The "Neo-Malthusians" are hell bent on murdering as many of the ship's denizens as possible to do their part in controlling overpopulation. Protagonist Kate Wilson is the only one in a position to stop them but ... wait for it ... she's just an engineer. (Yes, it's all very "Seagal in Under Siege.") Room after room is filled with at least some amount of water, which is a real issue for the game's unwitting hero who is, as the game's name hints, afraid of water.
Sure, it's unconventional, but I actually really like the premise for Hydrophobia. The game? Not as much.
With Kate's boss "Scoot" guiding your progress over the radio, you're tasked with trudging (and often swimming) through room after room of nearly identical enemies, who are far better equipped than you for their job (their job is still murdering, by the way). This means being shot to death. Often.
Instead of real murder-type guns, Kate is equipped with an energy pistol that shatters, say, conveniently placed glass walls holding several hundred gallons of water next to an enemy. Using the environment to kill Malthusians is the central combat conceit of Hydrophobia, but it's not always an effective one.
For example, if an enemy is shot once by your energy gun, he'll collapse to the ground and be submersed in water -- sometimes he'll survive it and sometimes he won't. I shot guys in various levels of water and couldn't determine a standard for when their drop would be fatal or not. And if they're not near environmental hazards, your success becomes even murkier.
The water isn't even as impressive as you might expect. Though impressive rolling waves washed me from side to side, opening doors to dry rooms didn't change the water levels realistically, which means you can't necessarily expect waves to rush in from one room to put out a fire in another, for example. Normally, that might be a niggling complaint, but in a corridor-based game where drowning is a regular possibility, that really matters. At least guiding Kate under the water was relatively easy, as was expending bullets into swimming terrorists (because what's more terrifying than a doggie-paddling Neo-Malthusian?).
As the cliffhanger ending will attest, Hydrophobia is planned as a trilogy and -- even though this first outing is an interesting proof-of-concept that never quite shakes out -- it's one that I'm still interested in following. I hope Dark Energy Digital will make a more fully realized game that lives up to its premise next time around.
This review is based on final Xbox 360 code of Hydrophobia provided by Dark Energy Digital.