Review: Hydrophobia

In: Reviews by Nick "Alsop Live" Dinicola

27 Sep 2010

hydrophobia1Hydrophobia is filled with good ideas that never see their full potential.

The story revolves around Kate Wilson and the hijacking of the Queen of the World, a massive boat that puts the Titanic to shame. After reading through all the in-game documents I collected over my playthrough, I think the Queen of the World is supposed to be a nation unto itself, a wonder of technology that proves humans can live in a world flooded from climate change. Its police are concerned with border security and people smuggling, and the hijackers vandalize the walls with graffiti that states “Save the world. Kill yourself,” which sounds like ecoterrorism. This makes Hydrophobia seem like a politically minded, futuristic Die Hard. It’s a fascinating idea, but the actual story falls way short of that. I’m making a lot of assumptions in my synopsis because so little is actually explained in the game itself. It’s a good story idea that ends up less than half realized.

The controls and camera are fidgety, which makes some of the platforming sections annoying, but this isn’t actually the deal-breaker it is for most games. While Hydrophobia may look like a third-person shooter, it’s not. It’s more of an adventure game with lots of environmental puzzle solving and some occasional combat. And that’s a good thing. If this were a twitch shooter, the controls would ruin the experience, but as it stands now they’re just annoying. When you’re hiding behind cover the camera and controls cease to be a problem because you’re not moving.

Combat revolves around you getting into cover and analyzing the environment. The environmental interaction and water physics come into play here, and these are the best parts of the game. There’s always something in the world that you can use to kill an enemy: Explosive barrels, electrical circuits, wires, gas tanks, and even windows to flooded rooms. Shooting out the glass and watching a bad guy get swept off his feet never gets old. This is a great mash-up of genres, it’s a cover-based puzzle-shooter that works and is fun, and I hope to see more games imitate it. But it’s also the only thing Hydrophobia gets right. Well, apart from the awesome hacking mini-game.

Even the combat feels half-realized when you start picking up new ammo types. There are five types of ammo, and most are unnecessary. There’s an explosive gel ammo that’s certainly handy and fun, but then there’s another ammo type that explodes with electricity instead of fire, which just seems redundant. Then you’ll pick up real bullets, semi-auto and full-auto ammo that turn the game into a standard third-person shooter, which is exactly what it shouldn’t be. The developers should have just stuck with the default sonic rounds. Sometimes less is more.

The graphics are good, but a poor art style leads to much frustration. Everything looks the same; it’s all engine-room grey all the time. This does makes sense since you’re actually in a big engine room, but when you’re swimming through hallways that could literally have been copied and pasted from each other it’s easy to get lost and drown and have to start over. Again and again. It doesn’t help that the game never gives you proper directions, leaving you to fumble around the repetitive environment until you finally find the right door.

The poor art even affects combat. The enemy uniforms have a similar color scheme as the walls, which lets them blend into the background so effectively that I may as well be fighting cloaked enemies. I’ll get shot and look in that direction, but I won’t actually be able to make out the bad guy until he either moves or shoots again.

Somehow, all these flaws still don’t totally ruin the experience. If this is all the game had to offer it would still be worth playing, though not buying, but Hydrophobia’s ultimate undoing is its ending: There isn’t one. It’s “to be continued.” Now, this isn’t the first game to end on a cliffhanger, but even Assassin’s Creed and DeathSpank provided some resolution before setting up their sequels. Hydrophobia offers no resolution; in fact the ending comes out of nowhere, as if the developers played a game of darts to determine where their game should end. It’s that random and unexpected. The only logical reason to end the game where they did is that there wasn’t enough development time to make a full game, which then begs the question, why release it at all?

Things get even weirder when you beat the game and unlock the Challenge Room, where Kate gets the power to control water. It’s definitely a fun element of the game, lifting waves and drowning people in them, but it begs another question: Why wasn’t this in the main game? One gets the feeling that it was meant to be in the main game, but the story never reached that point. The developers rightly knew this was too cool a power to pass up, so they created a contrived challenge room to let players mess around with it.

As you play Hydrophobia you’ll probably feel like this is a game filled with half-realized good ideas, but once you hit that ugly ending you’ll realize that it’s not just a game filled with half-realized ideas, it’s quite literally half a game. The simple truth is that Hydrophobia should not have come out now.

Hydrophobia
Dark Energy Digital/Microsoft Game Studios
Xbox Live Arcade Marketplace
Available September 29

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19 Responses to Review: Hydrophobia

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HeartbreakRidge

September 27th, 2010 at 6:32 am

Nicely done. I think I will keep it on my “buy it when it goes on sale” list.

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Pimp_Method

September 27th, 2010 at 4:17 pm

Ouch!!! I hear so many good things about this game from older gamehounds show. I did try it out at P.A.X. with a developer as she was tell me about it and I thought it was good for a demo.

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Troy

September 30th, 2010 at 9:20 pm

It seems like the game has a lot of problems based off of what you said. Is it even worth buying? I was really excited by the concept of this game

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Nick "Alsop Live" Dinicola

September 30th, 2010 at 10:24 pm

Troy,

I was also excited by the concept, too bad the game didn’t live up to it. I’d save my money for Comic Jumper or Super Meat Boy.

