Below the flotilla of Minecraft clones and Avatar titles bobbing along happily at the top of the XBLIG charts lurks a game with real bite. Shark Attack Deathmatch is both title and premise: four scuba divers use spearguns to shoot each other while a circling great white menace persistently threatens to join in the bloodshed.
It’s a persuasive conceit, and it’s been realised with no little skill by relative unknown Lighthouse Games Studio. The speargun is authentically unwieldy and slow to reload, while your spindly rivals prove a hard target to hit, turning encounters into tense cat-and-mouse affairs. A knife offers the opportunity for a close-quarters kill, though as sharks are attracted by the blood that results, it’s a risky strategy – particularly given the paucity of hiding places. Visually, it can be a little ragged, but there’s some fine lighting work here, and the sharks are realistic enough to unsettle even from a distance.
Facing nature’s greatest predator alone in the singleplayer Survival mode is an even more frightening experience. Orchestral stabs alert you to a shark’s presence but not its location, precipitating a frantic 360-degree spin that commonly ends with a screen full of teeth and blood. After several hours, such jolts lose a little of their potency, but the purity of these ideas touches upon something primal that recalls our early dalliances with Doom. At just 80 MSP, and with the developer promising a raft of updates, there are plenty of good reasons to dive in.