Developer: Dark Energy Digital, Ltd.
Publisher: Xbox LIVE Arcade
Systems: XBOX 360
Genre: Action Adventure
Recommendation: Wait for a price drop.
+ Very natural controls
+ Interesting story
+ Wonderful water effects
+ Enjoyable puzzles
+ 2D and 3D maps
+ Versatility within LP4 weapon
+ Wonderful atmosphere
+ Challenge room
- For the explanation of the ship’s size and grandeur (Queen of The World), the game feels a little cramped
- Voice acting isn’t the greatest
- Where you need to be heading (objectives, mission, etc.) can be a bit confusing at times
- Too short
There’s no denying it, the story behind Hydrophobia is actually kind of cool. In the year 2051, as flooding has increased, generating overpopulation, a decrease in fertile land, and therefore a decrease in food and resources, major issues arise within the fragile infrastructure that supports mankind. Two groups stand on each side of the issue. One wishes to drastically cut humanities population to a mere five hundred million, and the other wishes to seek a solution through technology. The latter, for the most part being part of the wealthy and intellectually gifted among society, have constructed a massive ship that travels the globe on which to support life and conduct their research. What is their reasoning for this expensive facility, or rather literal floating city? No place on land is free from the chaos and insanity that surrounds this life threatening issue. With immense and tight security, they are free to work without interference from the extremists that wish to stop them, and cut down the population. Needless to say, a large group of them are smuggled on board, rigging the QOTW (Queen of The World) with explosives and hacking lockdowns in an attempt to hijack the ship and prove themselves right. At that moment you slip into the boots of Kate Wilson, a technical engineer whose job is now not only to deal with the technical issues as a result of this attack, but also to single handedly stop those responsible.
This interesting backdrop gives us a pretty cool point to begin. Understanding the importance of this ship and the work being done on it gives us a sense of urgency to push forward and stop the attack. From here we begin to gain a better understanding of who these people are, and why they want this level of destruction. While the way it unfolds is a bit bland, it is interesting to push forward and see what this future world has in store for us. To add to this bland reveal of the details, the voice acting isn’t exactly the best in the world, but it isn’t terrible. Cheesy comments and difficult to understand statements at times pull one out of the action and into the realm of “what exactly just happened” in a way that laves a bit of confusion in your mind for the moment. Most disappointing however, is the fact that Kate's fear of water hardly plays a major role in the game. Outside of the fact that she has a nightmare hinting at the death of a family member or friend, nothing more beyond implied fear in her voice through the okay voice acting is her only real issue here.
As we travel round the ship, the controls feel very natural. Our camera doesn’t get hung up in corners or on walls, and shimmying to different ledges while jumping to others is a place where this works very well. Rather than having to guess and hope were are properly aligned, our camera shifts to the perfect location every time to give us a clear angle on where we intend to land. It does shake often, though not much, with the rumble of the ship and the rush of water. While not an issue, it does become a tiny bit bothersome. Cover, and movement within, to, and out of it is simple, clean, and very effective. Running around the level is just as easy, hardly every getting snagged on meshes or geometry, making movement enjoyable and fun. However, while the controls feel very natural, our character feels a little “too fluid” at times. Large steps while running make fine adjustments in a fixed position difficult, and swimming can be a challenge when in small corridors or while fighting enemies underwater. These issues are minimal though, as one begins to quickly adjust to them by making simple and unnoticeable compromises where necessary.
Speaking of swimming, the water effects in the game are absolutely beautiful. Watching the natural resistance it provides on the human body is amazing. When doors open and Kate is thrown back, fighting hard to move forward while a wall of water rushes into the room, you get a sense of how powerful the water can be, and how hopeless one can feel when facing it. Fighting forward, pushing into the room just to hit that button only a few feet away, is oddly enjoyable. It is likely the visual effect that pleases, as the water rushes over, above, and past Kate, then twists and turns around corners and down corridors, filling the area, or simply moving away as it finds a lower point to fill. Movement in the water, while challenging, is very natural and sometimes preferred when given a choice. Kate’s small lungs lend to a short breath creating a sense of urgency to construct a plan prior to going forward. Unfortunately, when this is not possible, it can lead to a tiny bit of trial and error. At other times, the constant force of water can be an annoying and frustrating event, as you know you will make it, but would prefer to be able to accomplish it just a bit quicker. However, seeing these effects, and working through the challenges they present are more enjoyable than undesirable.
