Hands-On Preview: Water, water everywhere
Dark Energy Digital finally shed some light on their new game, Hydrophobia, which was playable on the show floor at PAX East this past weekend. Scheduled to come out this Summer on Xbox Live Arcade, this third-person action-adventure game will be the first published using their hand-built HydroEngine, which boasts totally unique situations through application of water physics. Exact release date and pricing are unknown as of yet, but the price range will be in the arcade's upper tier, merited by the game's robustness. I was able to meet up with Rob Hewson, Senior Creative Designer, to get the full scoop on this revolutionary game.
Hydrophobia's plot is set in a future in which immense overpopulation has sparked Malthusian politics. Extremists have taken these theories a step further, and terrorists now pass along their dark message: ?Save the World - Kill Yourself.? The rich and powerful live on the ?Queen of the World,? a ship the size of a city, which also serves as the setting for the story. Much is revealed in the back story, including details about Nanocell, the creators of ?Queen of the World,? who promised to solve the world's population problems.
The main character, Kate, is an engineer on the great ship. She has only one gun as her weapon, but upgrades are available throughout the game. Kate herself also undergoes changes throughout the game ? initially unsure of herself and fearful of the water threatening her at every turn, she matures and changes, finally gaining the power to control the water and use it to her advantage. The water itself showcases the true sweat of the Dark Energy Digital team, showing off their new HydroEngine with the incredible dynamic behavior of the water in each and every scene. As a room fills with water, opening a door pours that water into the next room, and each time the water behaves differently than before. This fluid behavior also applies to items like oil ? shooting a barrel near an enemy pours the oil out, moving oil and fire differently each time.
The gameplay features both a cover and stealth system and also promises some intense underwater combat scenes. The small amount I was able to play was equal parts climbing, jumping, and swimming. Despite my inexperience with the Xbox 360 controller, I found the platforming to be incredibly intuitive. The mood was dark and tense ? the chief engineer is trapped, and Kate has to find a way to free him. If she fails, she doesn't get a second chance ? the game continues, but the storyline will be different without his character in it. Ambitious and exciting for a game coming out in the arcade, it offers at least 7 hours of gameplay for those who just power through, yet if played out in its entirety, will last even longer and satisfy the collectors and completionists.
After playing the game myself, I asked Rob if they had planned to make a game for the arcade, or if the original goal was to make a full retail game. He explained that while working on the game and making changes to it, he noticed how tiny the file was, and realized they had created something that potentially could allow them to make a full-scale game that could be delivered digitally while not taking up a lot of room. This is a huge plus for gamers like me ? we who fill up hard drives seemingly overnight. Another factor, of course, is that with today's economy, keeping the games cheaper is always a plus.