by Chris Scott
previewed on X360
Over the past 12 months the downloadable space, specifically XBOX Live Arcade, has brought a profound change to the gaming industry. Games like Shadow Complex showed that full length games could be delivered to gamers relatively quickly and cheaply while still remaining financially successful. Developer Dark Energy is hoping that their new game, Hydrophobia, will further expand this market.
Hydrophobia is an action/adventure title that takes place in a near future. The world's population has grown out of control to the point that the rich and powerful have opted to flee the mainland in favor of a super ship called The Queen of the World. Part of the appeal of this ship is that no single state can lay claim on it. On the eve of its 10th anniversary at sea terrorists attack the ship, thrusting a lowly security engine called Kate Wilson into the unwanted role of heroine.
The talented Mrs. Ripley
While talking with Dark Energy Senior Creative Designer Rob Hewson he noted that Kate's personality was modeled after Ripley from the 1979 Ridley Scott film Alien. Much like Ripley, Kate is not a soldier and will have to learn everything on the go which should give a different feel to the gameplay than what is generally the norm. One of the main aspects of Kate as a character is her fear of water, hence the name Hydrophobia, and early in the game Kate will panic when in situations involving water. Her natural survival instinct will kick in which is translated into possible exits out of the water being highlighted. As the game progresses, Kate begins to overcome her fears and eventually will gain power over the water itself, adding a bit of a Sci-Fi element to the otherwise political thriller type story.
As players control Kate, they will be tasked with a variety of choices that will affect the gameplay depending upon whether you succeed or fail tasks. Rob Hewson showed us Kate's attempt to rescue a man trapped in a locked room. Saving him was certainly the goal but failure did not end the game. Failure to rescue him, or even choosing not to, would mean missing out on certain bonus items that could help make parts of the rest of the game less challenging.
These choices are not restricted to just saving people though. Choices on how to proceed in the game will also play into the main element of the game which - of course - means water. Dark Energy has created a specific water physics engine for the game, aptly named the Hydro Engine. With the Hydro Engine, Hydrophobia will be able to present players with unique gameplay opportunities. Coming up on a squad of enemies, the game may offer you a choice to either take them on in a firefight or to flood the compartment. This will certainly alter the dynamic of each playthrough, especially since your choices carry consequence later in the game. Flooding a compartment in one area may make it harder to access another area later in the game as the Hydro Engine will have the water act realistically on the ship.
Coming to an Xbox near you
Hydrophobia looks to combine survival horror, stealth, action and platforming into one full length Xbox Live Arcade title. A few years ago a game of this caliber would have most certainly been granted a full retail release but with the landscape changing as it is, gamers should count themselves lucky that it will be coming out as a downloadable title later this year.