Does Hydrophobia perform better on the PSN since being cleaned up, or does this title drown under its own ambition?
Welcome to the Queen of the World, a floating luxury city that travels the world. Built by the Five Founding Fathers, the people aboard it are living high on the hog while the rest of the world; not so much. A population explosion has caused the resources of the world to be stripped bare and the Queen of the World is a way to escape it all. Your protagonist, Kate Wilson, is a systems engineer aboard the vessel and when things go bad she steps in as reluctant hero. In the opening segments the city is attacked by a group of extremists called the Malthusians that are determined to wipe out a large majority of the population of the planet, thus making life for the rest of them a little more bearable.
The story itself is confusing and fragmented and never draws together into a cohesive whole. Most of the above was gathered simply from a story synopsis and the rest gleaned from collectible documents strewn around the levels. There are whole plot points left dangling or never answered and leave you scratching your head. I’m not sure what the developer, Dark Energy Digital, was trying to accomplish here. Perhaps they meant to have another game tie up the loose ends? For instance, in the beginning of the game you see flashes of a nightmare that Kate is having. Within the nightmare, which is obviously some sort of flashback, we see the dead body of a woman floating underwater in what looks to be a cave system.
Playing enough video games and watching plenty of movies leads me to believe that a traumatic event in Kate’s past has led to her, as per the title, hydrophobia. Instead the game never mentions the scene again and though we presume Kate is afraid of water by her panicking pleas at the beginning of the game the rest of the time she is perfectly fine. To top things off the game simply ends with no real cutscene and absolutely no resolution leaving players baffled.
Story aside, the game plays simply enough. If you’ve ever played a third person shooter you’ll know what to expect here. Pressing the circle button will position Kate behind cover and holding L1 you can pop out behind the cover and press R1 to fire. There are some variations of ways to take down Malthusians, mostly represented in different forms of ammo, but none of them are especially needed. Through most of the game I got along just fine using my first weapon I got.
Hazards will be your best friend as they are strewn throughout the game and can be a fun way to decimate enemies. Everything from your standard exploding barrel to blowing glass out to flood the enemy out of the way. These are the times I had the most fun in firefights. Elements of an adventure game appear as well with light platforming and climbing needed throughout the experience to add a little variety and it’s welcome. After a while though you realize your running down one hall after another trying to get to the next checkpoint. The developer also tried to spice it up by giving Kate a handheld computer accessory called the Mav, after all she is a systems engineer. With it, she can hack into consoles, cameras and find encrypted keys on walls. That last bit doesn’t make too much sense but again it’s a welcome distraction to the poor combat.
The biggest pick me up in the game comes in the form of our protagonist’s water powers that she develops late in the game. Giving the game the shot in the arm it needs suddenly your able to control huge towers and waves of water. Kate can toss heavy object with the water or simply drown her enemies. Once this happened combat became a blast and our simple systems engineer became a force to be reckoned with. However when I say late in the game I mean late in the game. Like the last 15 minutes late. I’ll never understand why some games will give you the best power right before your experience has ended giving you no way to truly enjoy it.
The graphics are decent and for a 3D world on the PSN are mostly what I expected. Most of the textures and area look like an HD version of a last generation game except when it comes to the water. I’ve personally not seen better water effects even in the AAA titles of today. You can tell that H20 is the star of the game as it ebbs, flows and creates waves like real water. If you open a door to another area that has more water it will gush into your area in a large wave that eventually equalizes out. Later when you receive your water powers manipulating the powerful force of nature makes the water burst into the air and the effects are fantastic. Animations are significantly weaker as Kate usually looks very stiff especially while climbing. Music is largely forgettable and the voice acting is a mediocre if a largely serviceable affair.
While there were moments I had fun with the game most of it just seemed rather unpolished. The combat was bland and mostly unresponsive and the best in the game is saved for the very end. The overall narrative in the game seems disjointed and incomplete and left me very unsatisfied with multiple plot threads, and the ending, left hanging. The water is the star of the show but it isn’t enough to pull the game out of it’s mediocre level. Truly a shame though as I felt that the developers truly had something on their hands that, if a little more fleshed out, could have been something truly great. Here’s hoping they get to make the sequel they so obviously left the game open for.
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