So, last week, for the "Best of XBLA" post, I mentioned Undertow as a game that had gotten some reasonable buzz, but one I hadn't played myself.
Over the course of the last week, I picked it up and ran through the single player. It's basically a dual-stick shooter in the vein of Geometry Wars, but with the control-point gameplay of something like Battlefield. Basically, what that translates to is that you control a unit that can shoot and move in any direction, and you have to take over areas of the map, and hold on to them until the other team runs out of points.
There are four basic classes that progressively increase in size, firepower and hitpoints while decreasing in agility and speed. Each unit can be upgraded with points that you earn for killing enemies and holding on to control points. The player also has "depth charges," which act like proximity mines, and can "dash" - move quickly in a particular direction for a short period of time.
Though the basic mechanics are simple, there's a surprising amount of strategy and depth. The units nicely counter each other, each has a purpose (hulking destroyers are easily taken out by fast-moving soldiers, but the destroyers' projectiles do a huge amount of splash damage, which make them very good for holding down tight corridors) and a counter. You can play single player or co-op, or play competitive matches online.
The problem with the multiplayer is that there simply isn't a community forming around the game, and online games are extremely hard to find. This is a real shame, because the game is really quite good. A simple, quick diversion, but a real breath of fresh air in this year's onslaught of epic, 20-plus hour games. Undertow is a sad victim of bad timing, but one that I hope doesn't get totally overlooked. I'd love for Chair (the developer) to do another marketing push for it somehow, or for MS to release this as the "make up for two weeks of shitty Live service" game.
The game deserves an audience.