Each one of us is haunted by that one 'classic' videogame franchise that, somehow, we just never got around to playing in its original form, back in the day—the one for which, you might say, we just missed the boat.
[image1]As a player, coming into a recently-resurrected game franchise as a first-timer can be rough: First, you can get those distrustful, Salem-worthy Looks from nerdwad couch-denter types who played the original games to death and can't believe that you apparently chose, say, chasing girls that year. Second, once you DO start playing the game in its new, resurrected form, you're likely at an immediate PvP disadvantage...that is, at least until you get up to speed. Third and by far worst of all, you just might get screwed: What if the resurrected-incarnation/reboot/sequel game experience—of which you're only just now getting your first taste—turns out to fall unforgivably short of that incomparable Classic original of yore?
Fortunately, it looks as if even gamers only just now dipping their toes into the Hydro Thunder experience will be getting a faithful, spirited continuation of the gaming classic. Lifeboated away from the drowned wreckage of Midway Games via a fortuitous licensing deal, Hydro Thunder will soon re-surface as Hydro Thunder Hurricane, complete with rocketing speedboats, all new detail-rich environments, breakable obstacles, cool water physics and a vengeful, just-one-more-race sense of competition, danger and speed. The Vector Unit folks didn't make the original Hydro Thunder...but they obviously had some love for it. We got a chance to get our, um, feet wet with some multiplayer time last week in San Francisco.
Getting the big worry out of the way, here: What's been shown (and played) so far does Hydro Thunder proud, and then some. Insanely-powerful rocket-powered watercraft, lots of Boost power-ups, wonderfully-vibrant (and oft-divergent) courses, satisfying wake-pluming turns, ridiculous-awesome falls, controls that are just loose and jivey enough to bring out the Crazy in players—it's all here.
[image2]The race-courses are just...nuts. I say this with love. Nuts, with a playfully-vicious sense of humor, too, because if you see a potential shortcut or a carefully-placed power-up that seems just a little too temptingly-located to be entirely 'right'...then you're probably right.
The phrase 'over the top' was bandied about rather a lot during our competitive (and, a bit later in the evening - more than a smidge drunken) multiplayer session... but you only really start to really appreciate 'over the top' when you find your rocket-boat dodging to avoid the Loch Ness Monster that has inexplicably reared up before you in an otherwise tropical setting; or taking a sudden, gargantuan water-fall drop worthy of Hoover Dam; or racing out of Area 51 and straight into an alien world via a telportation portal; or barreling up on the towering form of a mythological deity looming up in the sky before you.
Even the seemingly-mundane stuff that can't hurt you can... well, hurt you: Flick your eyes up for a split-second to admire the pretty train trundling on tracks overhead and BLAM!--you've slammed into a stone pillar along the banks of the river you're currently carving up. And if it looks like you're going to luck out and somehow miss said pillar on your own, another racer on the course will probably be happy to nudge you into it at 150-or-so knots.
[image3]Of course, as much as the courses themselves, it's those seven other live players (for a total of eight; or four for local splitscreen) you've got to watch out for...them, and the independently-generated wakes created by their own respective craft.
The joyously-evil levels of players' boats interacting with each other was supremely satisfying. We saw players obviously ramming each other into—or away from—divergent paths and choke-points; using their burlier craft to muscle quicker-but-twitchier boats out of the way; and even using the (always available) Boost power-up they just snagged—but which the slowpoke in front of them somehow missed—to inexorably plow forward into a front-runner bobbing up on a wave, thus flipping him completely over from behind. You've heard the phrase “cussing like a sailor”? Yeah, we had some of that going on, too.
In addition, Hydro Thunder Hurricane will offer Gauntlet races (time-trial + explosive barrel obstacles), a Ring-gate mode (a traditional race that requires players to maneuver through a set series of ring-gates, thusly illustrating some of the optimal race-lines) and a Championship, which presents all the events as a contest against A.I. racers.
Hydro Thunder Hurricane is an XBLA exclusive; wade back into the GR deep-end for a full review when this action-packed wake-racer title surfaces in July 2010.