Videogames have come along way since the days of Pacman and Atari, but there’s one thing that eludes developerseven today; water. Microsoft and Dark Energy Digital’s newest arcade title Hydrophobia has fixed that problem and has some amazing water physics, even if that’s all it has.
I really wanted to like Hydrophobia, but it’s lack of soul and frustratingly broken elements kept me from doing so. At it’s best, it’s a surreal adventure game that keeps you on interested throughout but most times its a clearly flawed and unimpressive platformer.
Hydrophobia places players in the role of Kate Wilson, a systems engineer on the Queen of the World, a massive luxury liner ocean vessel that has taken the place of cities after the world has fallen into the “great population flood.” All is not well though as a group of terrorists known as the Malthusians have carried out an elaborate terrorist attack on the ship, leaving the once proud vessel in chaos and flames. The only problem is that this really isn’t explained to you early on, and when the game finally gets around to letting you know what’s going on, you find yourself not caring.
There’s also a strangely eerie feeling throughout the game that’s reminiscent of the September 11 attacks. Now, I understand that any game dealing with a terrorist attack is going to have that feeling, but here — it’s a bit overwhelming. As Wilson, you’re left racing around emblazoned wreckage, trying to find a way out as your friends and coworkers are dying around you.
Hydrophobia is filled with some of the most dramatic moments in recent games, and a good portion of that is as a result of the game’s HydroEngine, created exclusively for Hydrophobia. In simplest terms, the engine allows for water to move more realistically than ever before. As you’re racing though the ship, water begins to rush in and rise at a rapid and impressively realistic pace. The best part about the engine is that its completely unscripted which means that it acts differently during each play through depending on the environment.
So far so good right? If only the tense moments weren’t filled with mechanical issues and frustrating shortcuts taken by the developers. Chief among these concerns is the game’s unresponsive and nonsensical control scheme. When a game is built so tightly on edge-of-your-seat moments, the controls can’t lag, but sadly that’s the case throughout most of Hydrophobia. Take for instance a sequence where you’re asked to jump over a fiery balcony to a nearby section of scaffolding; the button combination they ask you to do is unnecessarily complicated and what’s worse, it sent me jumping the wrong way, into the fire.
The game also features a rather annoy pace. Go five feet, cutscene, go five feet…cutscene. Gaming is an interactive activity, and my pet peeve is when you we’re shown these cool sequences, but not allowed to do them. It makes me think — why can’t I do that? Add that to the fact that the game features very dated last gen visuals and you’re in for a a rather uninspired gaming experience.
Hydrophobia could have been a great game, hell — it could have been a great game, but instead, the developers decided to put in overly complex control schemes and frustrating gameplay elements. There’s a ton of awesome games on the Xbox Live Arcade like Limbo, Splosion Man and Trials HD, it just doesn’t make sense to spend your money on such a lackluster experience.