Hydrophobi

7.5 Overall Score

Written by on October 7, 2010 in

“Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink”.  So goes the epic poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  Just as the hapless mariner laments his fate to be surrounded by endless water yet unable to quench his dire thirst so too, does the reluctant heroine in Hydrophobia.  The episodic Xbox arcade game from Dark Energy Digital introduces Kate Wilson, a simple systems engineer on a ship that is larger than life, literally.  In this futuristic scenario Kate is aboard the colossal floating city known as the Queen of the World.  The oceans are swallowing the land leaving vast infertile deserts in their wake.  The world’s population explosion has finally outreached the world’s resources.  The desperation has caused great social unrest and forced scientists to escape to the safety of this monstrous ship to create the technology required to regain sufficient resources to feed the world.  These top scientists are a part of the Cornucopian movement that believes that it is up to technological innovation to save the people of the world.  They are at odds with a group known as the Malthusians, named after Thomas Malthus, a political economist, who wrote a paper in 1798 on the dangers of overpopulation.  An extremist group calling themselves the Neo-Malthusians is determined to solve the problem by eliminating all the undeserving people from the earth and returning the planet to a much more manageable population.  The terrorists have decided to use the Queen of the World as their first target.

The ship is preparing for the ‘party of the century’ to celebrate a major announcement from the Cornucopian scientists of Nanocell Corporation.  They have found a way to purify the sea water at a molecular level to help save the world.  The Neo-Malthusians choose this moment to take over the ship in the hopes of using it to further their dark plot and attempt to indoctrinate the people to their creed of “Save the World – Kill Yourself”.  It is here we find Kate.  This is a woman that, like the tragic character of the ancient mariner, has her own albatross to bear.  She awakes in the beginning of the game after reliving the nightmare of not being able to save her sister from drowning.  The player then searches the room to find out more about the character’s background.  She is a certified swimmer but has not returned to the water since her sister’s tragedy and her sister’s tragic death.  She also has climbing gear, sleeping pills, engineering books, and several other mementos that help piece together Kate’s life to this point.  Her brooding is interrupted by Scoot, her boss, trying to get her to relax and enjoy herself for once.  The player may have difficulty understanding the ridiculously thick ‘Scottish’ accent of Kate’s boss (thank goodness for subtitles).  Honestly, his dialog is typically not much more than reactive expressions to her ordeal.  Any directions he gives to her next goal are reinforced by a directional arrow and a calculated distance Kate is from that objective that is displayed on the screen.  She reluctantly concedes to go have some fun and heads down to the lower levels for one last check before heading to the party.  This lands her smack dab in the wrong place at the very worst time.  The ship is being attacked and is quickly taking on water.  Her first instinct is pure survival.  With the help of Scoot she desperately tries to escape the ship.   The struggle to escape the increasing flow of water and find that precious next gulp of air keeps the game moving at a frantic pace.  She soon realizes that the terrorists have blocked all of the exits from the ship except for one.  To escape she will have to defeat them in final showdown.  As the game progresses and Kate discovers what the terrorists have in mind she begins to take it upon herself to stop their evil plot.  It is no longer about personal survival, it is the survival of the people she cares about and the potential to finally find redemption.

Yes this is a game that has some pretty potent messages and a story that may be a bit daunting to some gamers.  But for those gamers who love the potential to save the world, this game will give them an opportunity to do just that.  This hero is undoubtedly a fallible human but this makes her someone I can relate to.  She does not start her quest with heroic ideals or selfless motives and she must deal with grumpy and thankless tasks along the way.  The head of security for the lower decks, Chief Billingham, is one such thankless task.  She struggles to save the man from certain death and he decides to run off and leave her to fend for herself.

