Hydrophobia is the fancy way of saying someone is afraid of water but more than that it is also the name of a forgotten game from 2010. Originally released on the Xbox 360/ PS3 and PC the game has recently been released as the retro release for Games With Gold. However, what is this game and what do you need to know about it?
One of the most important things to remember about this game is that it is at least 12 years old at this point. With this in mind, I am going to try and be as fair as I can in regards to graphics. For the most part, they’re not really very good in regards to character models and the like. However, there is a single saving grace. Let me explain. You see, this game was sold on one very specific aspect and that is the water.
I should probably explain for those not involved heavily in video game design. Water is one of the hardest things to animate due to its fluid nature. The fact that water reacts to every single stimulus and does so across its entire body makes it a nightmare to animate and code. The developer, dark energy digital, designed their own engine, the Hydroengine, to code the water and its reactions. Even today it is fascinating to watch the water move and shift, even if it can be a bit janky on occasion. The water helps to improve the gameplay by being a vital factor in both combat and the puzzles. However, while the physics for it is impressive, the physics for the main characters interactions are a bit off on occasion.
There is a detailed amount of interactions the player can have with the water. It affects more than just where you can go and can have a massive impact on combat and puzzle-solving. This helps to mix things up and can add some strategy to each encounter.
Aside from swimming gameplay is a cover-based shooter with some survival elements. Most of the time players will be exploring the levels, fighting enemies and solving climbing puzzles. It all works, but it isn’t really interesting. The game uses a points system throughout, you get more points when you do more interesting things, but there’s no real point. Combat is functional, you only get one gun so it's limited and once you get all the bullet types it becomes stale really fast. The climbing works well, but the constant gasps of the main character become grating faster than you would think.
The plot is honestly kind of forgettable, but it does what it needs to do to keep the story moving. The concept of a giant ship that is also a city is a good one, but the game never really explores it. There is a cult but really, aside from being meat shields, there is nothing to them. There are some interesting design choices, especially the memory of the sounds of children and panic whenever you’re about to drown. It never really comes to much, but it is a nice touch none although essentially it becomes more of a smoking gun, with water…it is a water gun.
Special mention has to be made to the voice acting because, well because it is awful. Everyone sounds forced and off, including the voice in your ear Scotsman who sounds like someone doing a bad Star Trek Scotty impression. The lead, Kate Wilson, can’t seem to make up her mind if she is American, Irish or something in between. It’s distracting, and it’s no wonder the developers actually cut away a lot of the dialogue when they re-released the game back during its original release.
Now, I know everything I’ve said sounds like you should probably give this one a miss, but hold on. Part of enjoying a hobby is looking back at the past and Hydrophobia has its place in the annals of history. Water in games often did little more than lie there, but games like Hydrophobia helped to implement one of the most underlooked aspects of the world in video games. While the game is repetitive and short, it’s a great game to get for free and it's worth taking a look at a little slice of history.