One can’t really start a review of third person action title, Hydrophobia Prophecy, without a quick mention of the rather unusual development process. Released on Xbox LIVE last year, the original Hydrophobia received mixed reviews; a true ‘marmite’ game. It’s here where developers Dark Energy strayed from the normal path, and instead of cracking on with Hydrophobia 2 they invited fans to leave feedback, which was included in a free update titled ‘Pure’.[boxout] It didn’t stop there though, with Dark Energy going a step further by improving the game even more and releasing ‘Prophecy’ on Steam. Apart from a wealth of changes, Prophecy also saw ‘Darknet’ go live, meaning a gamer could stop in any section of the game and leave both positive and negative feedback on a number of things.
So now we have Prophecy on the PSN, and it looks to be the definitive version of Hydrophobia.
The game is set in 2051 and sees you play as Kate, who is aboard a huge ship called The Queen of the World. This ship is a refuge for wealthy, as the world is in the midst of an ideological struggle between the Cornucopians and the Malthusians.[drop2] The problem is all down to the massive increase in the global population. The Cornucopians believe that technology can be used to solve the issue, whilst the Malthusians are more in favour of a “reduction”. The more extremist members of the Malthusians decide to launch an attack on The Queen of the World, causing it to become severely damaged and take on huge volumes of water. Kate must not only escape, but deal with any troublemakers she comes across. Oh, and she has a fear of water.
I find myself in quite a useful situation. Having played every version of Hydrophobia it’s easy to spot the myriad of changes that PS3 owners won’t even know about. For a start the visual boost from the original is truly outstanding. Character models have seen a significant upgrade, with the PSN version also getting detailed textures on walls and surfaces. There’s even been an improvement from the recently released Steam version, with Kate being modified slightly in terms of visuals and animation, and each individual item now leaves its own ripple in the water.
Certain characters have also had their dialogue recorded again using a different voice actor, and the game’s story has been fleshed out somewhat with the inclusion of new scenes. Then there is the additional content, which gives the player significantly more to do.
Of course, the big talking point of Hydrophobia is the water. Powered by the HydroEngine, the water effects are completely unscripted, meaning that it won’t follow a set path and will behave as you might expect in real life. It’s utterly frantic, as when a wall caves in and allows the water to come crashing through you are tossed from pillar to post, desperately trying to regain your orientation as you are swept along.
It’s not just the big waves that are impressive, either. When wading through gradually deepening water you will notice Kate starts to move slower as the resistance increases. You can actually feel this through the controller. It’s really clever stuff, and sometimes you just have to stop and stare as the rather hypnotic water sloshes around you.
The game is split into three acts, totalling about five hours length, and they each play differently. Act One is more about platforming/puzzles, as you try and work out what’s going on. Indeed, you don’t even gain access to a weapon until the end. Your most useful tool is your Mavi, which you can use to scan objects, hack consoles, take control of CCTV cameras and search for clues. Act Two introduces the combat, as the Malthusian threat grows. Initially you only have Sonic Rounds for your gun, which can kill when charged up, but normally stun. Fear not, those who prefer a bit more violence will be pleased with the various ammo types that become available as the game progresses.
Hydrophobia also manages to bring out the evil side in you, with a number of environmental kills. Using the flow of water you can nudge an explosive barrel towards your enemy before blasting it and setting everyone in range on fire. Just don’t forget that the water will flow both ways, so there’s a chance the flames will come right back at you.
There are a number of more satisfying kills involving electricity and explosions, but I’ll let you find them out for yourself.
Act Three is very much combat based, and you also learn an interesting new technique, albeit by accident. I won’t ruin it for you, but needless to say the water you’ve spent four and a half hours fearing suddenly becomes a very useful asset.[drop] It’s a nice balance between combat and puzzle solving, although don’t expect your brain to be taxed too heavily. Saying that there were a couple of times where I did have to stop and scratch my head for a while before figuring out how to progress. Another thing to mention is that although the game appears linear, you will be rewarded for exploring with collectibles such as documents, which provide more information on the story. You’ll also unlock medals for completing in-game actions, which is yet another incentive to experiment.
When you’re done with the main campaign you can move onto the Challenge Rooms. This pits you against waves of enemies who increase in strength as you progress. An interesting diversion, certainly.
Exclusive to this PSN version of Hydrophobia is the PlayStation Move controls. Calibration (which needs to be done upon start up every time) takes seconds, and there are a number of options you can adjust to suit your play style. Those who have been itching to dust off their Move controllers will be pleased to hear that it’s been well implemented in Hydrophobia.
Using the Navigation Controller to move Kate, and Move to aim the gun and control the camera, it actually changes the pace of the game somewhat as now you can pop in and out of cover quickly, firing off headshots with ease. In fact it’s very easy to forget about all the environmental kills and fancy ammunition when shooting someone in the face is so satisfying. I think the best thing I can say about the Move controls is I played through the entire game with them, and actually didn’t want to go back to using my DualShock 3.
Of course, there are a few negative issues that arise during the game. Sometimes, normally when you’re being battered by water, the camera struggles to keep track of you and will zoom in and out, and spin around. Checkpoint spacing in Act Three can also prove problematic, sometimes spawning you right in the middle of a gunfight, meaning your health is almost depleted by the time you gather your wits and find cover. The good thing is I was able to leave negative feedback on those areas via Darknet.
- Looks great.
- A nice balance between platforming/puzzles and combat.
- The water effects are fantastic.
- Darknet allows your voice to be heard.
- The Move controls are well implemented.
- The price.
- The camera can struggle at times.
- When using Move, the camera could really use a ‘snap back to default position’ button.
- Act Three checkpoints could be better.
Hydrophobia Prophecy on the PSN really is the best version. It looks and sounds great, with water effects surpassing games with ten times the budget. Add in Move support that works well, and a price of £5.10, and what we have is one of the PSN’s best games.
Roll on Hydrophobia 2.