Freediver: Triton Down could have gone wrong at any one of its cramped, claustrophobic turns. It is, simply put, The Poseidon Adventure in VR; an underwater survival experience in which you steal pockets of air between long, murky dives into the depths of an enormous vessel. The elevator pitch is compelling, but matching execution with ambition is no small task. And yet, save for some production kinks, developer Archiact pulls it off so well you wonder why no one did it sooner.
Smart design rescues Freediver from the potential depths of tedium. It is, in some part, an iteration on Lone Echo; swimming feels almost as natural as zero gravity traversal with a few of its own twists. You essentially pull yourself through the world. It’s not necessarily authentic and it isn’t as reliably sticky as moving about in Echo VR, but it is intuitive and, crucially, immersive. In fact, it’s so convincing I was occasionally caught off-guard by the sound of my own breathing when I was meant to be underwater.
Its biggest problems are its inconsistencies. Freediver has a b-movie appeal that often works to its advantage, but it occasionally slips up. At one point I let go of a flare only to watch it drop onto a shelf then roll off of it as if we weren’t both submerged 10,000 leagues under the sea. Its dialogue, meanwhile, quotes poetry in search of wisdom, but the wider narrative is slightly undercooked.
Its welcome brand of streamlined thinking informs a lot of Freediver. Heading in, I was almost certain the game would be lost to monotonous trawls through stale environments. In reality, it’s surprisingly punchy, with tightly orchestrated surroundings that rarely leave you wondering what to do for too long. Archiact doesn’t weigh you down too much; you’ll be stressed enough as it is worrying about oxygen.
That’s the game’s core thrill. Getting lost in its maze of corridors feels sickeningly weighty when you know your O2 is running thin. It’s shaken all the more by the horror of swimming past the bodies of crew members, which feels truly uncomfortable. This is a masterclass in using proximity to mine emotion from players.
Better yet, it’s mercifully brief. It would be easy for Freediver to outstay its welcome, a fact that Archiact seems acutely aware of. Instead, it runs you through its gamut of highs and lows in a breezy 60 minutes and bids farewell before you begin to tire. There’s a sense that this is what VR should feel like; capturing its lightning in a bottle and then releasing it before the magic fades.
Freediver: Triton Down is better than it has any right to be. What could well have been a soul-crushing slog turns out to be a pleasingly immediate palette cleanser. Its got some B-movie style missteps, but sharp design punctuates every element of a game that never outstays its welcome. So take a deep breath and grab your goggles; this is one adventure that’s worth undertaking.