Friday, October 08, 2010

Video game number two hundred and ninety one: Hydrophobia

Video game review number two hundred and ninety one in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Hydrophobia".

Hydrophobia means "fear of the water", and after playing this game...I think I might just have Hydrophobia-phobia.

If you don't pay attention to the "gaming press", you probably haven't heard of Hydrophobia, and trust me when I say: You aren't missing much.

Still, this game is a pretty big deal, because it's been in development for years, and after all the hype it was finally released on Xbox Live Arcade. Honestly, this game would be a total snooze-fest except for the fact that it features new "realistic" water features, supposedly better than any game before it. I'm not sure I agree with this bold marketing claim, but when you hear something like certainly makes you aware of it. I felt like I needed to try it, and right from the beginning, I was on the lookout for fancy water. If the water in this game was amazing, by God I was going to see it.

Hydrophobia stars a woman named Kate, who is apparently scared of the water. I know this only because I read articles about the game before I played it. I think regular players are supposed to be able to discover her fear from a few cryptic cut scenes at the beginning of the game where she's having a nightmare, but it's fairly subtle. They don't actually make a big mention of her phobia (other than the title of the game of course).

When Kate is running around waist deep in a flooding ship, she doesn't say anything like "Holy shit, there's water everywhere, I'm going to die!" or "Oh my god, it's my worst nightmare come true!". Hell, Kate doesn't even say "Wow...this water is cold". She just runs along like the ships she sails on sink every day. Try saying that five times fast.

Anyway, so you're on this big ship called the "Queen of the Earth", and much like the Titanic, it's flooding with water. Unlike the Titanic, it wasn't an iceberg that did it, it was some terrorists. There's some huge back story where the whole world is flooding, and water is scarce. Many people live on boats....and a group of terrorists wants to save the human race by thinning out the herd. It's actually kind of interesting (you can read more about it here if you like), but unfortunately...the writing is much better than the programming is. Bioshock is an amazing game because it's fun to play AND it has an awesome story. This game has the awesome story and fancy water, but it's not really fun to play at all.

The Queen of the Earth is immense, and you are being guided through it's corridors and flooding decks by a security officer named Scoot over the radio. Scoot sounds like Simon Pegg, and he's watching everything you're doing, and giving you directions. Scoot will shout out: "You have to swim up this elevator shaft" or "Here come some terrorists you're going to have to shoot". This advice is actually the only navigation in the game that works, because the map is shit and there are no onscreen objective indicators. Unless Scoot is telling you to "Run up that stairway", you're pretty much going to have to find that out yourself by trial and error. I can't count the number of times I retraced my steps by accident on this stupid boat.

Look, I don't need a game that's on rails, but how about a map that fucking WORKS? Or an arrow to at least give me a general direction of where I should be going (or tell me that I'm going the wrong way). I played all the way through the first mission, and I must have died a dozen times attempting to trial and error my way through where I THOUGHT I was supposed to go. The game is just a clusterfuck of water, fire and locked doors....and you're bound to run into at least one of these three obstacles everywhere you go. The only places that aren't flooded are on fire, or locked. Clearly, God hates Kate.

So what about the water? Ok...I have to's kind of cool. They really got the environmental features right here. When you shoot a barrel next to a bulkhead, sometimes that barrel explodes and lets in waves of water. The water comes at you, picking up anything that was on the ground in the hallway and sending it your way. When you dive into a flooded room, boxes, bodies, anything that was in there will now be a floating obstacle. This is cool, but if I told you this was the first game ever to do it, would you believe me? Doesn't it feel like you might have seen something like this in a game before? I swear there was a decent underwater level in Call of Duty...but apparently, this game does it better (at least according to the gaming press).

Personally, it didn't blow me away....but because I paid a lot of attention to it, I have to admit, it's kind of cool.

By the second level, I was asked to swim down an elevator shaft, use my little navigation computer and find this thing on a wall that's WAY down a hallway. After that, you have to swim back up, all before drowning. I'm not sure if there was an air pocket somewhere that I missed, or if I was just slow, but I did this four times and was unable to make it back to dry land before I drowned. This is when I turned the game off. Not because I couldn't do it (I'm confident I would have made it on my next try) but because I realized I was playing just to play, and not because I was having fun.

I already had my achievement, so I turned it off and called it a day. The ship can go ahead and sink for all I care.

Overall Score? 5/10. Revolutionary? No. Basic action game? Yes. The only "awesome" thing about this game is that it doesn't cost 59.99 at Gamestop. It's on Xbox Live Arcade for 15 bucks. Yes, it's a good price for an average game and that's the only reason I'm giving it a five. If this were a full price title, I'd give it a 2 or a 3. If you want a truly amazing game for 15 bucks, you should go buy Comic Jumper instead.

Achievements: I got one. I'm not going to say I'll never play this game again. Honestly, the story is pretty cool and I'd actually like to find out what happens to the girl (and the stupid boat)...but it is VERY low on my list of gaming priorities. Very, VERY low.

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