You’re presented with a sealed area, and to survive you must solve a few puzzles, jump onto some platforms, and shoot some annoying enemies. The protagonist is a woman. Cool, a new "Tomb Raider" game!
Wait. This one has lots of water, and that doesn’t look like Lara Croft .?.?.
That’s Kate Wilson, the reluctant engineer and lead character of "Hydrophobia - Prophecy," a downloadable game for the PS3. She’s trapped on a cruise ship the size of a city named “Queen of the World.” The ship was built by corporate moguls who have prospered in Hydrophobia’s alternative future by oppressing the lower classes.
Hydrophobia won’t win you over with its story, although it tries hard. It’s cool to see a game developer introduce the philosophies of John Malthus — your enemies are from a group called the Malthusians, who wants to kill everyone of the ship for their decadent sins. Their leader is an evil woman named Mila, who rocks an Eastern European accent.
It’s not terribly original. Mila’s stereotypical megalomania produces eyerolls, but at least Scoot, Kate’s guide, is amusing. His voice-overs are quite well done, far better than I expected from a DLC game. Kate is whiny and helpless, but she’s not a trained adventurer like Lara Croft. At least she can swim.
Which you’ll need to get used to — the game is called Hydrophobia for a reason. One of its draws is its water dynamics; water is central to the gameplay, and affects everything Kate needs to do. Water can grant access to numerous paths to get what you need, which is usually “ciphers,” or digital keys, in hard-to-reach locations. It’s a plausible problem for Kate to face, since the ship is put into lockdown by the Malthusians, Kate’s enemies.
But this novelty wears off quickl. The game turns into a pattern of climb this, find that cipher, shoot those Malthusians. Assuming you know where to go — the game is never explicit in its directions, and resorting to the map is pointless. Both the 2D and 3D versions are slapdash and nauseating. I had far more luck using the yellow hint icon the game provides.
Game-changing elements are introduced at odd times, and left me scratching my head; I didn’t know there was a gun in this game until two and a half hours in at the end of act one. At least the targeting system works well enough on land, though it doesn’t have the precision of "Mass Effect." More importantly, the targeting works equally as well in water combat, which is the real accomplishment.
Ammo is somewhat limited though, so I wound up using the standard plasma rounds. They’re incredibly weak unless you charge the rounds before you shoot, but in Hydrophobia, enemy rushes kill Kate early and often.
Still, these elements get stale, and I’m left wondering why the game is even as long as it is (10 hours). Kate inexplicably gains the power to manipulate water 20 minutes before Hydrophobia ends, and I wonder if that was an afterthought. Why add another level of complexity to a game so close to the finish?
To elongate the experience, and convince you that you’ve gotten more gameplay for your money than you really have.
That’s not to say that "Hydrophobia - Prophecy" is a bad game — it’s not. I actually enjoyed its core gameplay, and its water physics really are impressive. Hydrophobia is between a rock and a hard place: it has a great premise, but the project obviously lacked the funding for a full-length title. It tries hard to be more than what it is, and muddles its charm in the process.
Nevertheless, if you’re a member of PSN Plus on the PS3, "Hydrophobia - Prophecy"is free. Give it a shot, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. As long as you don’t expect it to be a replacement for 'Tomb Raider'.