It’s not unheard of to see a game ported from one platform to the next, nor is it uncommon to see a period of years pass between platform appearances. What is rare is to see a developer take a game back to the drawing board before allowing the game to be reintroduced… and then to see that happen again just one more time. Hydrophobia was originally released during Microsoft’s Game Feast in September 2010, envisioned to be the first chapter in a trilogy. Unfortunately for Dark Energy, Hydrophobia’s developer, the game met with criticisms from journalists and average gamers alike. Many remarked at the high quality of the game’s water effects, but griped about unimpressive voice acting, repetitive combat, and floaty controls. For more on the original XBLA release of Hydrophobia, hit up that review here.
The game was then re-released on Steam earlier this year with significant improvements to controls, voice acting and atmosphere that made it the definitive version… at the time (you can read the review of that version here).
With the PSN release of Hydrophobia Prophecy, Dark Energy has once again shown a level of responsiveness to criticism that is admirable. While the changes aren’t nearly as dramatic as they were when the Steam version launched, the improvements are immediately noticeable. The story hasn’t changed at all. Set in the near future, climate change has caused a significant rise in sea level. Combined with a population explosion, the world’s elite have taken to the seas in the Queen of the World, a floating city celebrating its 10th anniversary. On this momentous occasion, a mysterious announcement from the Nanocell Corporation is anticipated. The people living aboard the Queen of the World have high hopes that the news will herald a solution to the damage done to the planet.
During the celebration, the Queen of the World is invaded by a group calling themselves the Neo-Malthusians. These fanatics believe that the only way the human race will survive is to violently reduce the population to 500,000. It’s never made quite clear how they managed to infiltrate the ship or why they are targeting it. Mila, leader of the terrorists, is maniacal. She leads her legion of zealots through the ship, murdering everyone in her path, before finally engaging Kate in a final battle.
Kate is plunged into this battle for survival as the ocean rushes in around her. At the outset of the game, we are shown glimpses of Kate’s fear of water. This is reinforced throughout the game by haunting voices of Kate as a little girl. These sounds are woven throughout the soundscape, sneaking up on you during already tense moments. This helps address the complaint from the original release that Kate seemed too comfortable traversing what should have been her worst nightmare come true.
As you can imagine, in a game entitled Hydrophobia, the water is the star of the show. Not only does it look realistic, but it moves realistically. For better or for worse, when a door opens and waves come rushing in, the player is nearly helpless. In a tweak from the Steam version, that sense of helplessness that exists when an open door floods water toward you is still there, but doesn’t last quite as long. The water tends to equalize more quickly, which helps drive the point home without becoming cumbersome. Swimming controls are even more intuitive and responsive, which is important since you’ll be spending almost as much time below the water as above.
Additional complaints in the original release focused on movement and how it was displayed on screen. In the Steam release, Kate’s animations were improved over the XBox Live Arcade version, but the controls went from floaty to overly tight. The PSN version of the game features a good middle ground for the controls and eliminates one of the most persistent glitches I encountered in the Steam version. In fact, the game was virtually glitch free and proof of Dark Energy’s commitment to refinement and perfection. For those that enjoy motion controls, Hydrophobia: Prophecy features full Move implementation.
When you encounter the terrorists and are forced into combat, you’ll collect five different ammo types for your sidearm. You start with unlimited sonic rounds, but soon find remote explosives and real bullets. The environment is littered with explosive barrels and electrical wiring which, when shot down, can shock your enemies. The gameplay alternates between shooting and acrobatic endeavors and this version is even more balanced. Should you find yourself lost, the new waypoint feature will point you in the right direction with a tap of the d-pad, fixing a complaint about its persistent appearance in the Steam version.
Hydrophobia Prophecy features a cover system, which allows you to catch a breather during combat. New to this version is also a melee takedown, which means you won’t need to run for cover if you end up right next to an attacker. The PSN iteration features the same floating cover system from the Steam version, with a new stealth enhancement. Kate can grab onto items and shield herself from bullets flying her way. This is also used to solve puzzles in the game, enhancing the player’s connection to the water.
I mentioned in my review of the Steam version that the dialog had undergone a major overhaul from the XBox Live version. All of the reworked conversation moments between Scoot and Kate return and it’s even been tuned such that the line I identified as being voiced by the wrong actor was fixed. Other audio bugs I noted in the Steam version have been cleaned up and no longer appear. The DarkNet feedback system has truly been put to good use.
As for the narrative, the improvements that Steam version introduced (a new character to put a face to the NanoCell corporation, more dialog to Mila, the villain of the story and a true conclusion with a final boss battle) are all intact. Players of the original Hydrophobia got to experiment with hydro powers in the challenge room. These have been incorporated into the main story. Very near the end of the game, Kate develops the power to make water towers and hurl items trapped within them. These are used sparingly through the last bit of the game, but are an essential part of the game’s only boss battle. I have it on good authority that the hydro powers, while making only a fleeting appearance in this game, are laying the groundwork for things to come in the series.
Thankfully, despite the flaws, Hydrophobia Prophecy is fun to play. The visuals of the game, while showing their age in places, still look quite good. Plus, if you find something that irks you, the game comes complete with the same DarkNet feedback menu that was featured in the Steam version and put too strong use in creating the refinements that Playstation 3 owners will find in this version. Using this tool, you can communicate your likes and dislikes to the developer. Choose a general category like graphics, audio, narrative, or controls, vote up or down, and choose a descriptor from a long list. Unfortunately, you can’t add specific notes, but it shows a remarkable concern for the quality of the game. Dark Energy is to be commended for their interest in community feedback and for releasing an improved version of the game rather than a half-hearted port.
Review copy provided by publisher.