I have no idea what happened to Hydrophobia. On paper, Dark Energy Digital's survival adventure game has all the qualities a creative and exciting game would contain. The game pits you in a claustrophobic environment combating against a terrorist threat, utilizing unique gameplay mechanics. While Hydrophobia's premise might make you think it's some hidden gem, every individual aspect of the gameplay is underdeveloped to the point that enjoying this game is impossible.
The game takes place on The Queen of the World, a massive ship that acts as a major city due to the planet recently being consumed by floods. Terrorists take over the ship and protagonist Kate Wilson is attempting to survive the attack. At no point does the ship feel like a city, for you are always traversing through similar corridors that resemble boiler rooms. Each section of the game shares the same silver walls with steam pipes all over the place; it's really easy to find yourself lost due to it being impossible to distinguish rooms from one another.
Hydrophobia seems like more of a project than a game. Remember BioShock's cool water effects? Hydrophobia revolves around its water engine; however, instead of actually making water a gameplay element, it's just an annoying obstacle. At some point, it seems like Dark Energy Digital wanted to invoke a claustrophobic feel with the water, but it never comes to fruition; instead, the flooding boils down to an element that merely slows down our heroine's progress.
Hydrophobia is a game that was designed with zero creativity. The game repeats the same mission throughout the entire experience: you will come across a locked door in which you must track down the key for. After finding the key, the game will task you with locating an encryption on the wall so the key works—you know, because that makes sense. The game repeats this about eight times, and then the credits roll. The whole mission structure is dull and uninspired; Dark Energy Digital took the busy work that is normally used to stretch out games, but created a whole game based on that.
On top of stale environments and mission tedium, the gameplay itself is garbage. You are given a stun gun instead of sufficient ammo to eliminate enemies. Hydrophobia had the noble intention of providing innovative combat, but underproduced on it. The combat is based around utilizing the environment to eliminate enemy threats. You can stun bad guys long enough for them to drown, shoot electric cables down on them, or blow up exploding barrels. (Yes, a game released in 2010 has combat that relies on exploding barrels.) Other than those three elements, there isn't anything to do. Enemies will often take cover behind barrels, which I like to call the "Black" effect. It's easy to become trapped due to there not being enough objects in the environment to manipulate.
To add insult to injury, the game's camera system sets the player up for failure. This third-person action game plays like something straight out of the PS1 era. Kate will often get stuck in walls while swimming (causing her to drown), jumping is miserably unpredictable, and the map is unreadable. One of those negative aspects alone can severely cripple a game's value. You can probably imagine what this laundry list of broken mechanics does to hinder Hydrophobia's playability.
Hydrophobia is an atrocity. This third-person action game is easily one of the worst games I have played this year. I can articulate the hows and whys on everything being terribly under produced, but just understand this: no one should purchase Hydrophobia unless they want to see how not to make a game. Fifteen dollars is too much for this poor excuse of an entertainment product; I would rather spend my money buying horse armor for my friends.
-Steven Beynon (EpicSteve)