Hydrophobia Review

Once, I tried to play Tomb Raider: Underworld while reading Thomas Malthus’ "An Essay on the Principle of Population" and scanning my entire apartment with a black light looking for complex ciphers, all while sloshing through a waist-deep wave pool teeming with explosive barrels. I accomplished none of the tasks completely or well, and when the waves shorted my electronics and dampened my philosophical text, I gave up on all but the sloshing. Meet Hydrophobia.

A confused homage to some of gaming’s greats like Tomb Raider, BioShock, and Deus Ex, Hydrophobia is too many things. "More is better" may seem patently silly and antiquated in game design as with all creative spaces, so Dark Energy Digital’s third-person adventure/platformer/shooter/puzzler sticks out among other, more economical XBLA titles. Whatever benefit I derived from the variant gameplay in Hydrophobia was undone by simple mechanical or aesthetic flaws in each element.


A case study: Playing as the hysterical but heroic Kate Wilson, I unleash a torrent of water onto a shotgun goonie who face-plants into a tangle of electrical wiring. He’s fine, don’t worry. I charge up a second shot and explode a red barrel that breaks more glass and unleashes more water. Now he’s getting up seemingly unscathed and I’m being pummeled by six foot waves of physics-guided water, jerking my camera up, and around, and underwater, and back up, and then mercifully knocking me over. He shoots twice and I restart at the last checkpoint.

Not all combat encounters suffer from the kind of technical maladies cured during the PlayStation 2 era, but most are cumbersome enough to disturb the game’s already twitchy flow. The other systems are likewise impaired by awkward camera angles and sticky volumes so it never gets that "new car smell" that AAA games have today. Climbing, scanning, and even running as Kate feels doughy and laborious, as if attempting Assassin’s Creed‘s precision platforming with Grand Theft Auto IV controls.


The hallway-heavy levels are besieged by politically-motivated extremists, Malthusians, whose 18th-century doomsday predictions are scribbled in invisible ink on walls and in discoverable documents and audio recordings. The guiding-voice partner role is filled by a suspicious Scotsman (Irish was too fine a point, I guess). Neon signs illuminate a crumbled, overthrown city on water. If Hydrophobia was any more of a BioShock tribute game, it would have some repetitive phrase attempting to sum the philosophy of in-game experience. OH WAIT. (See: "Save the world – kill yourself.")

It’s exciting to see a downloadable game with this much ambition, and Dark Energy Digital should be commended for its pioneer engineering in realistic digital fluid mechanics, but if the kitchen sink approach can’t do justice to the faucet and the bowl simultaneously, then omit both.

2 out of 5


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Author: Dan Crabtree View all posts by
Dan is Managing Editor for GamerNode and a freelance gaming writer. His dog is pretty great. Check him out on Twitter @DanRCrabtree.

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