On September 29, 2010, developer Dark Energy Digital released the first of an intended three episode series for the Xbox Live Arcade, called Hydrophobia. Unfortunately, due to a lot of negative criticism and complaints (including some from us), the developer released an update for the game on December 21 of the same year titled Hydrophobia Pure. In an attempt to improve the game, the update made some major changes, such as revamped controls, improved physics and graphics, a more detailed HUD, and even shortening or the complete removal of certain cutscenes and dialogue. The update had critics warming up to the game finally, but it continued to get mixed reviews overall. After a subsequent release on the PC, Hydrophobia finally became available for download on the PlayStation 3 on November 1st of this year, this time titled Hydrophobia Prophecy. Like on PC, this definitive version of the game includes new levels and/or reworked levels from the previous version, a reworked ending, and many other changes. I know what you’re thinking...how can a game going through this mess of updates and revamps be any good? Now, we’ve seen others go through development hell before (*cough cough* Duke Nukem Forever *cough cough*), but not all of these games "improve" only to ultimately fail.
It is the year 2051, and yes, the world is in chaos. Earth has been drowned in a global flood, and along with the water, rises new ideological terrorists. A colossal city named "The Queen of the World" is the home for the wealthy who thrive as the people who surround the area are in a consistent state of famine and despair. There are the Cornucopians who want to work on a solution to save mankind, and there are the Malthusians who’s goal is to drastically reduce the population to a half billion. A system engineer named Kate Wilson finds herself to be a hero, fighting off the deadly Malthusians in an adventure of desperate survival s as they attack The Queen of the World, perhaps the safest place left on the planet.
It’s not every day one of your main topics of discussion for a video game would be water physics, but Hydrophobia Prophecy is a special case. First and foremost, the water in this game is amazing. Hydrophobia uses HydroEngine, a physics engine in which the water (yes, just as the title suggests, there’s a lot of water in this game) and the objects in the water react in real time, and is quite...er...realistic. Considering Malthusians are attacking what is essentially a massive ship in the middle of the water, you will constantly be in contact with these kinds of physics. The result is fantastic. Being up to your waist in water that is perfectly bouncing off the walls and your character’s body, then opening a door to have an unexpected even larger amount of water realistically spill in and fill up the room you had already occupied is a thing of beauty. This isn’t something that happens just once in an action packed cinematic sequence, no, this will happen to you throughout your entire play through. Because of this, Hydrophobia is at the very least, appropriately titled.
"Hydrophobia is ultimately a hit or miss title, arguably appropriate for it’s method of release, yet leaving a bland taste in your mouth regardless."
As Kate Wilson, you must traverse the enormous ship/city and defeat the Malthusians attacking it. Throughout this adventure, players will do a great deal of climbing, swimming and shooting. As for the shooting aspect, Hydrophobia Prophecy plays like your standard third-person shooter. A very standard third-person shooter, unfortunately. Though I definitely didn’t expect to get an Uncharted 3 level of quality in the shoot and cover system from a mere downloadable title, what this game has to offer is still pretty mediocre. Gun fights feel incredibly blocky and robotic. When I would attempt to go into cover, it didn’t feel like I was fluidly interacting with my environment. One major reason for this would be the fact that not every object that could be used as cover, can actually be used. Additionally, sprinting exists while exiting cover, but never at any other time. Things like this can really make the player feel as if they’re simply playing a video game and not an action packed adventure. This blandness carries over to your character’s arsenal as well. As you play through Hydrophobia, you will find yourself using one, maybe two out of the five extensions of the gun you have. Multiple guns in this game just aren’t necessary against the repetitive enemy types.
Thankfully, not every aspect of Hydrophobia Prophecy’s gameplay is as stale as it’s gunplay. As stated before, you will be around water in this game...a lot. Water levels in video games have always been a sore spot among gamers, whether it be the infamous temple-that-shall-not-be-named in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, or even in simple Super Mario titles. Physics are always changed in these levels, and in the most annoying way. Well Hydrophobia puts that old wives tale to shame. As you may have guessed, this game is essentially one big water level. As Malthusians break down barriers letting the life-giving fluid in, Kate is desperately trying to escape. This is without a doubt where the magic of Hydrophobia lies. There is a constant state of...well...hydrophobia throughout. As water fills up corridors and even entire rooms, you will constantly feel as if you are about to drown. Though there’s barely ever any real threat, as escapes are easy, players will still get that tense feeling of "I need to get out of here and fast". Additionally, some sequences of swimming, climbing, item collecting, puzzle hacking, and even an unlockable challenge room offer a bit of variety to your play through. Another addition that shouldn’t go without mention is the super powers you get near the end of the game. Thanks to water infused nano-bots, Kate eventually is able to create pillars of water in front of her to drown enemies in, and throw objects with. As with most of this game’s features, this power offers some variety, but ultimately become underused, primarily because it arrives so late in the game.
Like the gameplay, the look of Hydrophobia Prophecy is nothing special. Graphically, it’s no achievement, water effects aside. Although, this is somewhat understandable considering it’s a downloadable title. Kate will explore The Queen of the World, one generic futuristic room after another. The true shame in this is that it could look beautiful, perhaps if it were a full retail release and not just a digital title. A futuristic water based city isn’t something that is easily made ugly. Though environments and atmosphere can be terribly bland and uninteresting, water is probably the most wonderful thing to gaze your eyes on. Have I gotten my point across about the water yet?
I was surprised at how enjoyable the music was in Hydrophobia, but then again, this is coming from a fan of industrial style music. Though some players may find the soundtrack to be as bland, as other things in the game. But at the very least, it’s not obnoxious. Unfortunately the same can’t be said about the voice acting. Personally, I think the voice acting in this release should be noted in gaming history. The quality is just a bit above the classics like the original Resident Evil. I’m never this harsh, but I don’t remember the last time I’ve heard voicework this bad in recent generations of gaming. Your main character sounds like an annoying American woman trying to fake an accent, and let me tell you, you won’t figure out what that accent is supposed to be. Aside from this, other sounds within the game are hit or miss. Water sounds realistic, guns sound realistic, yet there were times when my footsteps sound like they were pretty poorly recorded.
Hydrophobia Prophecy gets me thinking about when a game is pushed over the edge of just "ok". Do realistic, breathtaking (no pun intended) water effects make up for uninteresting gameplay and atmosphere? Well the answer is most certainly no, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t drastically improve those things. The sad truth is, the HydroEngine is the only interesting thing this game has to offer. Swimming through a room that is filling up with water constantly is pure magic, but when drenched in troublesome gameplay that we’ve seen before, there isn’t much to enjoy here. While the action-packed gunplay sequences certainly get exciting during the third act, there is still much to be desired from that department. Hydrophobia is ultimately a hit or miss title, arguably appropriate for it’s method of release, yet leaving a bland taste in your mouth regardless.
Release date : 2011-11-01
Publisher : Dark Energy Digital
Developer : Dark Energy Digital
Gameplay : Action-Adventure
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