Hydrophobia by Dark Energy Digital is kicking of Microsoft’s ‘Game Feast’ on Xbox LIVE Arcade this fall with a third person adventure game reminiscent of playing Tomb Raider, except indoors and under water. That has less to do with the lead character Kate Wilson being female than the way the game controls, combined with the exploration and back tracking elements.
Kate is an engineer on board of the ‘Queen of the World’ and quickly finds herself in absolute chaos as a terrorist group called the ‘Neo-Malthusians’ take control of the massive luxury liner with the intend of killing each and everyone on the ship. After Kate and her uniquely voiced boss Scoot realize what the terrorists are planning they try their best to stop their evil endeavors. The title ‘Hydrophobia’ implies Kate’s fear of natures element as she has some baggage from past experiences in her life.
Now that we established Kate’s motivation I can talk about the gameplay. Dark Energy Digital’s first entry in what promises to be a trilogy has been pitched as underwater combat with unique physics in the dark corridors of a massive ship which is breaking apart. The main mechanic of Hydrophobia is based on using the water on the ship to take out foes in various ways. For instance, Kate can open a door in narrow corridors, flooding the room with water while shooting down a wire, electrocuting enemies nearby. This sounds like fun on paper and it truly is. Playing with the HydroEngine’s physics and utilizing water as a combat tool is solid fun and reminded me a bit of Red Faction Guerrilla’s sandbox experience. It is easily the main draw of this game. Other options to take down the generic looking bad guys are shooting the subsequently exploding gas containers along the walls or blowing up floating barrels near enemies causing the water to ripple and shake around the dead bodies. The main weapon Kate uses to get by in Hydrophobia is a rechargeable sonic hand gun which can be loaded with different types of ammo found throughout the ship. The gun does its job okay but the Malthusians are often outgunning Kate with their shotguns and automatic weapons. Using the environment and cover wisely is fundamental to survival in Hydrophobia.
Scoot is always at Kate’s side, well – in her ear, as he guides her through the ship and from one objective to the next which includes a lot of backtracking and trying to swim up and down dark elevator shafts without running out of air. When Scoot is not telling Kate where to go or relying on an objective marker I had to resort the the 3D map which was not very useful and rather awkward to navigate causing some minor frustrations finding my next objective. In order to get from room to room Kate has to decrypt doors and solve environmental puzzles with often rising water levels adding some tension. As noted before, playing with the water physics is definitely the best part of Hydrophobia but I found myself battling the controls a bit too often in the dark corridors causing Kate to drown a few times. Generally though, the controls are good with the occasional clunky moments here and there. Visually Hydrophobia looks impressive as a download-only game with tons of real time physics, effects and smooth 3D rendering.
Even though Hydrophobia has a few control issues at times, some lacking enemy variety and a less than stellar map and navigation system it is a solid title. Manipulating the different elements of the HydroEngine was very enjoyable and I am looking forward to taking on some of the challenge rooms later on. If you are looking for a fun few hours in a unique and exploratory gameplay setting than Hydrophobia should receive your consideration.
Score: 7 / 10
Hydrophobia was developed by Dark Energy Digital and published by Microsoft for the Xbox 360 on September 29th. A review code of the retail version was provided to us by Microsoft for reviewing purposes.