The fear of water?
Well, not exactly. The fear of water is actually Aquaphobia. Hydrophobia is a colloquialism that often refers to a fear of water, but actually refers to the later stages of the disease Rabies. The sufferer cannot swallow and cannot quench their thirst, and therefore become panicked when confronted with drinkable liquids. An aversion to water would be a better way to describe Hydrophobia.
Whichever meaning you attach to the word, Hydrophobes would find themselves incredibly uncomfortable within this XBLA game from Dark Energy. It is no big secret that the developers have put a huge amount of time and effort into the realistic effects and looks of water within enclosed spaces. So you can take it as read that the water looks damn good in this game. But realistic water does not a good game make, not alone.
We need a story first and foremost. Our hero, Kate Wilson, is an engineer on board a massive ship filled with people. During a party, terrorists attack and Kate is thrown in at the deep end, no pun intended, and charged with saving the day. She is not alone however, and is helped along the way by Scoot, her boss and owner of possibly the worlds worst accent, who guides her via radio.
The main core of the gameplay revolves around moving from one place to the next via corridors and rooms that are constantly under threat of filling with water. This is where Dark Energy have excelled by creating an atmosphere of constant threat which really gets the adrenaline running. Moving along corridors that are rapidly filling with water and trying to find a door before it is too late really raises the anxiety levels. Even watching the water move around is impressive. There may be the odd occasion where the water physics are not quite right, but this is largely overshadowed by the tension of the situation. If you got time to look for problems, then you aren’t moving fast enough.
Kate’s only weapon throughout this disaster is a stun gun of sorts. At its most basic, this can be used to knock out the well armed enemies that she comes across, and hope that they drown in the low water levels. What is more impressive is using the environment to take out the bad guys, such as using electrical boxes to electrify the water they are standing in. But there is not that much variety in these combat situations and the novelty factor soon wears off.
Another tool that is important to Kate is here MAVI, some kind of computer system built into a portable pane of glass. By looking through her MAVI, Kate is able to see things that are undetectable to the naked eye. This is quite fortunate as the terrorists have locked down many parts of the ship and left the keycodes painted onto the wall with invisible ink, or something like that. Using MAVI, Kate is able to follow the clues and get these keys in order to progress. As with the combat, it is quite novel and fun to begin with, but soon becomes slightly monotonous.
In between all of the searching for hidden symbols on the walls, trying to find switches and cunningly causing enemies to die, the player will spend most of their time navigating the water filled corridors by swimming, running and climbing. Once the novelty of the combat and the MAVI have worn off, what is left is an average third-person survival game. The game looks good and I have already mentioned how stunning the water looks. But the gameplay itself is only just average.
Finishing the game, for those that follow the story, will also bring disappointment with the games’ sudden ending. Admittedly, it leads nicely on to the second game in this planned trilogy. But it feels like someone has just hit the stop button part way through the movie, rather than neatly wrapping things up until the next installment.
What seemed to hold a lot of promise in the development stages, actually fails to live up to the hype. It is not a bad game by any means, but it fails to be a good game on so many levels. All hope is not lost, the next game could well be something very special. But for that we will have to wait. I have avoided mentioning the 1200 MSPoints that this game costs, which seems to be rapidly becoming the normal price for arcade games. Is it worth the price? I am not sure. It is fun, but not 1200MSPoints worth of fun.