I am not fond of swimming in the ocean for one pure reason, I have the fear of not knowing what is at the bottom that can potentially bite me. I can't say that helps in my relating to Hydrophobia, a new XBLA title from Dark Energy Digital in which the games main attraction is the water physics and the fear of drowning. Sadly, the game just leaves you soggy like a bowl of Cap'n Crunch. The story has the main protagonist, Kate, trying to escape the city sized ship called Queen of the World after a group of extremists set off a bunch of explosives to take over the ship. Like the title says Kate is afraid of the water (or rabies since the term can mean both). You don't really get the sense or reason why she is afraid for the entire game which kinda ruins the atmosphere the game tries to set. I found the water physics really interesting but was let down when it didn't quite feel the water was acting like it should. It also got in the way a lot when the very poor shooting mechanics came into play. If the game stayed as a platform puzzler with the emanate danger of drowning, I would have like this game more.
The voice acting was terrible at times with the voice of your guide through the ship and your boss Scoot being the main culprit. It wasn't the Irish accent that got me irked, more so it was the voice didn't match the character it went to. Scoot did win me back with some of the quips he would spout (when putting out a fire to access a door, Scoot whistles the Legend of Zelda reveal sound). Sometimes the audio in the cut scenes would not be in sync and even not show up at all when repeating certain areas countless times much to my frustration.
Control issues were slight with the moving around a little loose causing accidental death. Water physics also played into some of my deaths. Trying to aim at an enemy and dying cause of the water physics nudging just enough to die from an oil barrel is complete garbage. Speaking of oil barrels, there are a lot of them around in areas that they really have no place being on a city sized ship. The way combat is handled is interesting in that you have a gun that can load different ammo take on the enemies in somewhat creative ways. From using sticky ammo that explodes after 10 seconds or with a pull of the trigger a second time, electric ammo, rapid fire ammo, and semi-auto ammo. The stun ammo is the main ammo you will use since it is unlimited. A fully charged shot will knock an enemy on their ass which, if you are in knee high water, can drown them. The issue is that you have to continuously shoot them until they drown otherwise they get back up. I couldn't figure out the amount of time enemies had to be under the water to drown so I just shot them until they died. I wish there was a little more variety in the way to kill enemies since drowning an enemy for the twentieth time got really dull.
Once you complete the game, you unlock a challenge room mode in which you fight waves of enemies in a square room using weapons from the main game as well as something that seems out of place yet wishing I had in the main game, telekinetic powers tied to the water. Although the challenge room was just that, one room, it was interesting to see what direction they are going with this game in future releases. Please oh please let me use telekinesis in the next episode
I am starting to get a little overwhelmed with the episodic games on XBLA that are $15 and Hydrophobia, in my mind, doesn't warrant the price. My experience between the story, repetitive gameplay and generic character design was a mix of bad with a little bit of "wow this is cool." Despite my mixed feelings, I am willing to give the next episode a try to see if they improve on the many things that held Hydrophobia back. Let's hope that it doesn't leave us with the sinking feeling we wasted our money on it again.