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e3 2010

We Get Our Feet Wet In Hydrophobia

by Jeff Cork on Jun 15, 2010 at 06:16 PM

Dark Energy Digital's water-infused action game Hydrophobia was playable at Microsoft's booth, and we couldn't pass on a chance to see how it was. The game, originally planned for a release on PCs and the PS3, is now an Xbox Live Exclusive. It's part of a trilogy, Dark Energy Digital says, and each chunk should take about six hours or so to complete.

The game is set in the 21st century, in a world that's dangerously overpopulated. Two factions have emerged, with differing ideas on how to deal with the crisis as resources become scarce. One believes that humanity needs to trim its numbers, while the other takes the more optimistic view that science holds the answers. As part of that idea, the latter group built a floating city, the Queen of the World, and set sail to find a breakthrough to help the human race.

We start with Kate Wilson in her apartment as she watches the residents of the ship celebrate its 10th anniversary. Terrorists ruin the party with a series of explosions and an ominous broadcast that simply says, "Save the world. Kill yourself." Once the hull has been breached, water streams into the ship's lower levels, wreaking havoc on it.

The water effects are stunning. Water is beautifully rendered, and more importantly, it behaves like actual fluid. In one early section Kate opens a door to a room that's slightly flooded. The water is only a few inches high at that time, and it pours into the now-open door in a liquid sheet. Of course, as Kate proceeds in the game she faces far more dramatic effects, such as hallways with gushing torrents and flooded passageways.

The terrorists are well armed and have to be avoided at first. Eventually we got a gun in our demo, but it fired off relatively harmless sonic rounds. They could stun enemies, but weren't fatal. That is, they weren't fatal alone. Knock an enemy into the water and he's likely to drown while he's out. Or, if you're feeling more destructive, you can roll an explosive barrel toward a terrorist with a series of short pulses before detonating it with a charged shot. The resulting explosion can be fatal, or it could blast open a door, releasing a wall of water.

Kate can hack doors through a pattern-matching minigame. It's a great skill to have, considering how the terrorists have locked much of the Queen of the World during their attack. She'll have to rely on her athletic skills to climb rails and ruined areas when a simple door doesn't do the trick.

Aside from the amazing water effects, Hydrophobia looks like a solid action game. Games that have a lot of swimming face control challenges, and Hydrophobia is no different. Navigating through flooded passageways can be tricky, and knowing that you're running out of air adds to the tension. When she's not being soaked, Kate handles well, ably jumping onto ledges and using weapons.

Hydrophobia has been in development for about five years now, and it's nice to see that the results of that process are a lot of fun. Developers like to brag on their water effects, but Dark Energy Digital has a real reason to be proud. If the rest of the game is as solid as the promising portion we played, we have a lot to look forward to.