A look to the past, Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

A look to the past, Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

In honor of one of my favorite games being named the 00s era game of the decade by gamefaqs.com (if by a slim margin) I will be taking a look back at a game that was, once, one of the most underrated Legend of Zelda games, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask.

It's so angry!

Released in the year 2000 for N64, and rereleased in mid-2009 for the Wii Virtual Console (only 1000 points ~ 10 dollars), Majora’s mask takes place immediately following the events of Ocarina of Time(OOT), a rare bit of continuity for the Zelda series. In fact, Majora’s Mask is radically different from most other Zelda games (Wind Fish not included). Skip ahead to avoid a few spoilers, but besides Link and the Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask lacks the common features of most Zelda games. There’s no princess to save, Link is in Termina, not Hyrule, and the evil overlord isn’t even Gannon, instead the role falls to some unnamed child who stole a mask. There aren’t even eight proper dungeons to defeat, only four (Though there are four other kinda dungeons…never mind). This drastic uniqueness, despite its criticisms, is what makes Majora’s Mask one of the most fun Zelda games I have played.

By our powers combined!

I suppose only having 4 dungeons is warranted since Link only has 3 days to save the world before the angry moon crashes into Clock Town, destroying pretty much everything, by summoning the four giants trapped by the evil magic of the evil Majora’s Mask. Yes, he has the magical Ocarina of Time that lets him go back to the beginning of the 72 hours, but that’s beside the point. At its heart, Majora’s Mask is still very much a Zelda game, taking many of the enemy models straight from OOT. You swing your sword, shoot arrows, and generally kill things, at least when you are in human form. Thanks to the Happy Mask Salesman and the Skull Kid (the evil guy who wants to crash the moon into the world), Link gains three form changing masks that morph his body into one of the three prevalent races of Termina, Zora, Goron, and Deku. Each racial form gives Link different powers and weaknesses, like hopping on water and drowning that he will need to face the dungeons looming in the future. And the mask theme continues on as Link must collect masks that, while a couple are very useful, don’t amount to more than a few heart pieces or another mask. But if he collects them all then you get the overpowered Fierce Deity mask for the final battle. It is totally worth it.

The guy at the top looks kinda familiar...

Over the course of the game, you are constantly reminded of the three day time limit as a large clock at the bottom of the screen quickly counts down the hours until ultimate destruction. While the gameplay is mostly standard Zelda faire, the clock allows Majora’s Mask to have an unprecedented storytelling instrument that has not been seen in a game since. Before someone claims that Dead Rising did it too, it didn’t. Dead Rising (DR) is pedestrian at best compared to Majora’s Mask. DR gives you hours to complete generic task that are otherwise static and unchanging within the timespan. Majora’s Mask, on the other hand, features and entirely scripted world in sync with the movement of the hands of the clock. You can know exactly where the Postman is, down to the square of tile, based on the time of day. There is one quest line in the game (The missing son Kafei) that has a few very specific timed events that must be completed to successfully finish the quest in its entirety. Miss one or do too much and you have to start over. The rest of the people and Clock Town also change from day to day, reflecting on and discussing the growing moon in the sky. Without any interference from Link these people would continue the same paths until the end of time, which is, coincidentally, a few days away.

Any one else remember "green"?

Graphics wise, Majora’s Mask was pretty sweet back in the day.  That was top of the line for the N64, you even had to buy upgrades for your console to even play it, a price well paid for a few Assassin’s Creed-esque landscapes the game had in store.  Back in the day when a $20 add-on was a big deal, before the plastic instrument of Guitar Hero took off.  Granted there wasn’t bloom lighting back then to hide the polygons, but those were better days when there were more colors than brown and gunmetal gray.  Majora’s Mask was state of the art when it came out and, despite the elitist standards of today, looked and still looks pretty dang good.

If you have never played The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask and own an N64 or a Wii, now would be the perfect time to pick up a copy and spend a few days away from the princess, especially in the after Christmas lull of new video games. You will not be disappointed.

Some things never change.

Xbox Kinect

Project Natal AKA Xbox Wii60

I can't let you do that, Dave.

If you were one of the few boys and girls who were able to get their hands on an Xbox Kinect this Christmas season feel joyful that you didn’t have to shell out the 150 dollars to turn your Xbox 360 into an Xbox Wii60. I’m not saying that the Wii is superior in every way to the Kinect…oh wait, I am. Over the past few weeks I was granted the opportunity to experience the Xbox Kinect and, frankly, I was unimpressed. Before details are gotten into, I’d like to issue a brief disclaimer: I did not buy a Kinect, instead I spent many hours playing with the demo version at my local Best Buy. This may have colored my experience a tad, but I probably did more to move Kinects in those 3 days than did any of the salesmen people men. That being said, let’s carry on.

