Reviewed: May 15, 2011
Released: May 9, 2011
Hydrophobia got its start on the Xbox Live Arcade. The game received high praise for its unique atmosphere and incredible liquid modeling and wave physics, but critics and gamers alike werenít too keen on several aspects of gameplay Ė everything from camera and controls to vague objectives and waypoints. Even Scoot (one of the main unseen characters in the game) took some heat for his "distracting" voice acting.|
Dark Energy Digital listened to each and every complaint and suggestion and re-released the game as Hydrophobia Pure. They even updated all of the original copies of the game to this new version at no charge. Pure fixed 99% of the issues and even enhanced the game in numerous ways. Now, five months later, we have Hydrophobia: Prophecy; which includes everything Pure had accomplished and then adds so much more. Finally, PC and PS3 gamers are going to get their turn at getting wet and experiencing the exciting adventure that waits for them on The Queen of the World.
Hydrophobia: Prophecy is the ultimate evolution of the game to date; so much so that even if you have already played the game previously on the Xbox 360 and you have access to a PS3 or capable PC that you should seriously consider replaying it. Prophecy boasts new technical features in both graphics and control. There are exclusive new levels, a new and deeper backstory, a dramatic new ending and even some changes in the voice cast.
These changes and improvements show an unparalleled commitment by Dark Energy to make this the best game possible, and they arenít stopping here. With the inclusion of a new in-game feedback system called Darknet, players can now register comments and opinions at any time during the game. These comments are combined with location data of where you are in the game as well as your current build and then used by the developers to make any potential improvements. And thanks to the Steamworks delivery system and its ability to stream new updates to your PC, itís like having the design team working behind you while you play. And yes, the system works. I had a few issues with sound and the camera and both were addressed and patched within 24 hours. Iíve been playing games for 35+ years and nobody offers that kind of support.
There are literally three pages of new features and improvements that go into Prophecy, and rather than bore you with the details or make this review unbearably long, here are just a few. In addition to everything Pure offered there are now enhanced graphics and water modeling, more realistic movement and speed, especially while wading, and better animations to reflect that movement. The combat and cover system is improved as is the enemy AI. Puzzles have been tweaked and new physics-based puzzles added. Hydro Kinetic powers play a part in the story now and there is a new dramatic ending that doesnít leave us hanging. Scoot gets a new face and voice, and the story has been embellished in several areas with new cutscenes and revealing dialogue. There is also remastered audio and improved music and a whole lot more.
But all of these improvements only mean something to those who have already played the game. If you are new to this incredible new world then prepare to play as Kate Wilson, an engineering technician onboard The Queen of the World, a city-sized super-ship that has just been attacked by terrorists. Youíll need to explore and repair the ship while defending yourself against large numbers of enemies. With water rushing in and the ship slowly sinking, prepare for more claustrophobic wet moments than the Poseidon Adventure could ever dream of.
Kate has a few tricks up her sleeve including a variety of weapons and her keen ability to hack computers. She also has Scoot available over the com-link to assist when he can. Kate also gets to solve a few puzzles and decrypt enemy ciphers that are hidden around the ship in invisible paint. Using her Mavi (transparent iPad) she can view the world in a whole new way to locate key points of interest, and these hidden codes that will grant her access to new and more dangerous parts of the ship.
As you might imagine, water plays a huge part in Hydrophobia: Prophecy and I guarantee you have never seen water look or behave this realistically. You can open a door or shoot a window with water behind it and watch the wave surge toward you. If there is floating debris it will smack you. If there is a burning oil spill on the surface it will burn you.
Played from a third-person view, that game is not unlike Tomb Raider, and youíll be doing plenty of running and jumping, but mostly wading and swimming. There is a nice cover system in place that allows Kate to snap to cover then peek out and shoot with either bullets (limited) or stun charges (infinite but must recharge). Stun charges can kill if you hit them enough but it is more to your advantage to use the environments against your foes early in the game to create deadly traps and water hazards using fire or electricity. Real bullets are limited and upgrades even more so. Make sure to loot all dead bodies.
Prophecy adds kinetic powers to Kateís arsenal, allowing her to manipulate water and create waves to toss around objects or knock back enemies. While not entirely deadly on their own, they can be used with great effect when combined with other weapons, and they certainly help balance out the third act of the game where your guns just arenít enough.
Visually, the game is pretty close to perfection. The colors, the textures, the art design, the slick menus and use of transparency and cool lighting and shadows and amazing character design and animation all push a modest PC to its limits. I would have enjoyed a bit more variety in my enemies Ė they all started to blur together like a clone army after a while. But nothing shines as much as the water, both in its texture, reflections, and behavior. I was dazzled with the water in the original Hydrophobia but only now that I see it in Prophecy do I realize how exaggerated it was. The wave physics on the PC are much more realistic and the inclusion of water droplets, both streaking down my screen and dripping from Kateís clothing are unlike anything I have witnessed. Swimming is now much easier and if you do have to submerge a new air gauge will let you know when Kate is about to run out of air.
The audio is excellent with new remastered sounds and music. Itís mixed for 5.1 audio, which sounds amazing on my surround sound headphones but down-mixes just as nice on my 2.1 speakers. Personally, I had no problem with the original voice for Scoot, although I guess everyone else did. He offered that Simon Pegg-style charm. Now Scoot sounds like a Top 40 DJ. Oh well....
Controls work well enough with a mouse and keyboard but for the best results youíll want to play using a gamepad; preferably an Xbox 360 controller. The game auto-detects such a device and the analog sticks and buttons just make for a more intuitive experience. I saw no advantage, especially in aiming, while using the mouse, and the analog sticks work much better for the frequency wave hacking mini-games.
There are lots of hidden items and collectibles scattered about The Queen of the World but your next destination isnít one of them thanks to the option for turning on a new HUD indicator that will point you toward your next objective. This makes it nearly impossible to get lost, but if you want to ramp up the challenge you can always turn this off and use your Mavi to find your next waypoint. You can also toggle between a 2D and 3D map if you really get lost. Most of the collectibles are data pads loaded with backstory. There are also level-specific challenges that will reward you with various medals, and there is even a Challenge Room that you can unlock and battle wave after wave of enemies and climb the gameís leaderboards.
Hydrophobia was already pretty short on the Xbox 360 and even with the new padded content you can still finish this adventure in 6-8 hours depending on how thorough an explorer you are. Of course, you can also skip the cutscenes and not read the documents and finish the game in 3-4 hours then complain about how short it was. Thatís up to you. Dark Energy has really enhanced the story in this latest revision, adding a lot to the terrorist side of the story. Itís worth the time to check it out.
Dark Energy Digital sets the bar incredibly high for every other developer out there as a company that not only cares and supports their games but continuously strives to improve them even after they have your money. Hydrophobia: Prophecy is not only the best iteration of the game to date, it is by far the most visually stunning and engaging game Iíve played on my PC since Crysis 2, and for only $12 you wonít find a better game or a better bargain.