Empress of the Deep
is a quick dip into a still, ancient, underwater world. It's a little like Amerzone
with more water and hidden objects, which makes it a happy light entertainment for, say, downtime at work, which is where I played it in 15- and 20-minute slices. My 3.7 hours in the game involved reminding myself where I was and what I was doing since I wasn't playing straight through, and I reckon an average player would complete it in three hours or less.
The game is a pretty slide-show exploration adventure set in a deserted underwater habitat called the Ark, where you are awakened at the beginning with little memory to explain why you're there and, of course, with a destiny to discover. This is pretty much par for the course, but happily the voice acting is fairly subdued and the plot is delivered calmly, so the routine nature of the story doesn't compete against the pretty scenery.
You're met early on by Jacob, a disembodied voice that will come to you from time to time over your little handheld device thingy (map, clues, notes, and collections) with encouragement and vague instructions. He tells you to find the three parts of a family artifact, and you're off through a trio of silent, giant pavilions. A furtive little-girl voice will join in later, and she and Jacob push and pull for your trust until the end.
The art is beautiful, and not especially detailed. It's pleasant to push through and ultimately feels like an inert high-fantasy world of science, though without the splashy excesses of, say, Rapture. There isn't much to explore - the eye captures each screen quickly unless there are puzzles present - but I thought from the bones of the design that the game idly aspired to Myst
as an influence, rather than entirely embracing its hidden-object heritage.
Still, it is absolutely a casual game, with none of the crazy-making that kind of ruined Myst
for me back in the day. You'll push a button in one scene, activate an orb in another, collect a few stray inventory items here and there, and move similarly through the peaceful scenery at a good clip. The game introduces an "Area Finished" star icon that displays in the upper left of each screen when all actions there have been completed, and it's a great convenience. Less usefully, it awards you flowers when you finish puzzle segments, and you're meant to collect them all, but since they arrive automatically as you progress through the story and don't do anything but sit on their collection page, it's easy to forget that they are there.
A flurry of action at the end contains a satisfactory reveal, as well as putting the player into position for part two.