What am I supposed to throw down in rage now?

As far as my Kinect adventures went, I was only able to play a single game, with six subgames, Kinect sports. KSports, as I shall refer to it from henceforth, is the direct analog of Wii Sports, being that they are the exact same game, one being slightly shinier than the other. KSports features fun and innovative games like Bowling, Boxing, Volleyball, Track and Field, Ping Pong, and Soccer. Whatever happened to Baseball and Golf I’ll never know. KSports is a game, I hope anyway, designed to display the capabilities of the Kinect. Yes, it should be fun, but it is there to show what exactly the contraption can do. Wii Sports is, mechanically speaking, the best game available for the Wii. If you are a Wii owner and anyone ever complains about the Wii’s “Terrible motion controls” pop in your copy of Wii Sports to correct them and tell them to take it to the independent developer next time rather than the solid hardware. The minigames in Wii Sports simply work leaving all failure squarely on the fault of the player, which I suppose is good for this type of thing.

If only it worked that well, lefty.

KSports, however, did not leave me with such a feeling of hardware competency. Take bowling for example, simple, right? Grab a ball, throw it at some pins and hope they all fall down. Unlike actual bowling, throwing a virtual ball is often a lot easier and makes us forget how terrible we really are at the sport. Sadly, though, the Kinect fails to mimic this fine activity, demonstrating one of its many flaws. While the KSports bowling is fun there is one flaw that, at first, may not seem like much, but you can’t put spin on the ball when you throw it. At first this doesn’t seem like much but, for one, it shows the limited nature of the Kinect in that it lacks the ability to see fine detail, like the Wii can, and that you can not accidentally put spin on the ball. After that I scored a perfect game by standing perfectly still raising my clenched fist behind me then swinging it straight forward. Strike every time. There was an old man who was very impressed and bought one soon after. What does this mean for the Kinect overall? I means that it can’t do anything overly complicated with it, which is probably why golf was removed, and that the Kinect will be forever bound to the realm of awkward dancing machinations.

 

Because I play in a bright green room, too.

After that I tried my hand, ironically enough, at a game of soccer. And by soccer I mean some kind of crazy Russian dance. Any actual skill or expertise you have with Soccer is pointless in this arena where the game is determined by moving your feet in one of the (up to 3) directions allowed or, as is the entirety of the volleyball game, block the ball with your hands, as the goalie of course. It doesn’t actually matter which how you move your feet when playing, only that you do move and hope the ball goes in a direction you wanted. This flaw falls squarely on the Kinect this time. After a few failed games I went into the settings and discovered that the Kinect was unable to recognize my feet and head at the same time, regardless of how far away I stood. If i was too close the camera wasn’t big enough and if I was too far it couldn’t decide where my head was. Obviously, the Kinect could use a few more dots for articulation, but alas, ’tis a bit late for that. Just hope that the ball doesn’t get close enough to put you in goalie mode, because they will score. The Kinect is painfully slow at recognizing well…pretty much anything and this is nowhere as obvious as when you are goal tending. Wanted to block that kick? Shoulda started moving before they kicked it. This happens in Volleyball and Ping Pong, but since waving your hands around is the main function of the game the timing becomes easier to predict, assuming it wants to register anything at all. The Wii was at least pretty responsive, years ahead of the Kinect.

Every. Single. Time.

Next on the list is Boxing. I don’t actually have anything bad to say about Boxing. It was pretty fun but still suffered from many of the same problems as the others, but least notably. And Track and Field? No idea what I was supposed to do. No instructions were given. I think I was supposed to run or something. Overall, anyone who wants a Wii either already has one or isn’t going to shell out the money for a Kinect, which is not significantly cheaper than an entire Wii console. The Wii, now four years old, got it right on day one and the Kinect and the PlayStation move are just cheap attempts to earn some more money by Microsoft and Sony. I haven’t had a chance to mess with the voice control features, but from what I’ve heard it is cool but not enough of a redeeming feature to save the Kinect. My final thought: Don’t give Microsoft more money, give the Wii some love again and maybe they’ll release another Zelda game.

They mad.

Extra Credit: If you want some more insightful commentary on the Kinect and Move in relation to the Wii, check out this episode of Extra Credits over at the escapist, right below Yahtzee.

League of Legends aka LOL DOTA

League of Legends aka LOL DOTA


Recently, I’ve been playing a lot of a little game called League of Legends. It has been around since late 2009 but recently LoL (the official term) has been picking up steam recently. I mean c’mon, with competitive matches as exciting as this who wouldn’t want to play?

