Will Preston

Waterlogged game almost ruined by soggy approach

by on Jan.19, 2011, under Review, Video Games

Have all developers become physics obsessed? All recent games seem to be putting a large focus on trying to make things fall the way they should. The last Bad Company release saw you able to crumple a house like an obese man sitting on a wet box, whilst the recent Grand Theft Auto’s Euphoria engine showed the world how a car thief should run up and down stairs properly. But one physic aspect has yet to be dealt with to this extent until recently with the release of Hydrophobia, an Xbox Live Arcade game. Earlier last year, preview footage made this out to be a survival game with a focus on using the environment to your advantage. What they didn’t make out was the massive Tomb Raider hard-on that Dark Energy Digital has been trying to hide with a pillow. Well, not the old Tomb Raiders, the new ones where Lara scales walls in a not-at-all-modest way.

"Hold Y to tuck your trousers into your socks"

This massive hard-on spills out all over the place when you see that the protagonist of the game is a pound shop Lara Croft. I know it was very edgy in the nineties to have an athletic woman as the hero, but the novelty has lost its edge. Especially one as poorly voice casted as this. I’ll get on to the gameplay in a second, but I need to raise this issue before I dive in. In Hydrophobia, you play as Kate Wilson, an engineer on board a city sized ocean vessel. It’s the mid 21st century and this homely frigate is apparently supposed to solve the recent overpopulation crisis (you know, the one that’s pretty much happening right now?). The antagonists take form of a fanatical terrorist group called The Malthusians, who have more bald angry white men then an EDL protest. They believe that the chaos of the overpopulation can be solved with good old fashioned genocide.

So far, I don’t think either mass murder or building a city-ship solves the problem. It would be like having a storage garage get overrun and choosing between burning the garage, or renting another one at double the price. But the story isn’t the weakest point, unfortunately. Kate’s voice is another. It’s a mish-mash of accents and dialects. First it’s American. Then English. Then Scottish. Then Irish. Then Northern Irish. Then South African. Then Dutch. Then Klingon (when drowning). Russell Crowe had a more consistent accent than this in the recent Robin Hood disaster. It really made me want to find out who this voice actress was and which branch of Primark she works in.

Surf's up!

Making up for the poor voice is her abilities to Lara Croft her way about the place. She climbs, swims, shoots and all the trimmings. The climbing system is exactly the same one used in the last Tomb Raider, but it works. But this isn’t about climbing, it’s about water. And there is a lot of water showing off how malleable and flowing it is, the git! Playing through an hour of the game, you can tell most of the development time was spent on coding the fluidity of the fluids. Parts of the level flood and you’re forced to swim around until nearly drowning, because the controls decide have a cramp every fifth moment just to increase tension. In these flooded sections, you can find doors to open or windows to smash in order to lower the water level. Best to steer clear of the openings, mind. One time I opened a door in a flooded room only to be sucked in with the impromptu wave and was smashed against a wall. As roughly animated as this was, I was still nodding an impressed nod at such physics.

Fuse boxes react like explosive barrels for some reason

Sooner or later, you come across the terrorists and you can use the water to your advantage. Shooting windows near them with flooded rooms on the other side become my favourite method of execution. Until it got passé and I went for the classic shoot-them-in-the-face-technique that never fails. Although, it rarely ever succeeded in this game due to the combat control system. And before you can guess; yes, it uses the Gears Of War Cover system. A stripped down one at least. I have never known gun based combat to ruin a game, but it almost did in this case. There are no melee or unarmed attacks, aiming is just terrible and Kate runs like she’s on stilts made of crumbly lego.

The best thing Dark Energy Digital could have done with this game would have been to leave out the combat altogether and force Kate to manoeuvre around enemies or use the environment to her advantage (shooting barrels doesn’t count). Apart from these problems, the game works well as a cheap Live Arcade game. I managed to get around 8 hours of gameplay out before the main credits rolled. The ending suggests that there’s possibly a sequel in the works. If so, it’ll take more than fancy water to keep my attention afloat.


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