Hydrophobia: Prophecy – The PS3 Attitude Review
Very few games have polarised players quite as much as third-person action/adventure Hydrophobia. Upon its original release in September 2010, Hydrophobia received an exceptionally mixed reception from both critics and gamers alike, with some players praising the title’s huge ambition, and others slating the mediocre voice-acting and clunky controls.
However, rather than move onto something new, Dark Energy Digital did something not many other developers do, and listened to the feedback, whether good or bad. Last week’s PlayStation Store update saw the release of Hydrophobia: Prophecy, a heavily reworked version of the original game, with new sections, numerous changes to the story, and PlayStation Move support.
So, was Dark Energy correct to not give up on Hydrophobia, or was all their effort in vain?
The premise behind Hydrophobia is surprisingly interesting, and very relevant to today’s world. In the mid-21st century, the issues of global warming and overpopulation mean the human race have had to adapt to their changing environment in order to survive. The game is set on a gigantic ship called the Queen of the World, the world’s first floating city.
As the game begins, the ship is attacked by a group of Malthusians; a terrorist organisation that follows the teachings of real-life scholar Thomas Malthus. Malthus predicted that one day the world’s population would expand to a point that the earth’s resources could no longer sustain it, and the Malthusians believe the only answer is the euthanisation of most of the world’s population.
The only person who can stop the Malthusians is Kate Wilson, who, apart from being the most attractive systems engineer ever, also suffers from hydrophobia; the fear of water (it also means rabies, but that’s not really relevant to the game). Unfortunately for Kate, there is a lot of water in this game, so she’ll have to face her fear if she wants to make it through alive.
Overall, we found Hydrophobia’s campaign to be very enjoyable, but unfortunately also shorter than we would have liked; it only takes 2-3 hours to complete. The ending, while vastly improved from the original game, still leaves several unanswered questions, which Dark Energy are no doubt saving for a sequel (the story of Hydrophobia has been planned as a trilogy).
The gameplay is a fairly conventional action/adventure affair, with Kate doing a lot of climbing, swimming, shooting, and a bit of light puzzle solving. The climbing mechanics aren’t as smooth as they could be, but they’re still perfectly playable. However, the game only really allows you to climb on things that let you reach the next waypoint, which makes these sections a little too easy.
You can press left at any time to show you the next waypoint, but this can very occasionally be more confusing than helpful. Every so often, the game will direct you to a waypoint that requires a very specific route to get to, which isn’t immediately clear, and simply an extra waypoint or two would make things much easier.
Hacking various doors and CCTV cameras plays a major part in Hydrophobia, because the Malthusians have somehow locked you out of your own security system. This is achieved by playing a simple but fun minigame (which works very well with the PS Move), and by using the MAVI hacking module to discover the Malthusians’ secret ciphers written on the walls of the ship.
Occasionally, Kate will run into a group of Malthusians patrolling the ship, so she will be forced to use her LP4 pistol to defend herself. This weapon can utilise several different types of ammunition, such as energy rounds or rapid-fire rounds. However, by far the most useful are the default sonic rounds, which are unlimited, and can incapacitate enemies just as well as anything else.
The most effective way to take out any enemies is not to face them head on, but rather to use the environment to your advantage. The Queen of the World is littered with hazards, such as electric cables and boxes, and explosive canisters. Defeating enemies in this way will reward you with a much bigger score than if you just shot them in a more conventional way.
Scattered around the game are various objects and documents that help expand the mythology of the Queen of the World. There are also a plethora of medals to unlock, which are earned by completing various challenges and performing specific kills. Kate also keeps a journal, in which she records her thoughts and feelings at certain points in the story.
Speaking of thoughts and feelings, Dark Energy is still determined to listen to their fans’ comments on Hydrophobia, through the Dev Feedback system. At any point in the game, if you see something you like (or don’t like), you can open the pause menu, choose from a range of categories, and send your reaction directly to the developer; we wish more games would do this!
As mentioned above, Hydrophobia: Prophecy is fully playable with the PlayStation Move motion controller. Developer Dark Energy Digital has made bold statements about many players preferring the Move controls to the DualShock. We were initially sceptical about these claims, but were pleasantly surprised once we actually gave it a try.
As well as being used for aiming and shooting, the Move is also used to control the camera, replacing the right stick of the DualShock; anyone who has played a first-person shooter with the Move will feel at home straight away. For everyone else, it can be slightly difficult to adjust to, but is a revelation once you get used to the way the Move affects the controls.
It is worth remembering that Hydrophobia: Prophecy is a downloadable game, and it therefore has a downloadable game’s budget, and so therefore was never going to look as good as other full-priced action/adventure games on the PlayStation 3. That said, considering it is a downloadable game, it often looks extremely impressive, particularly its dynamic water effects.
The game’s bespoke HydroEngine took three years to develop, and it is easy to see why, because Hydrophobia boasts the most realistically behaving water we’ve ever seen. Shoot a pane of glass that has water behind it, and the liquid will gush into the room, in exactly the way you would expect. Kate’s transitions between swimming and walking through water are also quite impressive.
At its best, the game world that Dark Energy has created looks fantastic, and the amount of detail included increases the believability of that world. However, the worst thing about Hydrophobia’s visuals is probably the design of the characters. Kate herself looks great, but certain other NPCs look downright strange, which is particularly obvious during close-ups.
The sound design is generally decent, with some nice effects and appropriately tense music. The quality of the game’s voice-acting ranges from poor to actually pretty good, and there are a handful of one-liners that are genuinely funny; we just wish it was all more consistent. Kate’s Irish twang also makes for a refreshing change for a playable character in a videogame.
At times, it is easy to forget that Hydrophobia: Prophecy is a PSN game, because it has the scope and ambition of a full-retail title. It is perhaps this fact that makes it easier to look past some of the game’s flaws. It isn’t a perfect game, but the team at Dark Energy Digital should be commended for the amount of time and effort they have clearly put into listening to players’ feedback.
While the story is fairly short, it is very unlikely you’ll be able to discover all of the collectibles and earn all the medals on your first playthrough (unless you use a guide), and there is even an arena-like Challenge Room to play once you’ve completed the main story; you’ll have to complete everything the game has to offer if you intend to earn 100% of the trophies.
PlayStation Plus subscribers can currently download the game for free, and is available at $9.99/£6.29 for everyone else; a ridiculously low price considering the amount of effort involved in creating the game. As we’ve discussed, Hydrophobia: Prophecy isn’t without its flaws, but if you can look past them, you’ll discover one of the most ambitious games ever released on PSN.