Dead Water
| Dead Water

This game could mark the start of a worrying trend: basing games on people's phobias. We're certainly hoping it doesn't catch on because, as much as we enjoy playing pocket games, we're also a bunch of yellow-bellied softies.

Dead Water is built on two of the most popular phobias: claustrophobia and the fear of drowning, and it's scarily effective at conveying a sense of tension.

Set on a sinking container ship, you play a crewman who's trapped in the vessel's bowels. Obviously you're keen on the idea of escaping and here's where the game drops you in it: by swimming, running, climbing and blowing things up, you have to make your way back to the surface.

All this takes place against the steadily rising water that is pouring in through a hole in the ship's hull. It's a genuinely effective (and different) tool for driving the action onwards and it makes Dead Water a more cerebral adventure than most.

Far from simply a matter of splish, splash, splosh, various hatches can be opened by collecting keys, and other obstacles can be removed with the help of dynamite that's lying around each level. But the keys aren't always immediately available – several can only be reached when the water has reached a sufficiently high level and you can swim to it.

This means planning and patience is required, along with an accurate knowledge of the levels. The latter is necessary because you often have to swim underwater through submerged passages in order to get from where you collected the key to the hatch that it'll open.

A breath metre shows you how much air you've got in your lungs and it's this that determines just how long you can stay underwater.

So far, so scary, then. But there are a couple of Mersey trout spoiling the water.

Firstly, the process of key collecting is made overly confusing by there not being any tie between a key and what door or hatch it opens. There's no colour coordination, and there are situations where you'll be extremely frustrated when you can't find the key you need for an essential hatch.

There's one of these moments within the first three minutes of the game and it comes close to scuppering any further progress. It's far too hard, too early, and anyone with a short patience span will likely give up there and then, regretting having bought the game.

The second floater is the ever-thorny issue of control. While things are relatively simple, running left and right when you press in that direction on the joypad, it falls apart when you're in the water. You still press the joypad the way that you want to move, but in water it's less responsive and, if you want to make a sharp change in direction, you get stuck and end up spinning this way and that.

When you literally have no time to spare swimming underwater, you'll curse Dead Water's swimming controls on a regular basis. Avoiding the electric eels and picking up air bubbles, both requiring deft sub-aquatic navigation, just serve to make the deficiences even more glaring.

These two problems spoil what is otherwise an entertaining and atmospheric game. Dead Water is to be commended on creating an air of fear and panic, but in the end you may be overwhelmed by the feelings of frustration it causes.

Dead Water

A promising ship, but ultimately Dead Water proves a rather leaky one