The creaking, groaning hull of the Queen of the World hides levels that take their cues from Dead Space. Lights flicker on and off as water drip-drips down into cable gullies, and bloodied bodies litter the gantries to signify nearby terrorists. The world possesses the same fidelity as EA’s sci-fi shooter, only it’s obviously not as far-flung into the future. Dead Space deals in holograms, Hydrophobia in flexi-screens – real technology being developed today. Flexible, extendable screens with light-blue writing double for signage all over the ship, immediately evoking echoes of Dead Space’s artistry.
Even Isaac’s inventory system is duplicated in some form. Kate owns a roll of film called a Mobile Automated Visual Interface (MAVI for short) which has multiple real-time uses, two of which include a Detective Vision mode a la Batman: Arkham Asylum, and the ability to hack into camera systems and then remotely open doors, flooding enemy-fortified hallways with massive walls of water.
In terms of atmosphere, the levels are also Dead Space through and through, but to navigate them, Kate will need to leap, roll and grab like a chimpanzee pumped full of Gatorade. Luckily, she’s put the time in at the gym, and is as nimble an explorer as a certain Lady Croft. She jumps on pipes, shimmies along ledges and scales shafts with barely a hand-hold to help her along, dodging steam blasts and falling debris along the way. The environment is every bit as deadly as the terrorists are, but with just a little foresight, it’s possible to turn Kate’s surroundings against her foes.
The shift from retail release to download-only resulted in some unexpected effects. For one, Dark Energy Digital has had to write scoring systems into Hydrophobia to better facilitate online leaderboards. Episode one is split into three distinct acts, and at each interval players are awarded a score for the previous chapter. Completion time, accuracy, health, environmental takedowns and stealth all play a part, so perfectionists will find plenty of replay value.
Collectibles also factor in the score. In one early room, Kate needs to dive underwater to progress, but if she instead leaps over the water pool and then climbs up a blazing elevator shaft, she’ll encounter the body of Malthusian Marcus. By his hand is a suicide note referencing ship worker Aaron. The pick-up is added to the final Act score but, more than that, it underlines an early subplot. Emails between Aaron and Marcus are among the first snippets of correspondence you’ll discover (you can even influence other characters' behaviors by replying to their messages later on), but if you fail to locate this secret room from the onset, their storyline will never be complete.
Of all the meta-challenges that Dark Energy Digital has written into the story, the most interesting are the wildcard events. Awarded for expert play, they involve locating shortcuts throughout the game. Find yourself in a flooding corridor and you might need to turn valves and open escape hatches to continue. However, astute gamers needn’t find themselves in that situation. Stroll into a corridor with alarms blazing and hatches bursting and there’s a second option: sprint towards the closing flood door, dodge the water jets and roll under the shutters before they close. The move shaves valuable time off your journey and earns you a wad of wildcard points.
Of course, there’s every chance you’ll miss these first time round. First-time paths will take you through wetter territories, where waves need to be battled against and manipulated to push forward. Hardly simple when Kate’s fear of water comes into play, but to find out more, we’re afraid you’ll have to wait until our next preview...
Sep 21, 2009