Posted by: smirkdirk | February 12, 2011

Some Thoughts on Hydrophobia

3 1/2 out of 5 cookies!

Hydrophobia was initially released for $20 in the Xbox Live marketplace at the end of September of 2010. I’d initially downloaded the demo. I was semi-impressed, but not impressed enough to warrant the $20 pricetag. To the developer’s dismay the game garnered only luke-warm reviews and though it remained on the marketplace, the developer reworked the game, addressing the critic’s gripes and released a massive patch for it in January 2011. On top of a complete re-working of the games controls, they also put it on sale at a special price, only five bucks, for a limited time.

Considering the effort the developer went through, almost unheard of in the game industry, but certainly something familiar in the world of film – witness Oliver Stone and his 3 versions of “Alexander” trying to address the critical bashing – and the re-introductory price, how could I not buy this thing?

In fact, if your a gamer, how could you not buy this thing just on principle?

The campaign is pretty straight forward. The main character, Kate, is on a giant ocean-liner, Queen of the World. The introductory cut-scenes show the comparison of the Queen of the World to the Titanic in which it is some 30 times the size of the historical ship. The ship is attacked by terrorists and the adventure begins.

As large as the ship is, within the actual gameplay you never really get to explore much of it. Pretty much all the passages look the same, and a helpful arrow (which I’m guessing was part of the re-working as without it I would have been hopelessly lost, wondering what to do next) shows you which direction to go at all times. The controls felt a lot like Tomb Raider, which worked perfectly.

Graphically, we’re essentially looking at a Playstation 2 or original Xbox Game. There’s a slight sheen over everything so nothing really stands out as crisp and clear. Considering the price, this is completely tolerable.

But enough of the criticism. Where the game really shines, and the entire purpose of it, are the water-effects. Although water has been done more beautifully in other games, it has never quite behaved as it does in this game. According to Wikipedia, The HydroEngine was developed for nearly 3 years by Dark Energy Digital. This game is its first showcase, and it is coolio!

Remember in Titanic, when Leo and Kate are trying to escape the innards of the ship as water pours through the hallways? That’s pretty much the entire game, and it is rendered well. You open doors and oceans of water pour through, water laps and rolls back and forth through hallways as you wade through it. Its the highlight of the game and keeps you going through the 3 hour campaign just to see more of it. It also explains the developer’s decision to re-work the game’s weak points since the entire point of it is to showcase the water-effects.

Bottomline: The $5 special is over, but the game is still 1/2 of its original price. For $10 you really can’t go wrong, and you’re also supporting a group that obviously cares about its product in a way that’s rare in not only the game industry, but any industry for that matter. Not many artists respond to critics by actually addressing the concerns – most just get defensive.

The water effects are pretty amazing, and hopefully they will be used in a full-priced, high-budget game so that they can really be put on display in an environment that truly deserves them.

After you finish the campaign there is a second game-mode that’s basically puzzle-solving in which you have the power to control water. Although it was fun to send waves crashing here and there for a bit I didn’t get that far into this part, as sans the story it didn’t really keep me coming back. Lastly, the story ends abruptly, almost episodically, not with so much of a cliff-hanger, but just sort of right in the middle of the action – almost guaranteeing a that this is only the first part of something much larger.

Lots of potential here, and at a bargain price to boot. Here’s the trailer:

Note: I really want to start blogging regularly again, but honestly, it takes me time. It’s not so much the writing, but the editing that turns a 1/2 hour essay into an hour and a half of grammatical correction, picture insertion, re-reading, etc. I also used to be concerned with having a ton of shit to say with a formal intro, body, and conclusion. For sake of more content, and so I actually enjoy it again, I’m gonna try to stop giving a crap so much and just post away – damn the consequences.



  1. As someone who tries to blog frequently I can tell you that trying to make something ‘just so’ is not necessary. Just get your raw info out there. You can always update later if you feel it necessary!

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