While the trial and error may be a bit frustrating, it is fun to move through the puzzles. While not exactly the most challenging in the world, they have a wonderful sense of accomplishment to accompany their end. Mostly dominated by movement among ledges, they are also filled with simple hacking procedures requiring one to synch two wavelengths, capture ciphers on walls to open doors, or simply find a key off of a dead guard. Again, while nothing insanely challenging, they are enjoyable and provide a wonderful sense of accomplishment.
The atmosphere in Hydrophobia is beautiful. Neon signs, dark corridors, reflections on the water, and much more lend to the idea of real stress in a place meant to be peaceful, within a situation plagued by chaos. Level construction is done in a sort of cyclical pattern (one giant level for the entire game). While not going to the same place more than once, you will at times pass through the same corridor, the same room, and the same location, but from a completely different direction and perspective. However, almost the entire game is spent in the hull of this massive ship, in tight spaces and cramped corridors. For the fact that the explanation of this massive ship is filled with so much excitement and grandeur, it is a let down to spend a massive majority of the game below deck in maintenance tunnels, engine rooms, and security posts. You will encounter large, spacious rooms, but spend a lot of time in these tight corridors. While not an issue that affects gameplay, it does bother one to realize the size and scale of this ship, and then realize they are spending the entire game in such a small area. The ability to switch between 2D and 3D maps makes navigation a breeze when confused. They will take some getting used to, since utilizing both while getting just the right angle on the view is key to understating them. Doing so is a simple task at the start of the game and throughout it, and will eventually make understanding objectives and direction much easier. On another point, level construction can at times make understanding objectives or the exact direction to take confusing. Realizing you are in the same spot as five minutes ago can be frustrating until you start to get a hang of the controls and flow of the game.
The two main pieces of equipment Kate, or rather you, will be utilizing in the game are the LP4 pistol, and MAVI. MAVI is a multipurpose piece of flexible, foldable material that allows you to perform the hacks necessary at certain points in the game, read messages, observe found objects, view your map, check past, current, and sub-objectives, and remotely access cameras, doors, and consoles. The LP4 pistol is a multi-purpose weapon to be used in various situations. Almost everything Kate needs is placed within this single weapon. Explosives, semi-auto and full-auto rounds, and more make this weapon, clearly, the most useful piece of equipment aboard the ship. Perhaps the most useful are the sonic rounds. Never needing to be replenished, these rounds can be charged to various levels to provide the necessary power for the given situation. While unable to kill an enemy directly, they can be used to destroy equipment all over the ship. Doing so allows Kate to set enemies on fire, electrocute them, or when fired directly at the enemy, incapacitate them leading to drowning, falling off ledges, or simply falling into the fire or electricity set up prior. An enjoyable round, but at times frustrating since it requires moments of opportunity for an enemy to be near enough water, a ledge, or sources of fire or electricity. If not, then be sure to have ammo on hand, or likely die to give it another go (the minimal moments of trial and error I spoke of earlier).
Overall, Hydrophobia is a game that had a whole lot of potential, and presents some wonderful gameplay elements to us within a wonderful story and beautiful setting, but at the end of the day, it just hits average . Great weapons (or rather weapon), interesting story, great mechanics, and the possibility of a sequel (or rather likelihood, since I have been told it is an episodic game) all make Hydrophobia a great ride. However, a camera that slightly rumbles almost the entire game, an incredibly short story (while said to be about seven hours, I was able to make it through in about four hours, while taking my time), a somewhat bland unraveling of events, and an ending the answers almost no questions makes Hydrophobia something to try out at a friends house first, then decide. To add to these score kickers, once you really get a hang of the game, where to go, how to get there, what to do, it ends, leaving you with a sense of emptiness that can only be filled by playing something else. Perhaps most disappointing of all, for the fact that it was stated how much water was a part of the game, there isn't a whole lot you do other than move around in it. When finished, there is a challenge room that allows you to test your abilities against waves of enemies while utilizing the various weapons within the game, or rather, the LP4. While enjoyable, a few times through diminish the enjoyment, pushing one to play the story again, or pop in a different title altogether. So, while fun and enjoyable, the game is far too short, and simply does not pack enough content to merit twelve hundred points, or fifteen dollars. The suggestion is to wait for a price drop, play it through a friend that already has it (trust me, you’ll finish it in one sitting at their house), or just be an adult and deal with the purchase you made or are about to make.