When you hear the basic plot of Hydrophobia you likely won't think that it's anything special. The poor not-so-defenseless woman protagonist must overcome her fear of the water to find her way through the sinking city ship that she lives on. As she goes she will have to prevail over the terrorists trying to sink the ship, avoid the dangers of the ship as it falls apart and not end up a bloated, blue corpse.
Hydrophobia developer, Dark Energy Digital, have done a number of interesting things with this game to set it apart. One of the first is how they're fitting what is basically a PlayStation 2 quality game onto XBLA. The game is broken up into a trilogy but the quality of each game is like that of a disc based title, a feat only capable because of technology they developed for just this purpose.
Second, and definitely most important, is the engine that the developers have created to handle the water effects. Water flows across the screen realistically, spraying down in a waterfall or flowing over and around everything as it carries off anything that isn't nailed down. Since the ship is falling apart it's incredibly easy to drown if you're not careful, getting stuck in a room filling rapidly with water can be a quick end for you.
The water will get in your way but it can also be your best friend in the right circumstances. When you enter a room you will see that there are a few ways to deal with enemies. Obviously you could just go into the room ready to take them down but that's not the best idea. Instead you can proceed in a more careful manner. Shooting out the windows behind the soldiers will cause the room to flood with water, sweeping them right off their feet and potentially drowning them. Should that not do the job you can blow up some explosive barrels and watch as the flaming oil inside slides along the top of the water, setting the enemies ablaze.
With a number of minor story branches, unscripted AI that fights to react to the water as much as you do and a small bit of platforming Hydrophobia is going to attempt to redefine what downloadable games mean. While no set release date has been even hinted the game appears to be heading for a potential Q4 release.