Her powers also have very humble beginnings.  She starts the game with no weapon, no superpowers and no idea what she is up against.  As the game progresses she finds an amazingly versatile weapon but begins with a very humble form of ammunition.  The LP4 pistol has unlimited rounds of sonic pulses.  This ammunition requires a lot of creativity to use.  The player needs to hold the trigger down to charge a sonic round but if the player charges for too long the LP4 will overheat.  Hitting the enemy with a sonic pulse will knock him down but not kill him outright.  Three fully charged pulses will kill an enemy but a more effective and quicker method is to hit item in the environment to cause a chain reaction and kill an enemy.  The player can cause fires by hitting oil barrels, fire extinguishers, and canisters of gas.  They can also hit electrical cables and fuse boxes to cause electricity to electrocute any enemies close-by.   Water can transmit electricity even further.  Water itself can be used in combination with the sonic pulse to drown a downed enemy.  Other environmental elements such as boxes can be hit and land on an enemy to squish them.  As the player progresses through the ship they will find many other forms of ammunition that can be used with the LP4.  Ammunition includes:  gel rounds, EMC high energy rounds, semi-automatic rounds and rapid fire rounds.  Gel rounds can be placed with one shot then the round starts a 10 second countdown before it explodes.  The player can detonate the round earlier by pulling the trigger again.  The EMS round is similar but uses electricity rather than explosives.  The semi-automatic and rapid-fire rounds are the more traditional bullets.  This is not the typical third person shooter.  The player is required to strategize and chaining attacks together means bigger booms and more point.  The very awkward cover mechanic also adds to the challenge of fighting the enemy.  The addition of the HydroEngine fluid dynamics engine adds a whole new dimension to combat.  This new engine presents a water-filled environment that is amazingly realistic. This is “flow combat” in the truest sense of the word.  The player will have to swim through flooded areas of the ship and fight enemies underwater while remembering to come up for air before they drown.  Added to this dynamic is water that will be affected by what the player chooses to do.  If the player hits a box in the water with a sonic pulse, they need to be prepared to suffer the backlash of a wave created from that action.  The player will be asked to open doors or pipes to add more water to certain rooms in order to reach higher levels.  Opening doors will bring in water but may also make it very difficult to move towards that door due to the water’s flow.  Any items that are not bolted down are at the mercy of the water’s physics as well.  I had some frustrating moments trying to get around large boxes that were floating through the water. At the same time I was also able to push these same boxes with me as I swam to provide some moveable cover to avoid enemy fire.  I found the water physics to be pretty amazing.  If I took too long to aim at something while floating in water I would find myself bobbing along with the waves I had generated with my actions.  It definitely added an extra level of challenge to the game.

In addition to the LP4, Kate has another tool to help her survive this ordeal.  It is the MAVI (Mobile Automated Visual Interface) unit.  This piece of technology aids Kate in hacking into the computer system by matching the wireless frequency of her MAVI to the fluctuating frequency of the target system.  She can also use it to unlock doors that have been sealed by the Neo-Malthusians.  Before she can use the MAVI to find the cipher she must obtain the frequency key from the team leader in that room.  Each area has a unique encryption code for the doors in the region.  Kate must first kill the Malthusians team leader in that area to collect a MAVI frequency key, which can then be used to locate a hidden cipher somewhere in the area which contains the encryption code.  Another use of the MAVI unit is to hack into the CCTV network enabling the player to cycle through security cameras in the area to scan the area ahead for danger and remotely open doors.

The goals for each area are the same.  The player must take out the enemy, find the frequency key, find the cipher, and open the door to the next area.  It is the environment that makes each area and the challenge for that area unique.  There will be flaming gas leaks that Kate must find a way to stop, electrical currents she must avoid, and water…  lots and lots of water.  Kate must solve each challenge in order to proceed.  There are also plenty of items Kate can collect to earn achievements.  There are 200 documents, ciphers, Kate’s journal entries, quotes from Malthus and other items.  These items can be physical objects or coded documents only visible through the MAVI unit.  There are also in-game mini-achievements in the form of medals that are awarded for key events, strategies, and skills the player accomplishes throughout the game.

While the weapons available to Kate in the main story are fairly humble, she develops a much more spectacular power in the challenge room.  This room is unlocked after the player completes the main story line.  Kate enters the challenge room and mysteriously gains Hydro Kinetic powers.  This super human ability allows Kate to control water.  She can push and pull water around the room to overpower her enemies.  I would have liked more of an explanation on how she obtains this crazy control over water, but I have to admit that the power is insanely fun.  It is extremely satisfying to consume an enemy in a large column of water until he drowns.  Sometimes I would just push water around the room in a mega-swirly throwing everyone into chaos.  In the challenge room the player has 5 minutes to kill all of the enemies in the room or be doomed.  The room has a total of 5 rounds with ever-increasing difficulty.  If the player fails a level they must start again in round one.  The challenge room has world leaderboards and is a crazy good time.

I found Hydrophobia to be a nonstop wave of insanity.  Kate has to fight extremist terrorists, a grumpy ungrateful co-worker, a boss with a severe language barrier, and her own demons.  I can honestly say this game was challenging.  I became immersed in the plight of the heroine and really felt her desperation to find a way through the watery danger zone.  I am amazed that I can get such a challenging and full experience at an arcade price.  The challenge room adds some replay-ability to the basic game with a fun new superpower added into the mix.  This was a very fulfilling adventure that swept me away.  I look forward to helping Kate find her way through the dark water in the next installment.

A copy of Hydrophobia was provided to The Married Gamers for review and evaluation.

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Author: Melisa Snyder View all posts by

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