the other hand, is really a good cinematic plot.
So I've gone on about how great this game is. Why not a perfect 10/10? Well, there's one thing you will not fail to notice about Deep Fear, something that nearly ruined it for me: the voice acting. While Resident Evil showed that a game could succeed despite horrible voice acting, no game should have ever used that as an excuse. The male voice actors just didn't take the game seriously enough, and while the main character's performances improved throughout the game, by then it was too late. (The voice actresses, on the other hand, were decent.) The problem, I think, (besides the mid-90s video game industry still maturing into a full production industry) is that most of the roles are supposed to be American, and all of the voice actors are English. Yeah, the result is a disaster. I'm sure they were directed to "act tough, act cavalier...act American!" so they all tried to sound like Texan cowboys and it almost sank the fucking ship.
Luckily, there is enough to enjoy about Deep Fear that you can forgive this flaw. As I wrote in the beginning, this game never reached American shores, which is a damn shame. Deep Fear could be standing today where Resident Evil is standing. Could it have spawned a franchise, complete with Hollywood adaptations? Who knows. Maybe. But as they say "coulda, woulda, shoulda."
It wouldn't be much longer before 3D worlds, complete with draw and controllable cameras, would come to dominate both adventure and horror games.
*Note 1 : If you have a U.S. Saturn and really want to play this game in English, you can. Here's how. Buy a legit U.K. copy from someone willing to ship to the U.S. Check eBay. That's where I got mine. Make sure you have a working Action Replay Plus cartridge. You'll be able to play through the first disc. At the disc change, put in Disc 2 and it will give you a "disc not readable" error. That's okay. Just reset your Saturn (don't turn off power) and back up your save. Then start Disc 2 from the rebooted Action Replay. Just keep in mind that the U.K version of Deep Fear (the only English version ever made) is friggin rare and expensive if complete.
**Note 2: Someone patched Deep Fear to work with NTSC systems in a collection called Lost & Found. It's Lost & Found Vol. 3. But you need a modded Saturn to play the game this way. So watch out! Don't get ripped off!