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Review: Hydrophobia: Prophecy

review-hydrophobia-prophecy

Title: Hydrophobia: Prophecy

Genre: Third-Person Action Adventure

Release Date: Out Now! (PS Network release TBA)

System: PS3/Xbox 360/PC

Format: Digital Distro (PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade, Steam)

 

Hydrophobia: Prophecy is really an experimental title more than anything else. Buyer beware: the techniques used in the game aren’t nearly ready for primetime, but it’s an interesting look at what might be possible in the future with more thorough experimentation and some good ironing out the kinks.

The first thing to note about the game is that it is short. Very short. Don’t expect more than three or four hours out of the game and I will spoil this part for you, the ending is extremely abrupt. There. Now you won’t be so pissed off when it happens. The bigger problem with this is that the vast majority of the game has you going through without the powers so prominently displayed on the cover of the title. Only maybe the last thirty minutes of the game gives you hydrokinetic powers, and to wit, with only thirty minutes left of the game, the powers aren’t used to nearly the potential they could be. The only explanation for this is Dark Energy Studios’ intention (announced I believe) to release additional episodic content for the game, episodes that will actually allow you to exploit the powers more thoroughly. As to when this content will emerge, I wouldn’t hold my breath (har har) on that. Expect it to emerge when it does.

Not that the powers are the sweetest thing in the world, mind you. They do not handle well within the game, being a clunky, slow-to-respond variation of The Force Unleashed’s ability to Force Grip objects and toss them at different points in the environment. Add to that the fact that the game takes place within the corridors of a ship, and there’s not really much room to toss anything in many directions. Still, the fact that you only find this out within the last thirty minutes of the game is probably the worst part, since all the parts before it have you going through the game without those powers and having to rely instead on cover-based shooting. It’s not that I’m not a fan of cover-based shooting, but when it’s as clunky as Hydrophobia’s, it’s hard to love. Cover in the game is handled in the vein of Splinter Cell: Conviction, in that you push a button to enter cover and run away from the wall or push that button again to disengage from it. You can hop from wall to wall and turn corners on your cover, allowing you to fill defensive gaps in your flanks quickly. Shooting is as easy as hitting the right mouse button to aim and the left mouse button to fire. It’s fairly intuitive and simple. Why the hate then?

The controls. They do not respond well. I’ve been trying for days and weeks to fix this problem, turning down settings, killing various processes in the background, even hitting the Steam forums to see if this is a case of some misbegotten instance of FADE copy protection mistakenly engaging on my Steam copy of the game (the game has no copy protection). No avail. Whatever the problem is, it causes an inexcusable delay in control input to action on screen on many sections of the game, taxing your patience heavily as your character blunders into a burning patch of oil, the line of sight of five shotgun armed terrorists or right off the edge into a bottomless pit even though you’ve long since (about two, three, four, maybe more seconds ago) released any movement buttons. This by far kills the fun of the game since the game regularly demands quick decision making inputs from you, especially in the underwater instances where you must swim to find pockets to air to avoid drowning. How is this possible when your controls will lock up on you for a good number of seconds? Not only that, but the game runs on a checkpoint system. Hooray. I die because of a control lock up and the game sees fit to return me to a point two or three minutes back where I can again probably die from a control lock up.

It’s really hard to write these things, because under the hood of the game runs some impressive technology and programming techniques. The whole game is only 1 GB in size, which is unheard of for a game of this amount of dialogue and graphics assets (despite length, there’s a lot of dialogue in here!). Fact of the matter is though that the game employs procedural generation techniques in its graphics assets, allowing it to generate your environment around you not from static files to be loaded from disk, but from mathematical formulas that run and the assets sprout from that. The results are impressive, considering that these are procedurally generated textures and model meshes. While they can’t hold a candle to anything approaching Call of Duty, Crysis, or Half-Life 2 in terms of character or environmental detail, it’s impressive nevertheless. Not to mention that formulas don’t take up nearly the amount of space that image data does. Additionally, the game runs a proprietary hydrodynamics simulation engine, probably the most realistic one seen in a video game ever. Seeing the water roll and slosh as it interacts with the environment is something to see, although most often you will find yourself swimming through it while it threatens to drown you. Unfortunately, on acquiring the hydrokinetic powers, the illusion is broken some by the clunky handling of the water during those sequences– it clearly looks spikey and polygonal instead of the smooth, heavy, substantive and weighty flows you find throughout the rest of the game.

Overall, Hydrophobia is really a look at what procedural gaming could be going towards if more studios put resources into it, but it is by no means any representation of the maturation of such techniques. Expect future titles to display better implementation of said techniques and some much better bug killing, at least in terms of the PC controls. If you’re really feeling the need to pick this up, I heavily suggest investing in the Xbox 360 version, given the times I’ve seen it played at friends’ houses and on YouTube walkthroughs, there is little to no evidence of the same sorts of control lockups I’ve suffered on the PC. Find those YouTube walkthroughs if you don’t believe me– the gameplay looks quite enviably smooth.

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