Actually actual gameplay

Anyway, League of Legends from the classic DotA mod for Warcraft III (those of you familiar with DotA gameplay should feel free to skip the following paragraph). For those of you who don’t know, DotA (Defense of the Ancients) featured five on five teams each working, for no particular reason, to destroy the other team’s Nexus, the magical building which protects/powers their item shop. The Nexus also spawns minions, AI controlled chump units, which march endlessly in waves toward the other side of the map attacking everything that gets in their way. The minions walk down one of three lanes protected by powerful turrets which must be destroyed through player intervention for minions to proceed further forward. Players (referred to as Summoners in LoL) choose champions with which to attack the other team, each with their own set of unique abilities and attributes, and advance by earning XP (leveling) and gold (to buy items) by killing stuff, including player, minions and turrets. Simple enough but, apparently, this was fun enough and a big enough deal that developers Riot Games, of which several members were contributors to the original DotA, decided it needed to be its own standalone game. And thus, League of Legends was born.

Look at thost huge...harpstrings...

Not a whole lot has changed from the original formula.  The graphics have been heavily updated and new generation of champions has been hand crafted for the newest incarnation, but not a whole lot needed to change, it’s pretty fun as is, at least once you find a champion that fits how you want to play the game, and with over 60 different champions to choose from there is most certainly one for you (personally I prefer Sona). You can be pushy, you can be sneaky, you can be defensive, you can be whatever you want, a touch of variety that was somewhat lacking in DotA.

There is one problem though: It is solely a multiplayer game. This means that you will have to venture out into the dark depths of THE INTERNET! Honestly, though, the LoL community is pretty cool. While, on occasion, some serious trolling does occur it is very rare. It also offers incentive to not rage-quit in the middle of a game, forever branding you a leaver if you do. Light, but enough to keep people in the game to the bitter end, which can very often turn around quickly. One suggestion that should be taken to heart by new players is that it is usually best to play with people you know (making use of the refer a friend) as, is often the case with internet games, random teams formed in the spur of the moment fail to mesh well most of the time and can lead to a bad time. A few people who are at least comfortable enough to yell at each other and give advice as needed can really improve the quality of the game. Personally, I prefer not to play with a team entirely of internet people, but that’s because I’m better than them.

It israther tempting

Though, the price you pay is worth a little bit of noobish-ness. Did I mention that League of Legends is free to play? 100% free. The catch: You can only pick champions from a pool of 10 champions that rotates weekly, at least until you either give them money or play enough to earn enough IP (figure out what it stands for) to unlock a champion of your choice. The upside to this is that you should, at the very least, get a good experience with a variety of champions to find one that fits you. Also available if you give in and purchase Riot Points with real world money, you can purchase purely cosmetic skins which, while looking cool/funny, don’t really do anything but are a nice aesthetic touch.

As far as free games go, LoL is pretty good. Yes, the out of game menus can be slightly unwieldy at times but the in game substance makes up for the mild inconvenience. If you’re looking for 40-50 minutes to kill, there are few better alternatives I can think of than a game of LoL. It is available for download here and, internet connection pending, you should be ready to play in 30 minutes or so. Remember, champions rotate every Monday, so start playing now to get the best of the week’s offerings.

ULTIMATE BADASSES

Poker Night at the Winventory

Poker Night at the Inventory

New from Telltale Games is the point-and-click-action-adventure-first-person-RPG Poker Night at the Inventory. OK, so it’s really just a game of Texas Hold’em at its core, but who said there was anything wrong with that? Besides a bit of

Vegas style gambling, The Inventory boasts a cavalcade (four) of popular characters from the internet and your childhood: Strongbad, The Heavy, the snarky Penny-Arcade guy, and some kinda hyperkinetic rabbity thing. The four characters, along with yourself, come together for a night of raucous illegal gambling.

Kanye wishes he could look this cool

Gameplay wise, The Inventory is very simple. Click, bet, mortgage house, etc. Probably as good a poker playing experience as you could find on the internet. The real gold is in playing a game with the four characters, which often results in hilarious levity (Protip: Turn conversation to “The Gift of Gab” for best results). And as far as the actual poker playing goes, it is fairly well done. Each character has their own playing style and strategy, and a bit of dramatic music and facial expression goes a long way toward convincing the player that they are actually playing with The Heavy. And it doesn’t hurt that you can win a freelance police badge, among other things, from the characters, which which all translate to TF2 items.