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Troy

October 1st, 2010 at 12:06 am

Super Meat Boy reminds me of a flash game called I wanna be the guy. Are you guys going to do a review of Super Meat Boy? I’m really interested in it

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GamerEdie

October 1st, 2010 at 9:29 am

Yep. Super Meatboy is one of the games we’ll review when we get a code, as well as Comic Jumper.

Keep watching.

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Scuigi

October 1st, 2010 at 9:28 pm

Thanks for the heads-up on Hydrophobia, I’ll save my money until it goes on sale. Plenty of other stuff out between now and the release of RB3 in a few weeks anyway. (:

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Darn Ragnar

October 2nd, 2010 at 5:49 pm

I agree with Scuigi. I think I will keep this on my wishlist and see if it comes on sale down the track.

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Jonathan Butler

October 3rd, 2010 at 12:25 am

Darn I was really looking forward to this one. Thanks for the great review before I go and spend my money. Got plenty of other stuff to work through.

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totoguy

October 5th, 2010 at 1:10 pm

Shame, this game showed promise. Didn’t care for it much at first, but the later previews made it seem pretty good.

Still, sounds like something that could be worth the money when it pops on the Deal Of The Week.

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Kacper Klimski

October 5th, 2010 at 1:14 pm

I love seeing genre-benders, especially when they are independent or XBLA releases, hopefully the game has enough redeeming factors to warrant an eventual purchase

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Hoshneer

October 5th, 2010 at 1:39 pm

Not sure if I want to buy it now. lol

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Wallless Fury

October 5th, 2010 at 1:45 pm

have wanted to buy/review this game since you had interviewed the developers. long time listener, long time reader, long time fan. miss the hawkes release the kraken! keep the dogs real!

Corey, 218!

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Chung Hsiao

October 5th, 2010 at 1:46 pm

Can’t wait to play this game!

Even the cover is some major orgasmic lol

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Zawa

October 5th, 2010 at 2:03 pm

Nice review. Doesn’t seem like many people care much for this game. I’ve been anticipating it since the early tech demo back in 07(or was it 08?). All the negative reviews have made me reconsider spending 1200msp on it though. I would still love to check it out but the price point is putting me off.

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Powers

October 5th, 2010 at 2:12 pm

Ouch! Weren’t they planning on making it an episodic game? That’s probably the reason for the cliffhanger. I don’t see that working out now that it bombed.

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Jazz

October 5th, 2010 at 3:31 pm

So apparently there was some to-do involving the devs going crazy on poor reviews or something. I think that broke when I was at work, really should look it up, I guess. Seems like a shame, Hawkes’ preview seemed like it had rather more promise.

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FeliX

October 5th, 2010 at 7:41 pm

Oh noes Edie, first Alpha Protocol and now this. Will our missplaced hopes ever be lived up to. Just saw the Edge; 3/10 *sadface

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MSD

October 6th, 2010 at 3:50 pm

Most reviews on this game are overly harsh, this review seems the fairest so far , considering its an Arcade” game its graphically pretty good the game has some good ideas and the voice acting isn’t too bad .

It has flaws in its control methods but when compared to some of the crap big game companies put out there like two worlds this game is not so bad heck at least the character can walk rather than stupidly running everywhere.

Movement though is part of what lets this game down.

Script wise its a mix of Die hard and the posiden adventure.

Game play wise its mostly comparable to a tomb raider game..
Thats were the movement sucks, Kate can jump on beams and walk along them just like Laura but can’t turn from side to side like Laura can.

Some parts of the game require you to jump to the side but since you cant turn around and face that direction you tend to think jumping that way isn’t possible untill you just try it out of deperation at some point like I did.

Most people complain about games holding players hands too much but this game is too far to the other extreme .

Anyway before I turn this into a review of my own.

I would say this game basically killed itself with hype had it entered the market quietly then most folk would have proberly said its pretty good for a arcade title but they hyped it so much they put everyones expectations up too high.

it isn’t actually that bad a game especially for a arcade title.

oh that ending really sucked though,
It kind of reminds me of shenmue (which was a great game) in the way that title was meant to be a trilogy but the third one never got made so the story never got completed.

Still even the shenmue games at least felt like a section of storyline had been completed.
This ending was totally crap ending in a totally unfufilling way like some old time flash Gorden movie.

Maybe thats the problem with the setting of the game other trilogies (such as Shenmue and mass effect) can end in a more completed feeling way since the story arch at least lends itself to that kind of thing,

Not when all the action takes place on a single sinking ship its harder to find a fitting place to end the first installment.

still maybe they could have had you finding scott and running of towards what might be an escape route to at least make it feel like some kind of finish.

I guess if there is no second installment then we will have to imagine everyone drowned.

Then again bad reviews and reaction won’t automatically mean there is no sequel/second installment.
Pretty much everyone thought two worlds was crap but they are making a second installment of that.
If this game sells well enough they will make the next installments no matter how bad the reviews are.
And this game is no where near as big a mess as two worlds was.

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