Hydrophobia is a new XBLA game by developer Dark Energy Digital, that is powered by the “revolutionary” HydroEngine. They claim it will “model flowing water completely realistically, resulting in the most dynamic and dramatic gameplay you’ve ever seen.”
Will this new engine be enough to keep Hydrophobia afloat, or will it drown under the weight of it’s own promises?
Story: The world is a shit-hole. The population has reached a critical mass, and famine and poverty are widespread everywhere. Clean , freshwater is the most valuable resource, and conflict happens constantly over who owns it. There are two factions vying for control in the world – the Cornucopians, who think that technology will be mankind’s savior in it’s hour of need; and the Malthusians, who believe that the only way to survive is by drastically eliminating a majority of the world’s population.
Floating on the ocean’s, however, is a relic from mankind’s not-so-distant past. The Queen of the World is a bastion of the old capitalist world. The largest boat to ever be made – a veritable city on the seas. The world’s most wealthy and elite occupy this massive ship, and a group known as the “Founding Five” reside here as well to commence Cornucopian research uninterrupted.
In Hydrophobia, you take the role of Kate Wilson, who is a systems engineer aboard the Queen of the World. Kate is also a hydrophobe, who’s fear of water is linked to tragedy in her past. The game begins on the eve of the 10th anniversary for the start of the Queen’s voyage.
Controls: First let me say that if you’ve ever played Arkham Asylum to the end and thought, “damn, the waveform hacking game is sick – I wish they would’ve let me do that from the start!”, this this is a game for you. You’ll be doing that. A lot. Not that that’s a bad thing – Hydrophobia does it just as well as AA did, but it does get tiring at times.
The game plays a lot like other third-person action games, although the combat is fairly interesting. When you get a gun, you realize this isn’t supposed to really be a shooter. You can shoot the Malthusians and eventually kill them by doing that, but using the environment is so much more efficient and satisfying. With that in mind, you have a lot of different options on how to handle things :
Graphics: The character models are pretty standard quality for an XBLA game, but the set pieces all look really professionally done. There were times I thought they looked easily as good as some disc-based games. It is the water effects, however, that really make Hydrophobia stand out from the crowd.
Yes, the HydroEngine does what it’s supposed to, and renders the water more realistically than I’ve ever seen in a game before – even better than games like BioShock, which revolve around the water as well.
Sound: While the voice acting may leave a bit to be desired (some of the characters seem too over-dramatic, and some just sound like they have a lack of real emotion), the ambient sounds are superb. The sounds when you’re underwater are good, however I would’ve liked it to have sounded a bit more muffled.
Wishes: I really wish the voice acting was a bit better – it’s hard to get super immersed in the world because of that. also, it’s very easy to get lost and turned around while under water – I would have liked a waypoint system that was a bit more comprehensive that what you are given
Final Verdict: It’s a fun game that does what it aims to – and while not bringing much new to the table, the water effects are enough to make it seem maybe better than it is. Without them, it would be fairly uninspired, however with them, Hydrophobia is a diamond in the rough. At 1200 Microsoft Points, I give this one a 3.5 Michelas out of 5 rating.
Hydrophobia (Xbox Live Arcade)
Developer: Dark Energy Digital
MSRP: 1200 Microsoft Points or $15