Hydrophobia Review

By Jason D'Aprile - Posted Sep 30, 2010

Enter a watery hell aboard the Queen of the World, as lowly systems engineer Kate Wilson. Hydrophobia creates an intense environment full of raging water, fiery explosions, and trigger-happy terrorists. A third-person action adventure that focuses on beautiful water effects and why ocean living is dangerous, this download-only game is a surprise fix for action junkies.

The Pros
  • Great environmental effects that actively affect gameplay
  • Some intense action sequences
  • Nice mix of cover-based shooting and exploration
The Cons
  • Character models and overall graphics are rather last-gen
  • Overall design beyond the environmental effects are linear
  • Climbing and jumping responsiveness is erratic

Hydrophobia marks an interesting change of pace for the Xbox Live Marketplace. It’s a game that feels like a full-retail release, and probably could have been, but for a much more download-friendly price (1200 points, or about $15). What you’ll get for that price is a full-on, third-person action adventure. It might not be game of the year material and certainly suffers from some last-gen trappings, but is still surprisingly good and in many ways an innovative take on familiar ground.



Water Water Everywhere...

Hydrophobia tasks players with snuggling into the tight fitting overalls of systems engineer Kate Wilson. Living and working aboard a floating city named, “Queen of the World,” Kate leads a quiet life troubleshooting network glitches aboard the ship and lamenting past traumas. There’s little time for exposition and flashbacks though, as Kate is thrust into the middle of a terrorist attack and must struggle to find a way off the rapidly flooding city.

As the story progresses, Kate is of course thrown into the role of inadvertent heroine. Thwarting the terrorist’s plan becomes a necessity on her path to escape, and with head-set promptings from her Scottish boss, Kate proves herself a competent and flexible leading lady. She’s also an Olympic-level swimmer.

She’ll need that stamina to overcome Hydrophobia’s biggest feature—water. There’s nothing particularly noteworthy or original in the general gameplay. Kate can run, jump, climb, shimmy, and shoot just like the endless array of other sexy, female protagonists. She’s constantly being given directions and missions through her headset like most games, and the game progresses in an almost entirely linear fashion.

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Déjà vu and Kate

Much of the game consists of key hunts—requiring you to find a fallen terrorist with a key location first, and then use a special handheld navigation unit to scan the walls for a bizarre symbol-based code to unlock doors. There is also a hacking mini-game where you match audio frequencies. Combat is a generally engaging cover-based affair, where Kate can use a variety of ammo—ranging from stun shots to timed exploding and electrical bullets.

There are frequent sections that require you to back track, and more than a few instances where your objective is frustratingly vague—even with the easily accessible 3D map. This frustration is usually compounded by being trapped in the murky, hard to navigate depths of the ship. Jumping is mapped to the Y button, which is remarkably unintuitive, and the climbing controls can be a bear when dealing with water and multiple accessible climbing points. Yet, none of these issues are bad enough to ever make the game too annoying to play, and when Hydrophobia works, it’s a surprisingly intense take on the genre.



Water Sports!

Water makes all the difference in Hydrophobia. The angry torrents that flood the Queen of the World almost act as another character who is constantly trying to inflict pain on everyone. Aside from simply swimming underwater or running from floods, Hydrophobia lets you utilize water in some surprising ways.

As usual, there are exploding barrels, gas leaks, and electrical lines throughout the ship. In Hydrophobia, the oil-filled cans and fiery explosions are able to realistically travel on top of the water, allowing fire to spread with the current. The game gives creative players bonuses for kills that use various combinations of water, fire, and electricity. You can also do cool things like shoot the safety glass of a flooded room, crushing terrorists under a sudden swell.

The water effects are also gorgeous with terrifically accurate animation. Otherwise, character models and environment textures are rather underwhelming. Voice acting is generally tolerable, though the environmental audio effects have a nice punch to them.



Nice for the Price

Hydrophobia would be a much harder sell at a full retail price, although it’s certainly better than some of the boxed releases you’ll find out there. As a downloadable title, though, it’s surprisingly good. The great environmental effects and physics add a lot to the otherwise standard gameplay. So, on the whole, this is a pretty easy recommendation for fans of third-person action and exploration looking for a quick fix.