When we at GamingExcellence got our hands on Hydrophobia at E3 2010 our reactions were somewhat mixed. Some of the journalists were enamored with the water physics, the sense of danger that the game provided and just how good the game looked for a downloadable title. Others found the game somewhat dull, the gameplay to be on the bland side and just really weren't all that impressed with what the game was offering. Where does the truth of this situation lie? Well to be honest it lies somewhere in the middle.
Hydrophobia is the story of Kate Wilson, a systems engineer aboard the Queen of the World. QotW is a gigantic city ship, almost like a new ark, that ends up under siege by a terrorist organization known as the Neo-Malthusians. What starts off as Kate trying to fix what she believes is just a system error aboard the ship ends up becoming a frantic struggle for survival. Accompanied only by her superior officer Scoot, her voice with a radio connection if you will, Kate attempts to fend off the Malthusians while trying to get off of the rapidly sinking vessel.
In many ways Hydrophobia plays out like the Tomb Raider games. You will run around, dodge environmental dangers, clamber up and over obstacles, sometimes scaling straight up walls using piping, run from mortal danger and fight off heavily armed men. This gives the game a familiar feel but there are a number of things that set it apart from those games rather sharply. The game controls quite like most other third person action-adventure titles although Kate's movements do feel a bit stiff at times. This stiffness can make the running around a bit on the annoying side but it actually helps when it comes to platforming and combat.
As can be expected from a game called Hydrophobia you will spend a whole bunch of time dealing with the water. Unlike most games that have swimming sections Hydrophobia does an incredibly good job handling these sections, making them the most incredibly interesting parts of this fairly short experience. The swimming segments control excellently with Kate able to swim rapidly in all directions, surfacing quickly, performing quick turns and speeding through flooded tunnels.
Even the many sections where you are forced to swim through a tunnel as fast as you can while having little to no air resupplies avoid being too frustrating thanks to how responsive your controls are. Things get even livelier when underwater combat is introduced. Due to how the water slows down bullets you can get some pretty tense fights where you swim out of the way of bullets, shooting at enemies as you try to predict their movements so your own shots don't miss.
However the above water gunplay isn't exactly what one might call enjoyable. Kate can sneak around to get the drop on enemies as well as take cover when enemies begin to attack her. However the actual fighting is quite unimpressive. You start off with just Sonic Ammunition, stuff that can knock enemies out or set off environmental hazards on your foes. Since it's really hard to kill foes with this ammo you'll be knocking them out cold so they drown in water, shooting gas leaks to blow enemies up or destroying barrels to leave oil slicks floating around the water, setting your enemies ablaze. My personal favorite is to shoot electronic devices, electrocuting everyone in the vicinity.
This stuff starts off fun but later on it gets a whole lot less enjoyable. Enemies start to appear in areas where if you don't get them with one or two barrels then you have to really maneuver to kill them off. The frustration caps when you finally get ammo that can kill your foes but realize it takes an ungodly number of shots to kill the terrorists who are now in full body armor. Eventually you will resort to simply using your explosive gel ammo to blow enemies up left and right instead of trying to bother with blowing up barrels or shooting people in the face.
In a rather nice surprise Hydrophobia is actually rather impressive when it comes to graphics and audio. The game looks incredibly good with impressively rendered backgrounds, smooth animation and some fantastic water physics. The way that the water flows, flooding rooms and sending debris around the room is just impressive as hell to watch. Audio is no slouch either thanks to some pretty good voice acting on the part of the cast. Music in this game is really understated so there's no impressively epic soundtrack to back up the voice acting instead there's just a lot of silence. However the voice acting is of such quality that it's easy to overlook this flaw.
Hydrophobia's main problem though is just that it's too freaking short. The game itself is only about three hours long, possibly longer if you take your time to complete all of the challenges. Even with the challenge room, accessible after completing the game, you're only looking at about three and a half hours of content with little to no replay value. Add onto this fact that the game literally just ends and you have a whole lot of frustration on your hands. Whereas most episodic games tie up what's going on in that individual game Hydrophobia literally just ends abrupt as can be with a big ol' 'To Be Continued...' that makes one want to attack your television in frustration.
Those people who only look at review scores without really reading the entire review will likely assume that Hydrophobia is a bad game. These people will be entirely missing the point. The package might be a bit overpriced, not giving nearly enough content for what you pay, but this game holds a lot of promise. As a first entry in a series of titles there is a lot to build on, setting a solid framework for the future games to expand on but there's just not enough here to easily recommend.