Hydrophobia (XBLA) Review
Developer: Dark Energy Digital
Publisher: Dark Energy Digital
Rated: M for Mature
Hydrophobia puts you in control of Kate Wilson some 30 years in the future. Mankind is faced with a terrorist threat set in a large city sized ship called the Queen of the World. The world is faced with over population, which is what appears to be at the heart of the terrorist attack. The group, dubbed the New Malthusians, are seemingly all about population control with their mantra “save the world, kill yourself.” The Malthusians have managed to take control of the Queen of the World, on her anniversary while everyone is distracted by a large celebration.
What good would the name of Hydrophobia be if it didn’t involve Kate having a fear of water? That is the case as we are treated to a dream of her being trapped underwater before being startled awake at the beginning of the huge celebration. Kate is an Engineer on the QotW, and together with her friend Scoot are charged with keeping things running.
See. Look at that flow.
A few big explosions later and the QotW is taking on water, and it is up to Kate to get to the bottom of the plot. The game uses the revolutionary HydroEngine technology and puts Kate in the lower decks of the ship as they take on water. Kate will have to overcome her fear of water and get in and out of some tight spots if she hopes to make it out alive.
The gameplay is a mix of exploration, and unorthodox combat methods. You will have to shimmy up walls, dive deep into water filled areas of the ship and do so quickly to avoid drowning. There are times when you will have to climb up long elevator shafts ala Tomb Raider and other times where you will have to be creative in the way you dispose of the Malthusians. Things all come together to create a fun engaging experience.
The first thing I want to touch on is the amazing physics engine, the HydroEngine. The HydroEngine causes the water effects to be the most realistic I have ever seen in any game. Crash through a window that has water pooled up behind it, and the water will never flow out the same way twice. The physics engine is that good. It also acts to create the same realism for explosions and smoke as it does for the water all to great success.
Kate heading into deep water
The HydroEngine is also partly responsible for using creativity to kill your enemies. The other part of the creativity has to do with the gun that Kate gets early in the game. It is only equipped with stun rounds. tap the shoot button for a quick shot, and charge it for a more powerful shot. The powerful shots are enough to kill an enemy with several direct shots, but you will spend a lot of time shooting one enemy to get it done. Instead you are better served to use exploding barrels and the glass doors with water behind them to take out your enemies. The quick shot on your gun will enable you to move explosive barrels into position next to the Malthusians, then a charged blast with cause the barrel to explode taking down the baddie. Alternately shoot the glass and watch the water sweep your enemy away. The gun is eventually updated with things like a gel round that can stick to your enemies or other items and can then be detonated.
Do all of these things chained together and increase your overall score, but from what I can tell this is simply a leaderboard thing. I haven’t found anything else tied to the score other than higher placement on the leaderboards. Not that there is anything wrong with it. Some gamers love a leaderboard, so it seems to make sense that they throw something in there to keep you coming back and striving to be the best.
Hydrophobia does a great job of creating the atmosphere, with great sound and a constantly creaking and settling ship, that is basically falling apart from the explosions that opened the game. Hell it even appears that the dialog might be as dynamic as the water physics, as Kate will make reference to certain things you look at in the game. It’s one of those little things that go a long way in immersing yourself into a game. The voice acting is all well done, aside from a few force lines trying to add a bit of levity to a game that doesn’t really need any comic relief. The game plays as a claustrophobic adventure, the humor wasn’t necessary, but I suppose beauty is in the eye of the beer-holder and all that.
This PDA like machine is used to find ciphers for encryption codes and to hijack cameras
The last thing to talk about is the Challenge Room. The Challenge Room is a sort of “horde” mode, in the fact that Kate is put in here against waves of enemies and has to dispatch of as many as she can. She has a few abilities not present in the main game, and I don’t want to spoil the fun for you, but Challenge Room is a welcome addition to keep gamers going once the main story is finished. Really, what game is complete without a mode like this anymore? I suppose I should also mention that the Challenge Room only opens up once you beat the main game. So get crackin.
Hydrophobia is an engaging story, though a bit straightforward, brought to life by the incredible HydroEngine. Seriously, if the sole purpose of this game was to show what could be done with the engine, then it was mission accomplished. But there is more to it, creative kills, and the Tomb Raider like platforming add to the game. I can’t wait for more from Dark Energy.
+ Creative Kills
– some cheesy dialog brings you out of the story.
– With only 3 acts it was a bit on the short side