Monday, September 26, 2016

VGR Hydrophobia Prophecy

While technically not a survival horror game, it does share a lot elements with the genre, aside from missing the actual "horror".

VGR: Hydrophobia (v.1.0), later known as Hydrophobia: Pure (v.1.1) and finally released as Hydrophobia: Prophecy (v.1.5)

From Dark Energy Digital/Microsoft Studios
Played on PC (Steam)
Also available on Xbox 360 and PS3

Type Survival horror/Action adventure/Metroid-vania/Underwater 3rd Person Action game
Year 2010/11

Let me put all the controversies aside, I will be only reviewing the finale release of the game known as Hydrophobia: Prophecy here, since it's actually the only version you can legally obtain nowadays. Not any of the prior releases of the game which where replaced by subsequent updates.

To give you some perspective on this, the game Hydrophobia had a really rough start.

It was originally released as simply "Hydrophobia" on Xbox Live Arcade back in September 2010. Originally planned as a episodic trilogy, that version had a lot of issues. An update Hydrophobia: Pure followed shortly after, before a finale update called Hydrophobia: Prophecy in 2011 finally brought the game to Steam and PSN and to a much better proper version. It's also the only version available actually, and as close to the original developers Dark Energy Digital intended.

Hydrophobia: Prophecy is a sort of remake/sequel to the original Hydrophobia, released as a free patch and lower-priced title. It did improve a lot of the game but it was already too late to make a good first impression. In a way not unlike the Evil Dead 2 film, retelling the exact same story of the original game up to a point.. before continuing on new elements which would have been part of the 2nd and 3rd episodes of the planned trilogy.

Sadly the studio is no longer active now, with very little chance to explore any of these ideas. So I'm just glad we got to play a much better finished product at all.

I'm not gonna review those older versions of the game since they are not available anymore and I personally never got to try those before they fixed the game.

As the game now stands, the plot tries its best to make us care about these characters and immerse us in this strange world by throwing the player right in the middle of the action.

The story is set in the not-so-distant future, after at "Great Population Flood". We are aboard the Queen of the World, a futuristic city encapsulated in a vessel in the middle of the ocean. The world is divided into even more apparent classes, with rich people living in deluxe cities while the poor struggle in dark wet basements. The rich folk really prospered while the rest of the world is suffering in enclosed spaces.

The game opens at Kate Wilson's apartment, an engineer working on the ship. Suddenly, bombings on the main plaza! Terrorists - the Malthusians - are attacking the streets. They want a return to a more basic and equal society... not caring about the collateral damage they will cause. They plan to murder as many people aboard the city as they can, leaving "Save the World - Kill Yourself" tags behind them.

Kate's goal is to try save herself while helping reestablish order, becoming a reluctant heroine. While her path takes place in parallel to the terrorist attack, both stories finally properly cross at the end.

Hydrophobia is a sort of hybrid survival/action-adventure game.

Most actions can be performed from your standard 3rd person perspective. Kate can climb, do some platform and have shoot outs with the baddies. There's a fairly classic cover system (which wasn't part of the original Hydrophobia release!). She can uses up to 5 types of ammo.

She can also use a hacking device to solve some puzzles via quick minigames. That device can do a ton of things like open doors from a distance, hack security cameras and even reveal some invisible texts on walls!

The gameplay really revolves around interacting with the environment and water. It's all about surviving the situation and reacting to what's going on around. There's some electricity preventing to swim around, you must cut cable chords causing the electrical failure! Walls, doors and windows can be broken to let the water flow around (and even distract or hurt your foes).

The whole place is submerged! It's fun to play around the same segments different ways.

You can use floating furniture to take cover! Take aim at exploding barrels! And use the water to your advantage!

There's also a power Kate obtains really late in game, kinetic powers to play even more with the water physics and overthrow your foes!

In a way the game takes place in an open world environment you unlock bit by bit, you can always go back and explore previous areas!

This game was in development since a really long time, as early as January 2007. Most of the time was spent on the work of the water system. The game was then announced for a March 2009 release, which got pushed farther back. Announced as an episodic game, the first episode was set for Xbox in 2010 first as a retailed release and then as a digital-only title. The game finally came out in 2010 on Xbox Live Arcade, the PC and PS3 versions would follow much later.

The game runs on a custom engine, the HydroEngine. Dark Energy's idea was not to simply make this game but build a whole water tech engine other developers could use. They worked on it for a couple of years. It's a fairly impressive piece of tech, modeling complex flows of water and other liquids entirely dynamic in real time, not just relying on repeated animations. And it can interact with other physics engine allow for even more realistic debris interaction. Sadly Hydrophobia would be the only game to use it to this day.

At release, the game received really bad reviews and harsh criticisms. But developer Dark Energy Digital tried their best answering and taking into account all the negative feedback. They decided to revisit the entire game, free of charge, while the game wasn't even selling much anymore! The entire core gameplay mechanics were completely revamped, they honestly wanted to correct all the issues people had with the game. Hydrophobia: Pure was the first major update to the game ,released in December 2010. It haded a ton of enhancements to the graphics and the physics, better controls specially in action scenes, a new improved camera, new HUD information and a better map system and they even edited entire dialogues and cutscenes! This was made available as a free update to owners of the game, and offered at a reduced price for newcomers.

The second and finale update came in the form of Hydrophobia Prophecy. After these first releases on Xbox 360, the game would also finally be released on PS3 and PC. The team decided to ditch the entire episodic formula and release this semi-update and sequel as a brand new game featuring reworked stages, new levels and gameplay updates. The final part of the game with Kane's kinetic powers really shows how fun this whole water engine could be!

But this was all too little, too late. The game does feel and look slightly dated, kind of reminsicent of classic PSX/PS2 era action/survival horror games. The water effects are gorgeous though. The problem is everything else seems kind of average though.

Hydrophobia Prophecy is fun game that should at least be experimented, just to try playing around this fun water physics engine.

While at the time the game received pretty harsh critics, understandably so, I still find they made a pretty good job all things considered for such a small low-budget title. They outdid themselves with a really impressive dynamic water system.

The game is a bit too short and slightly repetitive, specially when you have to backtrack the entire game near the end. But it was made into a much better product at the end, since the update.

The music was much more of a letdown to me, feeling a bit too generic.

Overall, Hydrophobia Prophecy is a fun game I really recommend giving it a try, Well Worth a Look!

Technically impressive water. Fun to play around and experiment with its dynamic water physics. It does feel a bit repetitive later on. But with the subsequent updates Hydrophobia was ultimately made into a much better final product. It  deserves a look for its water alone, at the very least. They really listened to to gamers, and it shows. 

All in all, it's actually not that bad a game. The water effects are still pretty impressive!

With the last major update they really reworked their entire title and expanded the existing game. It added a lot of additional puzzles, they redesigned levels, they even cast a whole new voice actor for Scoot, they made new, better cutscenes, added more background story and finally gave the game a proper new ending!

I give it:
2 / 3 Quacks!

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