Surprisingly enjoyable, but short romp.
Hydrophobia first launched on Xbox Live Arcade to incredibly mixed reviews. Not to be deterred developers Dark Energy Digital went to work on fixing everything that players and reviewers disliked, which led to a title update fixing a whole bunch of issues with the game, but was this enough? Not quite, most agreed the game was still decidedly average.
I’ll start by saying I never played Hydrophobia on XBLA. I was tempted but the general reaction I was reading around the time of its release was “spend your points on something else”. So I did. A year and a bit later and Hydrophobia Prophecy is free for a short time for PSN+ subscribers, or a smidge over £6 for those without. Boasting a load of new content and fine tuning, along with Move support, Hydrophobia Prophecy is the ultimate version of the game, the Director’s Cut if you will.
The year is 2051, the world has flooded leading to overpopulation and you’re onboard the Queen of the World, humanities last hope. Maybe. The vessel acts as a floating research station, free from interference of extremists who would rather solve the overpopulation through genocide. These extremists, the Malthusians, find a way onboard and hijack the ship with the intention of blowing it up.
The game starts as you awaken in your apartment; you play as Kate Wilson, a systems engineer with all hell breaking loose around her. Oh and she doesn’t like water too much. The water is without a doubt the most impressive thing about Hydrophobia Prophecy. It all starts off rather tame, with you wading through knee high waters but soon enough you’ll be fully submerged, swimming up huge elevator shafts as your air slowly runs out, barely reaching the top and gasping for air alongside Kate. If you’re anything like me, the tense underwater sections will turn your palms sweaty, and despite these sections terrifying me, I only wish there was more of them. The moments when you’re truly up against the water itself are far too few. Sure you might have to be submerged to reach certain areas but there’s very few times when your oxygen level is of any great concern.
The combat is surprisingly good fun. Despite only having one real weapon, a pistol, you can find different types of ammo scattered about, and whilst the default Sonic Rounds are more than enough to use throughout the game, the different types of ammo open up a variety of ways you can approach each encounter. Instead of sneaking around and taking the enemies out with stealth attacks why not fire an explosive round onto that weak wall, grab the attention of the enemies and lure them to you, detonating the explosive as they run by which in turn blows the wall apart and buries them underneath a surge of water? Of course, then you’ll have to contend with the water yourself as you move through the area. As you reach the third act you get the ability to control the water itself, which is incredible fun, but I can only wonder why the developers decided to give you this ability so late into the game as almost as soon as you get it the credits begin to roll, and that’s a real shame.
Hydrophobia is incredibly short, with only three acts which can be breezed through in a couple of hours without much effort. There are a few optional collectables to find such as documents which open up the story a bit more if you’re inclined to search for them and this will easily add an hour or two onto your playtime. Alongside the medals, which function like in game achievements, that ask you to do things such as find all documents in any given chapter, or take out a bunch of enemies without being detected.
Unlike your usual third person adventure games, Hydrophobia has a scoring system in place. You get points for doing pretty much everything, finding a document, hacking, taking out enemies, blowing up stuff. The real finesse comes from getting combos. Instead of just shooting an enemy, why not shoot that explosive container behind him and blow him up in the process. If you’re fast enough and have an eye for your surroundings you can chain multiple events together to reach much higher combos. Of course none of that is essential, but if you want to be near the top of the leaderboard then you’ll need careful planning before each encounter to maximise your points.
Expanding on this idea is the Challenge Room which unlocks once you beat the game. The goal is to survive five rounds of enemy waves and finish with the highest possible score. What makes the challenge room great is you’ve got all the different types of ammo, and the power to control water (which you don’t get until right near the end of the main story mode), so the challenge room is pretty much a sandbox for you to try out a whole bunch of different combos, and if you’re a high score fiend, I can imagine the Challenge Room would offer you a good few hours of entertainment trying to reach the top of the leaderboards. For everyone else it’s nothing more than a fun ten minute diversion.
Sadly I don’t have a Playstation Move which means I didn’t get to try the game with motion controls, but the game does have full Move support.
Hydrophobia Prophecy was a much better experience than I expected. Dark Energy Digital clearly has a passion for its creation, and it’s unusual to see a title get so much post release support and I wouldn’t be surprised if they add even more things to the game once PS3 players have reported back what they thought of the game. The length of the game is a little disappointing as it feels like it’s just entering its stride as it ends, yet whilst it lasts the experience is fresh and exciting.
+ Very impressive water technology.
+ Various ways to approach each encounter.
+ Scoring system adds a lot of replay value if you like that sort of thing.
- Very short
- Lack of truly tense underwater sections
- The time you get with the power to control water is far too short.