When I first read about Undertow, an under-water shooter, I thought it was going to be something like Doom below water. Silly me, Undertow is a *different* type of shooter — more like a shootem-up, but at least I got the underwater part right.
Undertow is a side scrolling shooter where the objective is to hold onto control points. There are two opposing teams, each starting off with a certain number of points. The more control points you have, the less your opponent has. The less your opponent has, the faster his points will tick down to zero.
The controls in Undertow will feel familiar to those who have played Robotron, Smash TV, or Geometry Wars. The left analog stick controls moving around, the right analog stick aims shots, while the left and right shoulder buttons are for dropping depth charges and dashing around. There's also the X key for quickly swimming through areas with turbo.
The way to win is simple — hold the majority of the control points, but the game quickly turns hectic with friendlies swimming all over the place, bullets flying everywhere, and enemies swarming through every crevice. Luckily, all this is displayed in a beautifully subdued underwater environment that almost looks 3d. It's almost a shame that so much action goes on when battling for a control point because sometimes I forget to even look at the detailed control points.
Players can only control one unit at a time, but they can also choose between different units to spawn as and if they're within range of a friendly control point, change units on the fly. The Corsair and Marine units are fast but weak, while the Destroyer units are slow and clumsy but have more defense and firepower. Each unit can also be upgraded by buying upgrades through points earned throughout the game. The upgrades last through the whole round, so some thought needs to be taken into what upgrades will be handy at different stages of the round.
The scenes that play out during story mode are laughably cheesy, but the battles are satisfying and intense. What would have made it better is if the AI of teammates were a bit smarter. They hold their own decently, but since there's no way to give them commands, they usually just swim around control points when what you really want is for them to follow you to overtake the next one.
Undertow surprised me with how fun it actually was. When I first started playing, it was a bit tricky to figure out which unit I actually controlled and it takes a while to get used to death animations of enemies so that I could finally stop shooting at them once they were no longer a threat, but once I got used to the game, I found myself having a good time. It's a shame if this flies under some people's radar because it's not a blockbuster release or a beloved retro remake, but people who do pick it up are in for a treat.