What we liked:

+ Amazing water effects
+ Deep back story
+ Environmental kills

What we didn't like:

- Combat gets tedious
- Controls sometimes floaty
- Monotonous game design

DEVELOPER: Dark Energy Digital   |   PUBLISHER: Dark Energy Digital   |   RELEASE: 09/29/2010
Does it sink or swim?

It is hard to believe that it has been almost three years since we posted the first screenshot of Dark Energy Digital’s action/adventure title. Hydrophobia is the first out of the gate for Microsoft’s Game Feast promotion and has been touted as once again showing what digital download games can deliver. Sporting some truly impressive water tech and graphics that could pass as a full retail title this bite-sized adventure definitely impresses, but isn’t without its flaws. Still for a $15 title this is one beginning you won’t mind laying down the cash for if you can get past some of its initial problems.

The premise behind the game is actually fairly interesting. You play as Kate Wilson, a member of the crew aboard the Queen of the World. This ship is basically a floating city that is harboring most of humanity after massive floods blanketed the world. There is a lot of history behind all of this that can be found throughout the game if you choose to dive (sorry for the pun) into it. Kate is assisted by her Scottish companion Scoot throughout the game via radio. While I enjoyed the narrative and lore, Kate and Scoot felt somewhat out of place. Kate’s voice acting sounded like she was constantly surprised to be in the game, while Scoot truly has some cheesy and annoying dialogue.

At its core Hydrophobia is a standard third-person action title. You will move around the ship, taking down enemies and uncovering why the terrorists have taken over the Queen of the World. Once you obtain the stun gun in Act 2 things begin to pick up. Combat feels clunky at first. You can take cover behind objects, but sometimes enemies will still be able to hit you. The stun gun will knock enemies down and you can charge it up for a stronger blast, but using the environment is much more effective at taking them down. The Queen of the World is littered with explosive barrels that will ignite enemies. You can also shoot down electrical wires for shocking results, or do it the old fashioned way and just drown your enemies by continually stunning them.

The problem is that the combat grows old quickly. Even after you progress a little further into the game and obtain new ammo such as gel rounds and even real bullets, encounters never graduate past mediocre. Kate’s movement is also sporadic. I found myself constantly remaining in either firing mode or stealth mode as otherwise I found myself all over the place with her loose movement. Outside of combat you will also be decrypting doors…a lot.

This seems to be the main focus of the game and to be honest, it grows repetitive quick. Each area usually has a code painted on the wall that Kate can only see with her MAVI (a futuristic tablet that can break the world down into a 3D grid). The scenario always plays out the same: find the enemy with the decrypter key, find the hidden code on the wall and then open the door. At first it is satisfying discovering each step, but after a while it becomes extremely monotonous. So monotonous in fact that even the characters in the game comment on it; that is when you know it has worn out its welcome.

Still the main focus of the game is the water, and I have to commend Dark Energy Digital; this is some damn fine H20. The water physics in the game are unmatched by any other I have seen to date. When you break a glass wall containing water it flows into the room very realistically. To the point it will sweep enemies off their feet, and leave you disoriented for a moment. I actually found myself holding my breath at times when the room would flood and I would lose control due to the impact of the waves. This is truly the heart and soul of the game, and without it we would be left with just another action game.

Visually Hydrophobia looks great for a downloadable title. There is definitely a dark overtone to the entire package, but the fire and water effects are truly amazing. Enemy animations are wonky at best though. Watching them flail around after being taken down does take you out of it at times, still the focus on the wet stuff really goes a long way at immersing you into the fear of being trapped underwater. The voice acting as I mentioned is certainly nothing to write home about. Kate seems confused and Scoot simply got on my nerves far too quickly. Still their conversation does keep you interested in the overall story, and you can’t help but feel a bond between them. The music works on most levels by creating a nice atmosphere, but you won’t be humming any of the tunes after you complete the game.

Hydrophobia is the first chapter in what Dark Energy Digital hopes to be an episodic adventure. Personally I hope this one does well enough to finish it out as there is a lot of potential here. Even with the problems that arise in the game, they aren’t anything that can’t be addressed before the next chapter ships out. The water physics are the star of the show and really help you forget about a lot of the problems the game runs in to. If you enjoy action games and are looking on a twist to the genre this one might be right up your alley. A decent start to Game Feast, and hopefully just the beginning of a new downloadable franchise.

Review copy provided by publisher.

Ken McKown
Ken is the Editor-in-Chief of this hole in the wall and he loves to troll for the fun of it. He also enjoys long walks through Arkham Asylum and the cool air of Shadow Moses Island. His turn-ons include Mortal Kombat, Metal Gear Solid and StarCraft.

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