by Ben Lelievre
previewed on X360
A story already in every gamer's mind...
Who here is scared of deep waters? I sure am. And who here loves to be afraid? I sure do. Dark Energy Digital, recognized for its many successful pool and snooker titles, rises to the challenge of offering a thrilling, water-filled experience with their upcoming game Hydrophobia. An episodic digital release schedule is planned for XBOX Live with Playstation Network and Steam set to follow later.
It is a common occurrence to see a dozen “me too” games borrow a premise from a groundbreaking game and make it their own. Hydrophobia is no different and it is almost impossible to mention the game without referring to Bioshock 1 and 2. Like Bioshock, Hydrophobia uses the environment – and more particularly ‘water’ - as a decisive factor during gameplay. That does not mean that we’re dealing with a blatant copy though, Dark Energy Digital seems to be doing a lot of things right.
The storyline takes the player forward in time to the 21st century. Mankind has buckled under the weight of over population and descended into chaos. Some people have fled onto a city-sized ship called the Queen of the World, built by mythical corporate giants universally known as The Five Founding Fathers. The game starts at the heart of the conflict that opposes the passengers of the Queen Of The World to the Malthusians, a terrorist group named after Thomas Maltus, who predicted that the uncontrolled population growth would cause the destruction of civilization. The Malthusians attack the Queen Of The World and you are thrown in the middle of this conflict as protagonist Kate Wilson, a system engineer forced into heroic duties as the Malthusians crawl over the ship with murderous deeds.
A fresh breath...of water!
If you have played Bioshock, some settings will look very familiar. Underwater locales, half-way drowned. Water leaks, dark hallways and broken up machineries are part of Kate Wilson's nightmare. Yet the feeling left by Hydrophobia is completely different than its successful model Bioshock. There are many details that breathe a life of its own into the game. This starts by being using a Third Person perspective rather than that of Bioshock’s First Person perspective. In addition, the protagonist Kate is not a well-armed anonymous plane crash survivor but a scientist that wants out of the situation. She'll have to explore the corners of the Queen Of The World and avoid the Malthusians wherever possible.
Walking the devastated Queen Of The World is an experiment in itself. The once comfortable and reassuring oversized life raft is transformed into a place more hostile than the sea itself thanks to the invasion of the Malthusians. They have taken over the ship and are bombing its survivors with their motto: ''Save The World – Kill Yourself'' that they write on every wall and program in a loop on every computer. The passengers of the Queen Of The World are suffering a military take-over from demented extremism that are hell-bent on eliminating every trace of mankind left on the globe. The art team from Dark Energy Digital have re-created the oppressive feeling of a terrorist attack with stunning accuracy.
The machine behind the boat...
Hydrophobia has been developed with an engine that has been built for it. Dark Energy Digital has worked on their engine for three years to allow believable effects like for instance flowing liquids that don’t just loop repeatedly. The water has different effects and responds to you zig-zagging through the liquid. To further enhance the sense of realism, the often used Havok physics engine will permit different kind of debris to float around your protagonist.
The artistic preoccupations of Hydrophobia are centered around the idea of creating a suffocating experience with the use of an oppressive climate and realistic use of water as an enemy and an obstacle to Kate Wilson's survival. It feels right for fans of the survival horror genre, an audience known as story-centric animals.
Worth keeping an eye on?
There is no date yet for the release of Hydrophobia. Despite the borrowed premise, allow me to feel really enthusiastic for this new and refreshing approach to adventure games. The episodic delivery makes for more focus on the storyline and should result into an ever building anticipation of Kate Wilson's adventure. Dark Energy Digitals are getting it. Marketing a game is all about the anticipation factor you create. There is hype for Hydrophobia and I for one am buying into that, for good reason.