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Dark and Deep is a cosmic horror blend of modern and classic art, and you can play the demo during Steam Next Fest

From solo developer Walter Woods, Dark and Deep is exactly what it says on the tin: dark… and deep…

The player looks through a circular frame and sees a woman standing in the distance in Dark and Deep
Image credit: Walter Woods

If you’ve been knocking about VG247 for a while now, you’ll know that I am a horror nut. It’s my whole jam, most of my personal brand, and most importantly, my passion. I don’t know what draws me to horror necessarily, but there’s something about exploring the deepest, darkest recesses of people's minds - be it creators or characters - that is deeply fascinating to me. The aptly named Dark and Deep, one of the many participants in this month's Steam Next Fest, definitely scratches that itch.

Inviting you into a haunting world made up of Gustave Dore’s artwork, Dark and Deep is an illusory, psychological tale of a man known as Samuel Judge; he is a man deeply fascinated by a conspiracy theory podcast, which you’ll bear witness to, but there’s something much darker lurking beneath the surface. He’s clearly isolated and stuck, unhappy with where his life has wound up. During the demo that I played, which featured much of the first part of the game and the beginning of the second part (there are three parts in total, made up of multiple brief sections), you play as Samuel as he experiences a nightmarish dilemma: he is trapped in an ever-changing world, made up of the devils and demons we see in Dore’s artwork. They’re hungry, and will stop at nothing to access the light that Samuel uses to make his way through this hellish landscape. It’s a brilliant blend between the two mediums, elevating Gustave Dore’s artwork and using it to tell yet another story, centuries after Dore’s passing.

The player looks at a crawler enemy through a square picture frame in Dark and Deep
Image credit: Walter Woods

Samuel must navigate these claustrophobic corridors - which you should really look at, by the way - using frames that reveal different parts of the world to him, with other frames helping him dispel monsters known as Crawlers. These frames carry secret messages, too, from an unknown character we’re yet to see more of; but we know one thing, and that’s that they’re taunting him. And while this world Samuel initially explores is deeply alien, there’s moments of familiarity too.

One moment, you’re finally escaping the corridors for what we can assume to be Samuel’s office, taking a moment to chat with a mysterious online friend and listen to the conspiracy podcast Samuel’s been so fascinated by. Later, you can see his office in the distance as you try to navigate more tight corridors inhabited by Crawlers, their scurrying sounds - and never knowing where they actually are thanks to their invisibility - making your skin crawl. Gameplay itself is satisfying and puzzling, with an equally puzzling narrative to piece together. There are some comic moments to look forward to, too; the whiplash of experiencing a solemn podcasting moment about a missing girl swiftly followed by an advertisement for Dave’s Shaves is one comment on the current climate of content creation that made me giggle amidst the madness that was ensuing.

The player is in an office that is illuminated with green light in Dark and Deep, and there is a deer in front of them
Image credit: Walter Woods

As you enter Part 2 of the game, things begin to become a little clearer, but we’re still a long way from the end of Samuel’s story and finding out who he really is. Though, it’s not hard to see where things are going given the source material that solo developer, Walter Woods, has worked with. Gustave Dore is credited as one of the creators of the game, despite having passed long before video games where ever a thing, and you can see why. The alien environments you find yourself in are modeled off of his artwork, which were often dark, detailed scenes depicting knights, angels, and profound moments. Dore’s artwork is found in versions of the Bible, Don Quixote, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and so many more, but most importantly, he illustrated Dante’s Divine Comedy. I say most importantly because Dark and Deep’s haunting landscapes and puzzling narrative feel as though they could be heavily inspired by the poem, which details a journey through the afterlife. That definitely would explain the bizarre, but detailed world Samuel has found himself in; perhaps he is being punished, but why? Dark and Deep's demo definitely makes you keen to play more and seek answers.

Solo developer Walter Woods has some pretty grand visions for his mark on the industry, too. As part of Here Below, he wants to create a space for other indie developers to collaborate on all things elevated horror; a space where "fresh stories, bold aesthetics, and meaningful mechanics" go hand in hand. He wants to make meaningful and original games, inspired by the work of A24 and Mike Flanagan, and I think he’s definitely succeeded thus far with Dark and Deep. There are a few quality issues that need ironing out before Dark and Deep’s full release, but all in all, it was a refreshing experience that provides a successful blend of modernity with classic media. I definitely look forward to seeing how the story of Samuel Judge unfolds, and whether his journey into the abyss of the afterlife yields any more answers about why he’s there.

Dark and Deep was previewed on PC with a code provided by the publisher. It is expected to be released on PC during August 2024. Check out the demo for yourself on Steam.

Check out the other featured games in VG247, RockPaperShotgun, and Eurogamer's Wishlisted event at the hub page – including a nice, meaty video that shows you why we're so into the collected games.

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