Hydrophobia is defined as being an abnormal fear of water. What would a person’s worst nightmare be if they had this phobia? The thought of being on-board a massive boat as it slowly sinks into the ocean’s depths would likely be somewhere near the top of the list, which is exactly the reason why you’re thrown headfirst into this role in Hydrophobia: Prophecy. Do you have what it takes to survive?
It’s difficult to start this review without first mentioning the game’s history. Xbox 360 owners first saw the game’s release over a year ago on Xbox Live Arcade simply called Hydrophobia. Critics weren’t impressed with the game after the years of hype it received and the developer, Dark Energy Digital, took the criticism head-on and went back to the drawing board. A few months later the game was updated (via patch) to Hydrophobia: Pure, which fixed multiple shortcomings and the widely mixed review scores quickly saw a significant increase. Once again the game has been updated with all-around improvements and the new surname Prophecy, landing on PSN with its most notable new addition, PlayStation Move support. Is this the ultimate edition of the game?
Stepping into the shoes of the game’s main protagonist, systems engineer Kate Wilson we find ourselves inside the massive city-sized ship, Queen of the World. A terrorist organisation calling themselves Malthusians have detonated multiple explosions to supposedly ‘save the world.’ The dystopian world we’re thrown into has seen an unsustainable population explosion and people have been forced to migrate to the sea to find residence. These single-minded terrorists have taken it into their own hands to reduce the world’s population, starting with the Queen of the World.
Fans of the notorious PlayStation cover-based action/adventure title Uncharted will be pleased with the gameplay style that’s found here. As Kate reluctantly sets out to try and thwart the plot she’ll be climbing pipes and bulkheads, using cover to shoot terrorists and jumping across faulty platforms much like Nathan Drake does in his series, and with much the same cinematic flair as well. The game even takes cues from its linear style to keep the action constantly flowing from the game’s onset to its exciting finale four or five hours later. But, this is far from a simple Uncharted spin-off, because Hydrophobia’s twist is flowing from the Queen of the World’s breached hull: water.
Water is tough to master in game development and when the Dark Energy Digital team decided to make water the main element of their game, we wonder if they knew what they were about to step-off into. Three years of development time went into developing their HydroEngine alone, which allows them to model flowing water into the game dynamically, meaning water flows realistically depending on the environmental situations at hand, instead of using repeated animations like those we’ve become accustomed to. The astonishing end result is that the immense amount of water in the game behaves so realistically that it becomes just as much of a main character as Kate herself. What’s even harder to imagine is that it all fits into a file smaller than 2GB.
So how does it all work when put together? Walking down a dark passageway in knee deep water, it behaves realistically as you move through it, but when you shoot a glass pane holding back water, a wall of the wet stuff comes rushing through, blasting you backwards and sucking you underwater with its strong current. As the water starts to level out you can get back on your feet and proceed forward once again, but at a slower pace now that the water is now deeper than before. Further into the game the currents can be used to drift burning oil and electricity to defeat thugs, but always remember that with dynamic water effects the water shifts randomly and can send the hazards back towards you instead.
The interaction between the water and the phobic Kate is a thing of tense beauty: Eerie cries from her childhood fill the senses as her lungs slowly lose oxygen during extended underwater sequences: water can be the enemy, but using it to defeat terrorists makes water valuable too. Seaming it all together fluidly as the game does so well is much like putting dark poetry into motion and is a rarity found in few other games, especially one in this genre.
While the water is the highlight, shooting elements work quite well here too. The one weapon in the game shoots a weak chargeable pulse shot once acquired, but eventually you’ll gain multiple types of ammo to help you defeat your adversaries: timed explosives, rapid fire and semi-shot. All of these additional ammo types are limited, which will have you relying on the unlimited pulse rounds to set off environmental hazards to survive. There’s also something else weapon-like in the game that’s a blast to use, but we’ll leave it to you to find out for yourselves as to not spoil the storyline.
The addition of PlayStation Move support is a welcome addition to the package and it has been implemented properly, but Dark Energy forgot one major thing: deadzones. Everything works well with Move — especially shooting — but the camera simply never stops moving. The game constantly transitions from vertical climbs to underwater dives; narrow passageways to multi-tiered shootouts, and when you can’t keep the camera steady it becomes a constant fight to navigate through the game. Even worse is when the game’s camera is quickly zoomed in behind Kate when she’s thrown underwater by aggressive waves, starting a near uncontrollable spin cycle that nearly had us hurling from motion sickness. Thankfully, there’s a user feedback system that’s built into the game to give the developer feedback and seeing how they’ve worked so hard to improve nearly every aspect of the game, this could be fixed as well; but for now the DualShock 3 controller is our preferred way to play the game.
A few easy jumps were missed and a few other small glitches throughout our playtime crept up, but constant checkpoints keep frustrations at bay. Most enemies look the same and their AI isn’t overly impressive either, which are all tell-tale signs that the game is indeed only a cheap downloadable title — especially to PlayStation Plus members seeing as it’s free — but the fantastic visual and water effects coupled with the gory storyline means that someone obviously forgot to tell Dark Energy Digital that this wasn’t supposed to be a AAA retail title. There’s also an unlockable Challenge Room to the game, where you’ll fight off numerous waves of terrorists to try and claim the high score on the online leaderboards, as well as tons of hidden items throughout the game that add bits and pieces of information to the game’s back story for completionist.
Water is the essential element to life, but it can end life as well. Hydrophobia: Prophecy stands on the latter end of this spectrum, but brings water itself to life in the process. Despite a few minor flaws and weak Move implementation, this technically impressive action/adventure title is definitely a welcomed addition to the PSN library. Hydrophobia: Prophecy might have released the same day as Uncharted 3, but you’d be remiss to let this PSN Plus freebie become stagnant water in one of its caves.