TX Review Score:
- Great looking water-physics
- Strategic environmental combat
- Potential for in-depth game world & story
- Plot presentation and lack of character development
- Platforming & Underwater Controls
- Lack of tension in a survival setting
When first setting foot into the world of Hydrophobia, it’s very hard to determine what kind of experience you’ll be in for. Water is obviously a big part of this game and the developers at Dark Energy Digital (formerly Blade Interactive) wanted to make sure their use of it would be impressive. They spent three years developing what they call the HydroEngine. The engine fully captures the physics concept of fluid dynamics for the first time in a game. This means they could effectively model flowing water and other liquids to be much more life-like than ever before, and the effects of these moving liquids would never be repeated. Water can be a pretty terrifying force of nature and can provide great setpieces in a game. However, fancy water effects don’t mean much if you don’t have a good story to back it up.
The game is set during the year 2051 in which the world has succumbed to the unsavory plights of the Great Population Flood. An inevitable scenario that lead to the world’s population surpassing its ability to sustain agricultural resources. This incident was delayed by many technological advances, but was eventually overcome when the world was preoccupied with a drastic climate change that was also occurring.
Kate Wilson, a security engineer, is the reluctant hero of this story who resides aboard an enormous floating city vessel, the Queen of the World. She awakens from a horrifying watery-vision to find that security on the ship has been breached and is under attack by a group of extremists known as Neo-Malthusians. These revolutionists, inspired by the works of real world political scholar Thomas Malthus, believed that the only way to control the current world-crisis was to cleanse it of the population’s majority.
The plot of Hydrophobia seems to be fairly in-depth and has plenty of potential to be something great. Unfortunately, its narrative is presented in a terrible manner. There are sparse instances in which you are provided with any real character development or a means to learn about backstory, other than reading it in the game’s menu. It’s all meant to be pieced together through collectible documents and objects you find scattered throughout the game’s three acts. The supposed “cliffhanger” ending only makes you feel cheated into thinking you played a 3-4 hour demo, because nothing actually happened. This is a very broken way to convey an overarching plot, especially since the developer intended the game to be episodic.
The gameplay itself is also very run-of-the-mill and is driven by very mediocre platforming and shooter elements. Climbing is essential in order to reach various vantage points throughout the ship, but is clouded by very temperamental controls and buggy environments. Water levels became a problem at certain times when ascending the surroundings. While climbing a ledge and the water started to rise, the game couldn’t tell if you were trying to climb or swim. It wasn’t so bad if the area was dry, however there were many instances when it was a chore to escape a flooding area.
The shooting aspect wasn’t horrible, but it certainly wasn’t great either. Its only saving grace was effectively adding water as an obstacle and strategy element. The basic principles of combat in the game seemed more focused on using environmental opportunities rather than straight-up gunplay. The pistol you acquire in the game comes with unlimited Sonic rounds to give you the ability of charging shots for weak and strong attacks. This allows you to move explosive barrels into place before actually setting them off or breaking through glass and weakened wall-panels to flood an area to your advantage. It’s certainly an interesting take on environmental combat, but if you try to play it out like a standard third-person shooter then you won’t have much fun.
Battles can even be taken under water, but the underwater controls ruin everything. If you only use the analog sticks to determine your motion everything feels fine. However, the second you start using the face buttons to ascend or descend is when the trouble starts. Those buttons completely lock you into an either upward or downward motion with no axis control, and trick you into thinking they are much faster movements. In fact, they actually double your swimming time and can cause more harm than good when going up and down crowded elevator shafts or navigating other tight spaces.
Hydrophobia really had the aptitude to be something fresh and unique, but wound up becoming an unfortunate mess. The water physics are really the only thing this game has going for it. If it were solely intended to show off what the HydroEngine could do, then mission accomplished. Unfortunately, there is a game somewhere in there and it’s a pretty bad one. There is no real sense of urgency throughout, as rooms sometimes never completely fill, and it makes the action feel dull and lack tension. There is even a Challenge room, which can be unlocked after you beat the game that shows off Kate having Jedi-like water control powers in a “Horde Mode” style game setting. As to why this isn’t featured in the main game, I have no clue. If it’s a hint of things to come, then it’s too little too late.