Hydrophobia is the unnatural fear of water. Dark Energy Digital, the developers behind Hydrophobia on the Xbox Live Arcade, play off of that fear by putting players smack dab in the middle of a sinking ship. Rushing water, flooded rooms, falling ceilings and flaming elevators are only a few of the obstacles players will face in the game. Hydrophobia won’t let you catch your breath as you explore its environments; it’s a fast-paced, “something is always happening” survival-action game.
Stripped away of its atmosphere and story, Hydrophobia is a basic action game that, at times, brings back fond memories of Shadow Complex. The overall environment takes on many different characteristics as Shadow Complex, but it’s the constant sense of panic and dread that sets it apart.
Hydrophobia takes place on a huge city-sized ship called the Queen of the World. A terrorist group, known as the Malthusians, directs an attack on the ship to and thus begins the watery descent into the deep dark blue for the Queen. Over the course of the game, each area will react to the increasing water differently. Each environment -- and I mean each and everyone of them -- has an unique personality; it's almost as if they take the form of a living creature. Players are constantly fighting against the obstacles set before them as they attempt to not only find out what’s going on, but also try to save themselves.
The environment is not your only enemy; those pesky terrorists show up from time to time to initiate gun showdowns. Again, the environment plays a huge role in this as players can use it to their advantage by shooting explosive barrels, electrical boxes and gas leaks. The standout kill came by way of shooting an enemy while in deep water to watch him fall into the water and begin to drown in the water above.
There are also all sorts of fun gadgets to play with, since the main character, Kate Wilson, is a systems engineer, who reluctantly takes on the role of the hero of the game. Kate is terrified as the ship is falling apart all around her, but adrenaline and the aid of her partner help get her through the harsh times.
The game does not come without its faults though, such as annoying controls, and poor direction. The controls were at times, frustrating and would punish you for their lack of precision. For a game that has the player maneuvering the character through a lot of swimming obstacles, I would have expected more fluid controls with less collision issues. Also, can I just say how much I hate that jump is mapped to the Y button? Since when is Y an action button? It's also incredibly annoying to pick up a document or an item and instantly be pulled into the menu screen. A little notification that I picked up an object with an option to view it would've sufficed. The fact that it pulls me into the menu every time does a great job of taking the player out of the action and is a constant reminder that all in all, this is just a video game that wants me to pick and up and read everything.
Another indiscretion with the direction of Hydrophobia is the focus of backtracking. Players will find themselves backtracking a lot just trying to figure out where the game wants you to go next. Sometimes an arrow or objective marker will pop up, but those seem to be rare instances.
Don’t be expecting anything groundbreaking with Hydrophobia. Although, I mildly enjoyed myself while playing through this game, the annoying control scheme and rather standard gameplay leaves me feeling like the game has a little more potential than what was tapped into. All in all, with those issues aside, Hydrophobia is a fun survival-action game with tons of environmental variables that will help when you start feeling like things are getting too repetitive.