Platforms: PC (version tested), PS3
Developer: Dark Energy Digital
Publisher: Dark Energy Digital
Splish, splash, splosh. There's a lot of water in Hydrophobia, as you could perhaps have gathered from the title. You may also remember it was released to a rather aggressive reception back in September 2010, with some people threatening to drown the developers in pools of their own stagnant water.
We're not quite so cruel here at Dealspwn, especially now we have the revamped, updated and generally tweaked version to play with. PC and PS3 users may have had to wait until now to get their hands on the game, but the wait has probably been worth it, as we've now got a much-improved game because of it.
Round about 70% of the game has been newly added or reworked from the original material, so it could certainly be called the 'definitive' version. But even so, the question of whether it's worth playing remains.
Set in a floating futuristic city, you play as one Kate Wilson, a systems engineer who suffers a power outage in her quarters and goes off to investigate, landing her in the unfortunate position of being the only person capable of fending off a terrorist attack from a group called the Malthusians.
Although they sound like a race of undersea people that might crop up to fight Captain Scarlet, they're actually a bunch of eco-warriors who believe that overpopulation is destroying the world and that the best thing to do is to wipe out as many people as possible, starting with your floating city and its inhabitants. And you, if they can catch you.
As is the fashion, you'll be lead about the place by a disembodied voice, which in this case belongs to another engineer. You're not really suited to the task of fighting off trained thugs, and you'll only ever be armed with a pistol, a handful of different ammo types and your wits.
One thing Kate is good at is climbing around, so Hydrophobia, when not swimming in the soon-to-be-discussed water, is very much akin to Prince of Persia, with all sorts of conveniently placed bars, rungs and handholds available for you to traverse in a fluid fashion.
When she gets attacked, things aren't quite so smooth, however. On the PC (the version tested here) the mouse sensitivity is way too low for the camera to be moved around easily when not in combat, but when you are fighting, it's a little too sensitive. Not a good combination, but it's one that you can get used to the longer you play, though it never becomes ideal.
The pistol is also a relatively unsatisfying weapon to use, although there are at least a number of different ways to kill your opponents than just blasting them with your unlimited supply of concussive blasts. Using the environment to your advantage is the key to swift progress and there are hundreds of those gaming staples, the explosive barrels, lying around in convenient locations.
However, its most satisfying to eschew the barrels and the more exotic rounds you can pick up, like electrical energy and sticky bomb rounds, for the money shot – the water kill. When the wet stuff starts flowing, it'll sometimes fill up rooms partitioned off by glass and so on. A quick shot through such a surface sends a tidal wave of dynamic liquid pouring out onto unfortunate baddies.
So, the water then. It definitely feels like a real substance, with your character wading through it and feeling a definite sluggishness to movement. The claim of fully responsive and fluidic liquid is reasonable here, as it does feel like it reacts to any more input (like the influx of new water should you shoot out some glass as detailed above).
But for all its realism, it's questionable what it actually adds to the game. The most tangible thing is that it makes it harder to fight enemies when you're stumbling around in it or trying to take on those who make it under the waves with breathing equipment. Later on, you do get the power to manipulate the water directly, though the game finishes very quickly after this, which is disappointing.
The threat of drowning is a constant companion, so you'll be keeping an eye out for places you can surface when an extended trip underwater is required. Generally, the level design is good enough that you manage to escape drowning just in time after any long swim, as there's only a few times where you might potentially get lost.
However, these same levels are all pretty much decked out in the same way, meaning you'll soon get bored of the repetitive environments. As a pseudo-episodic release, you'd think any further instalments will address this issue, but for now, it's kinda boring to play for 4 or so hours in the same identikit corridors, regardless of how much water is flowing through them.
So after all the changes, Hydrophobia is definitely a more substantial, solid release than before. Credit has to be given to developers Dark Energy Digital for sticking with their baby and keeping it afloat (sigh) with patches and this updated version. It's still not a AAA title or anything like that, but for the price, it'll help drown your sorrows on a couple of lonely nights in, and if you really love it, there are some challenge rooms to investigate once the storyline holds no further interest.
Still, having said all that, the lead character's voice is still pretty annoying.
- Cheap and cheerful
- Better than when it first came out on XBLA
- The water feels pretty realistic...
- ...but isn't used as much as it perhaps should be.
- Annoying lead character voice
- Environments are repetitive
The Short Version: A revamped version of a game that could have been left to flounder on initial release. It's still not perfect and won't blow anyone away, but it's a solid 3D adventure now, at least.