I know what you're thinking: are all the Season 3 blogs gonna be about water-themed games? God, I hope not. I think I could only keep it up for five blogs before I just move onto Season 4. And if they're all like Hydrophobia, I'd have to cut that to, like, three blogs. I know what you're thinking, and no: this isn't a bad game. It's more a middling, strangely cobbled together game than anything else.
It all starts with a zombie woman drowning. This is promptly ignored for the entire game as we follow an Australian version of the Beyond Good & Evil chick jump around something between Mirror's Edge and Deep Fear. Now none of those comparisons should be read as insulting or anything, because I actually like how the game looks. Not entirely, given the junk frame rate and the glitchy cutscenes, but still, you gotta give credit where credit's due. That squeaky clean Mirror's Edge aesthetic creates a cool looking, futuristic environment, and the water looks amazing. At least on a pure graphical level, it's hard to think of many games that handle water more realistically than this game. And to think that only, like, five guys did the graphics on this game. So yea, job well done and all that.
Anyway, back to the story, or what I'm going to call a story. So our Beyond Good & Evil-ish protagonist, now to be called "Kate", gets caught up in a terrorist attack by some Neo Malthusians or whatever. What do they want? To....kill people....That's a really weak motivation. It's like a character trait you give a villain with the asterisk "come up with something better" attached to it. In fact, I'd say the best way to describe the story would be to call it weak. For example, let us look at every other character in the game. They're all either assholes or Kate, and Kate's personality seems to be nothing more than "kinda worried about stuff, I guess". No real backstory or anything; just a kinda dumb engineer who doesn't like her situation...and somehow gets magical superpowers in the last ten minutes. Is this explained well? No, not really. And it's not like this agrees with the predominantly sci-fi world, so...uh, here's a robot for a final boss, I guess. Hell if I know where it came from. I think you can see what I'm saying by now: none of this is terribly exciting or even especially bad; it just occupies space and barely strings segments of the game together.
This would be the part where I describe the gameplay, but Hydrophobia is a bit strange in this aspect. Not in terms of the gameplay concepts it employs (that much I can handle), but more in how it employs them. Specifically, the pacing is all kinds of strange. The game's divided into three roughly equal acts, and each one introduces a new major gameplay concept. And I mean major; the second act alone introduces something resembling gameplay. I don't have to tell you how much this throws the game out of whack...but I will. You're either left with a situation that feels like it's wasting your time, or one where you're teased with the possibility of decent gameplay ideas. And the game does have some good ideas. It's just that it doesn't allow them enough time to develop, making them feel like the world's strangest form of padding.
Take, for example, the water mechanics. You know, the water mechanics advertised on the Steam page for this game? Turns out they come halfway through the final act of the game. I don't think I even have words for what a confusing design choice this is. Again, don't get me wrong; the water mechanics are...kinda cool, I guess? OK, so it really amounts to nothing more than shifting objects around, but I'm not sure if this is because you only get to use it for ten minutes or because Dark Energy legitimately didn't know what to do with this new toy. Here are a couple hints, guys, in case you decide to remake this game again: make it present for more of the game (at least then, I'll have more time to acclimate to the weird Z-axis controls), include more powers than just "move shit", or dedicate the entire game to me flinging enemies about with my stupid, stupid water powers. Any one of those would greatly improve on what you have here, Dark Energy.
Or you could just focus on anything, really, because I'm not getting that from anything in the game. Like the combat. Is it supposed to be an action game? A stealth action game? A survival horror game (presumably with action)? I have no goddamn way of knowing, since there's hints of all that at some point in the game. You have some drowning and claustrophobia and useless flashlights for people who like scary games (so I guess the opposite of me?), some environmental stuff for the stealth nuts in the crowd, and combos for everybody else. Well, except those combos assume that the score actually means something, and hell if I could figure out what that something is. And that stealth crap I mentioned before? You can totally cheese it with cover mechanics and infinite ammo. Hell, I didn't even know there were different ammo types until the end of the game, since the default works so damn well. AND HOW CAN A GAME BE SCARY WITHOUT MASSIVELY MORONIC PUZZLES!? What we're left with is....uh....
