Keep the ship, see if I care!
Do you like feeling damp, alone, and just miserable? If you do, then you're in luck, because Hydrophobia is the game for you. The world's population has reached an all-time high and corporations are filling their pockets with cash, going so far as to build a massive ship called Queen of the World to house them in all the comforts the general populace is sorely lacking. All is well in their little utopia until a terrorist group called the Malthusians attacks the Queen and all hell breaks loose.
[image1]In Hydrophobia's case, it's a watery hell. The terrorists are about as bright as the Wet Bandits in the beginning who flood the boat and kill just about anyone in their way without any strategy. One of the ship's engineers, Kate Wilson, however, will not go without a fight! Oh no, we have to stop these guys from… uhm… destroying… capturing… flooding… the Queen instead of just getting the heck out like any sane person would do.
Yeah, Hydrophobia's story is kind of underwhelming. The game does an extremely poor job of letting you know what's going on or, to that effect, care about anything. The plot that I got by the end of the game rivaled something that might have come out from an 1980s Steven Seagal or Van Damme movie. There are cut-scenes sometimes, but nothing really gripped me throughout the three acts of the game. Nothing that I truly cared about anyway.
That's a real shame, because the gameplay ideas in Hydrophobia are interesting, although poorly implemented. Kate hardly ever has the means to defend herself with firearms directly, since the only weapon she manages to find is a sonic emitter gun. The gun's effects act on just about anything not bolted down to the environment and the water in case the place she's in is flooded.
Hydrophobia has some very neat water physics that can create some reactions when used creatively. Enemies can be swept off their feet by a tidal wave and even drowned if knocked out for too long underwater. Objects in the environment can be used as weapons, like electric cables that, in contact with water, electrify anyone nearby. There are very few instances where you'll have lethal ammo, but unfortunately, the combat is clunky due to how stiff the controls are, and most cases, it's easier to kill yourself than your Malthusian buddies.
[image2]The game tries to convey Kate's emotions through her dialogue with an off-screen coworker who has managed to remain undetected somewhere else in the ship. The voice-acting is all over the place in these exchanges, going from okay to just terrible. Scoop, Kate's buddy, has a crazy mix of Scottish and Irish accents which just makes the guy sound extremely annoying. To top that off, his dialogue script keeps making the actor go off on some lame jokes that are awfully delivered. Kate's character is well-animated, well-voiced, and emotional, actually crying when things get bad at spots and not just going guns blazing at just about everything.
Sadly, considering the setting, Hydrophobia is hardly refreshing when in comes to gameplay. The novelty of the water element is quickly overshadowed by a terrible interface that makes selecting items and weapons a chore. The game also does a terrible job at letting you know how close you are to dying, by just applying the now overly-used red tint around the edge of the screen. You're never sure if you are about to die or if that hit you take was just a scrape.
In case you die a lot, be prepared to be annoyed by an incredibly frustrating checkpoint system, which arbitrarily tosses a save during the most bizarre points in the game. Like a big gunfight that doesn't offer a single checkpoint in between the action. Worse, you cannot skip dialogue, so you have to hear Scoop's terrible jokes over and over again.
But combat and interface are only second to Hydrophobia's main annoyance: just moving around. On more than one occasion, Kate glues herself to the ground, without moving, forcing me to restart the game. There's an obvious Tomb Raider or Uncharted influence in the way Kate can skip and scale some objects in the environment, but sadly, it's rarely rewarding. The worse parts of platforming are where you need to jump precisely from one point to another. You may want to jump to some place, but the controls and the design force you to go where the game wants you to go.
[image3]Kate's engineering skills come into play in rare puzzles and hacking sequences. Hacking consists of matching wavelengths by using both analog sticks in tandem as the controller rumbles when you get close to the 'sweet spot'. This mini-game, however, is hardly Hydrophobia's worst gameplay bit; the level structure is. Remember when Doom had you going after keys stage after stage? Well, Hydrophobia has you searching for cyphers, using Kate's personal PDA computer thing in first-person mode, just to open doors.
Sure, there are some gun fights or platforming in between sections, but everything basically boils down to opening doors and proceeding forward. Or upward. Or down. Navigation is confusing, and the Metroid Prime-style three-dimensional map doesn't help thanks to awkward and unresponsive controls.
Once you complete the main story mode, you can tackle the challenge room, which introduce some kinetic water powers never introduced in the main game. Waves of enemies shoot at you in a square room and the object is to defeat five, these attacks in order to attain a high score in the leaderboard, but you can just ignore the water powers and stick in a corner, and shoot at grunts. Really, the challenge room is an forgettable afterthought.
It pains me to be so negative about Hydrophobia since it tries to bring something new to the third-person action genre. I tried very hard to enjoy Hydrophobia. I really did. Probably even harder than how Hydrophobia tried to be a good game. Even so, there are much, much, much better alternatives out there. Hydrophobia is just a Titanic of a shipwreck.