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. 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 critics 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 our review here.
With the Steam release of Hydrophobia Prophecy, Dark Energy has shown a level of responsiveness to criticism that is admirable. Certain aspects of the game have been improved, making this the definitive version to play. The story hasn’t changed dramatically. 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. While the game still doesn’t go far enough to reinforce her hydrophobia, it’s a good step to remind players that Kate isn’t just scared because of the terrorists, but her latent fear of water, too. 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. It becomes extremely difficult to control Kate until the water level equalizes. Swimming controls are 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. Kate looks much more realistic as she runs, climbs, and mantles through her environment. Unfortunately, there was a consistent graphical glitch as I jumped or dropped to a hanging position. Kate would fall past the hanging point at the end of the jump and then suddenly appear hanging. While this does add to the tension, I don’t think this is what the developers were going for. The animation has been smoothed out to avoid the jarring movements. Kate also controls much more tightly. I played part of the original release immediately before playing through Prophecy using my 360 controller. I did spend time with the KB/M controls and found them to be smooth and precise. The purpose for playing the majority of the game with the 360 controller was to get a good feel for how things have improved between releases.
The controls have been tightened up, almost to a fault. Kate is ultra responsive, but the button presses seemed finicky to me. Getting into cover occasionally required multiple presses, as did crouching into stealth mode. Combat offers 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, much like the Uncharted series.
Hydrophobia Prophecy features a cover system. In this newest iteration, a floating cover system is introduced. Kate can grab onto items and shield herself from bullets flying her way. This is also used to solve two puzzles in the game, enhancing the player’s connection to the water.
Another thing that many people commented on was the quality of the story and the voice acting. Kate’s dialog has been tuned up and, except in a few instances, her forced accent is gone. Scoot has been completely reworked. In the original game, he was a pudgy, cheerful, Scottish man. Now, he’s slimmer, rougher and the dialog is more sarcastic. His gruff American accent is a significant change, and it works. He’s not cheery, but his encouragement and support seems more realistic, helping establish a stronger relationship with Kate. Again, these changes don’t come without flaws. Many times throughout the game, the dialog completely cut out. I was forced to turn subtitles on so that I didn’t miss anything. There was even one point where I’m sure that Scoot voiced a line that was meant for Kate.
As for the narrative, Dark Energy has added cutscenes, introduced a new character to put a face to the NanoCell corporation, and gave much more dialog to Mila, the villain of the story. The game also comes to a true conclusion with a final boss battle. Players of the original Hydrophobia got to experiment with hydro powers in the challenge room. Now, 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. In many ways, the hydro powers reminded me of the game Psi-Ops. The telekinesis skill in that game was interesting, but had the tendency to frustrate, due to being bound to the physics of the game. This often created unexpected situations, leaving the player at the mercy of the physics engine. This was exactly how I felt during the conclusion of Hydrophobia Prophecy. The hydro powers are interesting, but they are too touchy to be so large a part of the final battle, especially since players have very little time to get used to them.
Thankfully, despite the flaws, Hydrophobia Prophecy is fun to play. Plus, if you find something that irks you, the game comes complete with a feedback menu. 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.[tab:Screenshots][tab:END]