Welcome to the Queen of the World. A city sized ship designed to deal with over population by providing housing for the excess populace. You take control of Kate Wilson, an engineer aboard the ship. When answering a routine maintenance call Kate is forced into a fight for survival as terrorists attack the vessel. These terrorists call themselves the Malthusians and they believe the solution to over population is to kill as many people as possible, starting with those aboard the Queen of the World. However the terrorists are the least of Kate’s worries. The attacks have created deadly hazards aboard the ship. It’s now your job to navigate her through flooded decks, electrical fires, and terrorist gunfire in an effort to put a stop to the Malthusians mass murder.
This is Hydrophobia, a survival-adventure game developed by Dark Energy Digital. Hydrophobia features a water physics engine that far surpasses any water engine I’ve seen to date. Water advances and recedes, evening out or sloshing around. Waves form in the wake of explosions and objects are pushed and pulled as the current changes. It’s even more amazing when all of this occurs in real-time. Be it when you’re traversing the ships many corridors or engaging in a heated firefight, water constantly changes around you.
In Hydrophobia water does more than look pretty. It has an active role in a number of gameplay elements. While I was navigating the ship there was a constant sense of urgency as each room I entered could flood at any moment. In one such instance I was walking through a narrow corridor when all of a sudden the doors along the walls burst open and water started pouring into the room. As the water quickly rose an emergency door at the end of the hall slowly closed. I had to react quickly. I made a mad dash for the door, quickly rolling under it as it shut behind me. This wasn’t a QTE event. I had full control of Kate and I was told that if I didn’t make it to the door I would have been trapped in the flooded corridor. The added variable of water effectively changes the tedium I usually expect from exploration. It forced me to adapt and react quickly to an unstable environment.
Water does more than change exploration. In combat it can be a deciding factor. In another corridor I was facing off against a small group of terrorists. They were dug in pretty deep at the end of the hall and their automatic weapons far surpassed my dinky pistol. To turn this situation to my favor I decided to add water to the equation. I shot out a window and water quickly filled the corridor, stopping at about waist height. Explosive barrels began to float towards enemy cover, granting me a few explosive kills. But it doesn’t end there. Flaming oil thrown from the barrels floated on the surface of the water. Some of it floated behind enemy cover, effectively driving them out of their hidey-holes and into my bullets.
Diving underwater also allows you to move from cover to cover without the fear of being shot en route. Surprisingly the enemies will use this tactic against you as well. I watched as one of them dove below the water in an attempt to position himself behind me. When this happened I became aware of the double edged sword that water was in combat. Though it offers you many benefits this doesn’t mean those benefits are exclusive to you. The enemies will also take advantage of water in their efforts to kill you.
While I was impressed by the possible implications of water in combat and exploration I was left with one concern. As you should have probably noticed I mention "corridors" quite often. That’s because corridors is what most of the floor demo consisted of. I know the argument can be made that maintenance corridors in a ship are bound to look the same. Still I’m hoping they take advantage of the city sized ship by expanding outside of its inner corridors and perhaps taking some of the action out on the deck.
When I finally stepped away from the booth I had to remind myself that what I had just played was a downloadable title. It baffled me. First I couldn’t believe they managed to cram this graphically impressive game into a download. Second I couldn’t believe they didn’t think of making a full fledged disc game. With that extra room I can only imagine how much better the game could have looked. Disc or not I’m sure Dark Energy Digital could really change the way we look at water physics with Hydrophobia.