Published on September 27th, 2010 | by Ben Gray6
Release Date: 29 September 2010
Genre(s): Action Publisher(s): Dark Energy Digital Ltd Developer: Microsoft Rating: Mature
8 Out of 10
Water will be the least of your problems when tackling Dark Energy’s latest creation on Xbox Live Arcade, although it will certain be your best friend and your worst enemy at times. I’m talking about Hydrophobia, and since it was shown at PAX back in March, I was eager to see more. Finally, with the game’s imminent release, getting to play the game was a whole different experience to what I was expecting.
You play as Kate, a vulnerable and flawed protagonist, when compared to other video game heroines, trying to escape the invaded Queen of the World, a floating city, from the Malthusians, terrorists who believe that by killing yourself, you are saving humanity. Not sure I get the logic in that. Anyway, with Scoot, your companion who guides you through comms, you dive deep into the ship, but one’s quest for survival soon turns out to be a quest of prevention. One thing’s for sure; the story of Hydrophobia is mysterious and gripping throughout. Documents and messages written on the walls just lead to more curiosity into what they Malthusians want.
Kate seems to be a wannabe Alyx Vance (Half Life 2). Although the character is unique and deviates away from stereotypical female leads, you find it hard to tell whether she’s scared to death of the situation, or acting plain badass. The voice acting is suggestive of the first, but her facial animations are suggestive of the latter. Judging by the character overall, and more importantly her dialogue, I’m swinging to a more scared character, seeing as it would fit the title. To be fair, she does fit the game well as a whole, as I don’t think a woman with hot pants and dual Mini-Uzis would have made the game have that feel being truly excreting bricks at the predicament.
The graphics of the game are great and truly give that water coated shine to surfaces and material, but what makes this game stand out is the inventive HydroEngine. Dark Energy has absolutely nailed the execution of using water to your advantage, and the flow of water throughout rooms. Opening doors and destroying windows adds to the increasing amount of flood in the room, and can also be used as a weapon. Killing enemies isn’t as straight forward as it seems in Hydrophobia. Your gun has unlimited amounts of Sonic Rounds, which are only effective to a certain degree of disposing of enemies. The trick is to use the environment. Leaking gas canisters, windows, loose cables, tons of objects can be added to the mix with just a few shots, allowing easy, sometimes multiple kills on enemies without having to use other types of ammo, which are finite. Hydrophobia is not your average shooter – it is far from it.
The AI are pretty indecisive; sometimes they will move to hunt you down whether you’re shooting them or not, other times they’ll just sit there and do nothing, pretty irritating if you’re trying to get them in line for an environmental kill. Keeping in mind you are not armed to the teeth with armor and weaponry, which Dark Energy tries to drill the idea into your head that Kate is vulnerable, you can’t just simply run in and open fire expecting to wipe out the opposition, even on Easy difficulty. Getting killed is easy – it’s staying alive that’s the hard part.
Of course, with the game having such a substantial amount of water in, it’s a no brainier that there is going to be a lot of swimming involved. Underwater swimming is sometimes frustrating, with the player not always going in the direction you want them to, which is just as annoying when you need to know exactly where you’re going unless you are going to drown, with little breathing space available at the most inconvenient of times, but this adds more to the challenge. The game does give me thoughts of Batman Arkham Asylum, where you are vulnerable and you use what is around you to your advantage. There’s also the Mavi, a device allowing you hack into security cameras, find ciphers to open doors and uncover messages, also similar to Detective Mode in Batman. Reckon the game was inspired? I do.
In terms of length and replay value, the campaign is quite long, with three acts to complete, as well as the chance to play over on multiple difficulties to get the collectables you missed or earn more medals, for achievements. Speaking of achievements, there are two avatar awards to earn, a Mavi and a Queen of the World tee. Once completing the game, you unlock the Challenge Room, and this is where the water physics really do their job. Using Hydro Kinetic powers, you can manipulate the water to your advantage, and use it to throw around enemies and objects in a round based game type, against increasingly difficult enemies. You will have a lot of fun on this.
Overall, Hydrophobia has its flaws and deserves future support, but is a challenging, lengthy game that is unique in gameplay and mysterious in narrative. Try not to drown.