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Posted by drew10 on Oct 14, 2010
Review: Hydrophobia – XBLA

Review: Hydrophobia – XBLA

Water Water Everywhere

Every now and then a game comes along that has us totally confused. Hydrophobia is one such title. Now we are not talking confused by the difficulty level or puzzles or anything like that, no sir. We are talking about how a game can come so close to greatness but yet fall so far short.

Set on a futuristic floating city called ‘The Queen Of The World’, Hydrophobia puts you in control of heroine Kate Wilson. Kate just happens to suffer with a fear of water. Yes despite living on a floating city she does not care for the blue stuff. Not sure whether developers Dark Energy Digital are aware that Hydrophobia is actually the medical name for Rabies whilst a fear of water is actually called Aqua-phobia. Maybe Kate will develop foaming dog fever at some point in the next instalment! Would certainly spice things up a bit!

Anyway back to the story. The ‘Queen Of The World’ houses the worlds richest people who live in luxury whilst the rest of the world suffers from overpopulation. During a celebration the ship is attacked by terrorists called the Malthusians who are trying to stop the ever-increasing population from destroying mankind. Kate, an engineer aboard the ship, becomes caught up in the political plot as she tries to escape the stricken vessel. The plot is certainly a good one, although if I am honest I found myself sympathising with the terrorists agenda!

Developed using Dark Energy Digital’s proprietary ‘Hydro Engine’ Hydrophobia features some impressive water physics that add a real sense of dynamism to the gameplay. Water can be used to flood decks, enabling unreachable areas to be accessed. It can also be used as a weapon to kill bad guys as a well placed shot can cause a flood of water to take out an enemy.You are initially armed with a sonic pistol that will knock an enemy off their feet, blow holes in certain walls and explode barrels. A neat touch is that a short blast will move a barrel in the water near to an enemy and then a charged up show will cause it to explode. You can also use electric cables and gas leaks to take out enemies too and taking out baddies in this manner earns extra points as you progress. Later in the game you find different ammo for your pistol including exploding rounds that will stick to a surface or enemy and can be detonated remotely.

Gameplay in Hydrophobia starts off rather promisingly with lots of frantic running, climbing and jumping as the initial attack happens. There are some great set pieces with explosions and flooding going on all around you. For a while it had us thinking we could be onto a new futuristic Tomb Raider style game. Unfortunately the platform sections in the title are all too few and far between. Most of the time you are solving puzzles that repeat time after time and shooting enemies.

Whilst the initial thrill of taking someone down in the ways listed above is excellent it soon becomes tarnished by poor camera and fiddly aiming. Not only this but the repetitive nature of both the puzzle solving and combat begins to drag quite early on. The underwater fights you inevitably find yourself embroiled in are so hit and miss that there seems to be almost no skill involved but merely a matter of luck as to whether you hit or are hit first.

Graphically the game looks excellent and is easily one of the most accomplished titles yet seen on XBLA. Yet despite all the impressive physics that are running away beneath the surface (Pardon the pun!) the water still fails to really look like rushing water at any point.

Sound-wise the voice acting is of a very high calibre especially your Scottish counterpart who guides you through levels from afar. Likewise the sound effects are of a decent standard as well with massive explosions and a decent soundtrack to back the action.

Going back to my opening statement, Hydrophobia is so close to being an amazing title but feels unpolished and under-tested. There is much to admire yet this just highlights its failures all the more. The game ends on a ‘To Be Contiued’ which wasn’t surprising to us seeing as it is meant to be part of a trilogy but the abruptness with which it happens was slightly disappointing. We are hoping that Dark Energy Digital can iron out the issues for the second instalment and vary the gameplay more as Hydrophobia deserves to be the great game it so frequently promises.

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