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Hydrophobia – hands-on

A massive population explosion has forced civilization into crafting ships the size of entire cities to house the overflow of people unable to be supported on land. Hydrophobia takes place on one of these floating cities called Queen of the World, but it seems the plan for a calm and peaceful existence has sprung a few leaks. Kate Wilson, an engineer on the ship, is deathly afraid of water yet agreed to live on the floating behemoth amidst promises that she wouldn’t ever have to get near it. Unluckily for her, that was before a terrorist group hell-bent on reducing the human population attacked the big old Queenie in hopes of sinking the metal beast and everyone on it. Now it’s time to swim or die.

Kate starts outterrified of the water that comes thundering in around her at numerous moments in the game. As you progress, she eventually adapts and grows more comfortable in the flooded sections of the city, eventually realizing she has some kind of freaky inherent superhuman powers to manipulate the stuff in order to solve puzzles and take out enemies.

The early stretch of Hydrophobia’s third-person action adventure gameplay we were able to check out focused mainly on exploration and problem solving. We found ourselves climbing around pipes and rafters to escape explosions and fiery hallways, hacking doors to access documents and escape dangerous areas, and running (and swimming) like hell during the intense moments when jets of water came crashing through the hull to nearly choke the air from our lungs. Eerily spot-on water effects driven by a powerful physics engine make the omnipresent threat of drowning feel very real. Water often splashes onto the camera and flows about freely, making the wetter portions of the experience extremely realistic.

Water isn’t the only danger you’ll face either. We burned to death, fell to our doom, and were also shot a few times. Our demo session wound down just as we encountered several terrorists and were able to pick up our first firearm. Numerous weapons will be available in the game, and we’re told there’s a solid combat and cover system that kicks in a little ways in.

Hydrophobia is expected to run somewhere around the five-to-six hour mark and have various opportunities to roam off the beaten path and collect secrets. What we saw of it left us impressed and wanting to dig deeper into the game. For a downloadable Xbox Live exclusive, this game is shaping up to be something truly unique and more than a little nerve-wracking.

Apr 14, 2010