Stirring Abyss

Slitherine has partnered with Sleeping Sentry to release the tactical turn-based game Stirring Abyss. It has strong RPG elements. Stirring Abyss is infused with an interesting Lovecraftian atmosphere and style. If you are nostalgic for the golden era of video games, you will be pleasantly surprised by this retro tactical turn-based inspired by the classic XCOM.

The story is set at the height of the cold war. You are a part of the USS Salem’s crew.
Your ship was sunk during a top secret mission, and the whole crew (except you) has been left wounded and scattered. You find yourself in the middle of an ancient civilization. Your vessel is heavily damaged and has to be repaired if you ever want to make it to the surface. Your mission is two-fold: first you have to repair your vessel and to that end you need to scavenge for the needed materials. Secondly, you need to find and rescue the missing crew of the USS Salem. You have to survive at all costs against a whole cast of peculiar enemies, if you want to save your crew.

I found the stylistic artwork interesting, although it might not be to everyone’s taste. The retro aesthetics are beautifully fitted to illustrate the Lovecraftian world of Stirring Abyss. The graphics are well rendered and help create an appropriately eerie atmosphere. There is a great attention to details. I love how the developers went as far as giving the graphics a slightly degraded look, which created the same aged appearance you would see in an old movie. It gives Stirring Abyss a very specific style that works perfectly with the Lovecraftian theme.

There are two modes to choose from, the story mode and the endless mode. In the story mode, you have to uncover the story of this mysterious underwater civilization one mission at a time. You access the missions through a main map. The goal of each mission is similar. You have to look for the missing member of your crew. At the same time, you will scavenge for supplies and explore sections of the strange environment. There are no cut scenes or dialogues per se. The story is told through radio exchanges between crew members and some log files. The story is secondary to the gameplay, but interesting nonetheless, if you do not mind a bit of reading.

The story mode has two different stages. The first are the missions and the second is the time in between missions. When you are not in a mission, you will be on the vessel screen where you can repair your vessel, do some research, and take care of your team (level them up, heal them, etc.). The submarine’s chambers are all flooded so before you can even start your repair, you need to pump the water out. Each action you perform in the ship costs a certain amount of “power points”. To complete the repair in each chamber, you need to gather the different supplies required. The supplies are specific to the chamber you are repairing and each one gives you access to specific features. Then there is the research aspect which encompasses crafting new equipment and gain bonus. That part of the game involves a lot of management style gameplay.

The mission gameplay is done on an isometric grid. Like in the submarine screen where you use “power points”, here your crew will use “action points” for everything. Every team member found gets added to the roster of characters at your disposal. During the missions there is lots going on. First, as previously stated, you will be exploring and scavenging, but you will also need to be on the lookout for enemies and on your level of oxygen. If your oxygen meter hits zero, you will start going insane which leads to several outcomes, but the main consequence is that you will not be in control of this character until the mission ends. However, there are air vents scattered around the sea bed where you can replenish some oxygen. There is no map, but there is the sonar feature which gives you an idea of where are the enemies, missing crew members and air vents. It adds to the aura of mystery of Stirring Abyss, but can be a little hard to use at times. The endless mode is self-evident. You fight against opponents that keep on getting stronger. It is the ultimate test of your abilities.

Both the characters and the adversaries seem to be randomly generated, thus every time you start a fresh game, you will get a different character. I love the enemies’ design. They are all strange looking Lovecraft inspired character. The issue I have is that I would have loved to see a little more variety. The crew member’s avatars on the game board all look the same. In the same vein, each member has a title and a couple specific skills, but again it gets pretty repetitive since there is only a couple of variations. That is my big issue with Stirring Abyss. I truly enjoyed the game, but the more I kept playing, the more repetitive it felt. The environments are beautiful but it is always the same on every missions. Each mission seems to be a reshuffling of the same concept. The game could be much improved by adding a little variety. I would also like to see the levels to be more balanced. I assumed it is a side effect of the randomly-generated levels, but the difficulties are not always linear.

Stirring Abyss is fun and features a creative concept, but it does tend to be repetitive in the long run. The thematic art style is beautiful and obviously a work of love. There are many XCOM clones out there, and it is refreshing to see developers taking inspiration from it, while still creating a game that stands apart with the innovative story and looks. If you love unusual tactical RPG, you should definitely give this underrated gem a try.

Written by Vee