So is there anything you deal with consistently throughout the game? Like, anything? Oh, platforming? Joy. I'd be more excited if the platforming actually warranted excitement. Unfortunately, it amounts to nothing more than "go here, I guess". The game gives you a path; you follow it; that's the end of that. Sometimes, you have to balance on poles (which makes no sense in a PC game using a keyboard for movement, but whatever), but you mostly go back to aimlessly wandering around the vessel in search of some stealth-action segments or whatever. It's not because the platforming's especially bad or anything. It's more because there's really nothing to it, so there's nothing terribly engaging about it. (Plus, half the game is nothing but aimlessly wandering around in search of a goal.) Actually, now that I think about it, that's probably the best way to explain Hydrophobia to somebody: it would be better in just about any other game, but somehow, all it manages to do here is simply exist.
- I only need one bullet, but it's a good one: the Dark Energy offices were staffed entirely with the people from the 5 Hour Energy commercials while they were developing Hydrophobia.
Japan and the Internet: The Video. Rated....something.
Finally! A game that isn't water themed! Granted, there's a single water level, but given that it makes up slightly less than 14% of the game, I'm willing to declare it a non-water themed game. But wait. Including this, the past three games I've blogged about have had female protagonists. Does that mean Season 3 is gonna be this all over again? Oh god...I'm gonna have t-Huh? Oh, right; the game.....It's OK, I guess.
The story? Oh....there are witches and stuff, and lots of animes, and...I think it's clear that I skipped just about any cutscene that presented itself. Can you blame me? I can't read any of the cutscenes and even if I could, it doesn't sound like they'd offer too much. But who cares about shit like that? LOOK AT HOW CUTE THIS GAME IS! All those bright primary colors and exaggerated expressions and the bob cut on the little girl that makes her look like a medieval page! It's enough sensory overload to destroy your reasoning abilities. Who cares if, at least technically speaking, the game doesn't look too good? Or if the main melodies only use about one instrument? You get to fight a fuzzy squirrel as a mid-boss. What more could you want? (That was all written in baby talk, by the way. It's just that you can't tell because it's writing.)
So why the lack of genuine enthusiasm throughout this blog? Well, ignoring the fact that the above video will drain the life out of anyone, the game itself is for babies. Granted, it's really good at being for babies, but this is still made for an audience that can't walk (yet somehow knows how to play a video game). How else do you explain the difficulty? You power-up kinda quickly, so nothing stands a chance against your girly power. Just hold down a button (not the A button, but I can't remember which one) and watch as everything explodes in front of you. And no, the one-hit kills don't come back to make things more challenging, since your power doesn't go down enough to make that a viable option. The later stages can pose a challenge (as in "there's a chance you might actually die"), but it's too little too late.
The strange thing about all this, though? There's a solid game buried underneath everything I've just said. I'm not just talking about the shooting, although I guess that works. The pacing's pretty good, delivering a steady flow of cute things to murder in the face, and it at least seems like there's strategy as to what magic you use when. (I couldn't tell you, given how little I used it.) No, I'm talking about the experience system. Yes, it leads to an easy game, but that aside, it's actually pretty cool. You can shoot EXP items to make them worth more, but doing so pushes them further away from you and into enemy territory. It's a pretty cool risk/reward twist that adds some much needed challenge to the game...and then takes it all away should you actually get the EXP. Quite a quandary. What should I do with this game?.....I'd still go for it, but only because of Tea Time. Without Tea Time, Cotton is nothing. And I'll end this blog on that chunk of VGK wisdom.
- Wow, bouncing around little EXP balls sure is fun...
- ...yet more challenge would surely be appreciated.