Hydro Thunder is an arcade adrenaline fuelled boat racer!
Gamers might remember the title Hydro Thunder from 11 years ago when it arrived for the launch of Sega’s Dreamcast. If you never had a Dreamcast then you might have seen it in the arcades, if you were lucky to have one near your area. Hydro Thunder was a popular Midway-published speedboat racer that would let players select a boat, track, and then race on some very creative water-based courses.
Back then, Hydro Thunder was best known for its easy pick-up-and-play feel, which led to plenty of fun, mixed with some great visuals and water physics. It’s taken 11 years and a switch of publishers to finally get a sequel, which goes by the name Hydro Thunder Hurricane.
The IP now belongs to Microsoft after Midway went bankrupt. Regardless, Hurricane does well at being a great sequel to the original. This isn’t a case of simply redoing the original game for the HD era, which is something the team at Vector Unit could have easily done. Instead, they have opted to do a full-on sequel with all brand-new content.
Fans will be happy to know that it plays just as you remember the original Hydro Thunder. In a way it’s kind of like playing the XBLA version of Perfect Dark; it keeps the nostalgia without painfully revealing how badly the game has aged. Vector Unit has made sure to keep the gameplay intact, straightforward, and as close to the original as possible. You certainly get an arcade vibe when playing the game because of Hurricane’s fast paced gameplay and simple controls; you just need to hold down the trigger and drive. All the game is missing is an arcade cabinet.
Taking a page out of the original game’s book are the crazy track designs featured throughout. The 8 tracks created for Hurricane aren’t your boring bog-standard waterways or vast open oceans. Instead the tracks have a given theme like a Japanese watersports arena, ancient ruins, or the Paris sewer system, which I bet in real life looks nothing like the clean architectural design in Hurricane.
In addition there are plenty of various pathways included on each track. The game will send the player through different routes changing the layout of the lap (if the race isn’t point-to-point). For example, the last lap of Monster Island has players racing past a giant sea monster that pops out when you drive through the temple. It’s situations like these that keep you on your toes so that you don’t drop any positions; there are, after all, 15 other boats gunning for first place. Obviously once you’ve experienced these scripted hazards they lose their “WOW” factor, but nonetheless it changes the dynamic of the racing.
Another dynamic that is fantastically represented is the physics of the water. They play a huge part on how your speedboat will react. The best example of this is when huge objects – like icebergs collapsing off cliff-sides or lizards powerbombing into the lake (okay, they don’t actually powerbomb, but how awesome would that be?) - cause massive waves that come and push you aside or lift your boat into the air. It can really mess up the control of your speedboat when you are trying to aim for that shortcut or alternative route to get a hidden icon, of which each track has 10 stashed away. There’s rarely a quiet moment on the waters while racing in Hydro Thunder Hurricane.
Single player is split into four categories – Race, Ring Master, Gauntlet and Championship. Race describes itself; you pick a boat and then race on the selected track. Ring Master is based on getting your boat through all the rings on the track in the fastest time possible. Gauntlet is a survival based game where you have to get the fastest time possible while dodging hazardous barrels that explode on impact. Championship takes all these modes and mixes them up to make a tournament based on gaining points to win.
The difficulty of these depends on which boat you select. There are 9 boats which fit into three categories of novice, pro and expert – three for each. Expert is the one to aim for if you want to experience the fastest the game has to offer. The difficulty also affects how much credit you get after a race. The higher the difficulty, the more the credit, which is built up to unlock things in the game.
Hydro Thunder Hurricane has a lot of content locked when you first begin. To unlock more boats, tracks and other races in the four game modes, you need to keep earning credits. Things unlock considerably quickly, and can also be done in multiplayer. You’ll normally unlock at least one thing every time you win a race. It’s a strange thing to implement but at least it doesn’t take hours to get things unlocked.
Hurricane allows up to four people to play locally, via split-screen. The best thing is you can also take these four players online to make half of the eight-player online mode. Offline only features race mode, but online features an additional mode called Rubber Ducky. This mode splits players into teams where one of the team members has to drive a rubber duck while the other team members try and help the duck driver get over the line first before the other team’s duck does. It’s a mode for violent players as it allows them to ram into other boats to their hearts’ content. Online seems to work well, and never felt laggy during my time with it.
Something that isn’t new to racing games but is still a hit feature, is the inclusion of leaderboards while you’re racing. Hydro Thunder Hurricane takes the person who is right above you in the rankings and will display how much faster or slower you are compared to that player. It also helps that it does that at each checkpoint in a race, so you know if you’re doing well or not.
There is a downloadable content option in the menu, which means DLC. It would certainly be brilliant to be able to see more imaginative courses or ships created for the game. Even better would be the return of old tracks for fans to see updated. Hydro Thunder Hurricane’s presentation feels exactly as you’d expect if you were playing it in the arcade. It has announcers shouting at you as though you didn’t know what you’d just selected in the menu, the interface is easily understandable and the graphics are smooth and fluid with a solid frame rate.
The tracks look good, with some very creative designs, but they can’t match the details of big blockbuster games. The speedboats look a little flat in the texture work, reminding you of some models from older Xbox games. The star of the show is the water – the way it reacts is certainly the best feature of Hurricane.
Hydro Thunder Hurricane comes with a price tag of 1200 Microsoft Points. I’d say it’s worth every one of those virtual points as you get a fair amount of content and replay value with your purchase. It’s made for quick pick-up-and-play sessions and is a hell of a lot of fun.
If you fancy a different take on the racing genre and want something that lives and breathes the arcade experience, then go take yourself for a skinny-dipping session in Hydro Thunder Hurricane, as this is the best Xbox Live Arcade racer yet on the system.