As for graphics, The Inventory is incredibly nice looking, as much as a back room poker bar can be, anyway. The funniest part is that each of the other four are brought in with their native animation style. This is something possiblylost on those who haven’t played Strong Bad’s game for Cool and Attractive people but seeing vintage heavy sitting next to cel-shaded Tycho is pretty cool, especially if you start think about what had to go into making that happen.

I'm pretty sure that's the announcer.

So, what’s the incentive to actually play? Besides learning how to play poker and winning imaginary cash, you can unlock various tables and card sets. So far, my favorite combination is the TF2 set and the Automata table. Scout’s mom as the queen and a black and white filter is such a classy mix.

Otherwise, the only problem I have with The Inventory falls squarely on Tycho. Snarky MTG references are cool and all, but after the 20th time they get a bit overdone. It’s not that I don’t think his rant on how voluptuous giraffe necks are isn’t incredibly creepy (I do) but hearing the same thing repeated ad nauseum makes it lose a bit of its flair. Oddly, only with Tycho do I find this problem. The other three have yet to run out of funny/suggestive/creepy lines and dialogue. Yet.

That being said, if you have never before had the experience of playing a Telltale Games game before, then this is an opportunity that you should not let pass you by, and for 5 bucks why not buy two and give one away as a Christmas gift.

By our powers combined...

Call of Duty: African American Ops

Released November 9, 2010 for Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, and PC by Treyarch studios, the group responsible for Call of Duty 2 and 3, and recently condemned by the Cuban government for being too violent is the newest game in the Call of Duty series Call of Duty: Black Ops. Personally, I believe that this game has, thus far, been a little too well received. I have heard reports that there was literal dancing in the streets (and laser tag) to celebrate the release of this game as well as an average Xbox Live population of over 5 million. Just let it sink in that, right now, there are more people playing Black Ops on Xbox Live than live in the state of Oklahoma. Frankly, I don’t understand this but I suppose it can’t be helped, but I digress. As COD:BO is similar in form to Halo: Reach, this review will be split into 3 separate parts, each being rated on their own merit: Single Player, Multiplayer, and Zombies.

Single Player

The first thing you notice while playing the campaign portion of Black Ops is that you, Alex Mason, are strapped to a chair and being tortured for information about the Russians or something. This is where most of the campaign’s story originates from, most of the missions being Mason’s flashbacks. The flashbacks are of your adventures during the Cold War. The missions involve all kinds of neat gimmicks, from flying a spy plane to running through poison gas in a hazmat suit, but all eventually devolve into kill the Russian/Viet Cong/Nazi/British enemies rushing at you with whatever gun Mason can get his hands on. Normally, this would be fine, but after you assassinate Fidel Castro,

You also get an achievement for headshotting Castro.

the first mission and the scene that caused Black Ops to be condemned in Cuba, the game becomes highly repetitive. Run into room, shoot enemies in front of brown border, and repeat ad nauseum. A few hours in and the player starts feeling tortured. The campaign does, however, pick up during the infrequent vehicle based sections. These are the more fun and intense sequences that kept me playing but were often over as quickly as they started, possibly because you don’t die as much, something you do a lot of when on foot.

Outside of the flashbacks, the game feels like it was made exclusively for people suffering from ADD. Flashing lights and constant camera cuts to nothing in particular make the scene incredibly hard to focus on, possibly because someone told the game industry that’s what the people wanted. The story, once you can find it, is childlike in its simplicity. There are two major plot twists at the end, one of which is spoiled by the third mission (if you’re paying attention) and the other seems tacked on to the end out of nowhere. I won’t spoil anything, but let’s just say that Oswald couldn’t have done it better.

Black Ops also suffers from somewhat lackluster acting, which is surprising given the cavalcade of stars brought in to voice the game. The two main characters, voiced by Sam Worthington and Gary Oldman, are more annoying than anything else. The voices are backed by a very impressive soundtrack, featuring selections from Credence Clearwater Revival and other original compositions that are quite good. Especially for a shoot ‘me up video game.
Realistically, the single player is not why anyone will purchase Black Ops, as it is far too weak to stand on its own and is just bad in its execution. The online multiplayer is what the Call of Duty series is known for and what is selling Black Ops.

Multi Player

Nice Dog-OH MY FACE!

The meat and potatoes of the Call of Duty franchise is the online multi player, and Black Ops expertly implements its version. At its heart, the multi-player is just like that of its predecessors but there are a few important differences from the previous Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Firstly, Black Ops is more balanced as many of the weapons and perks that were before considered unreasonably overpowered and easily abusable have been neutered or cut entirely from the game giving a more entertaining and fun experience for everyone involved.

Outside of the core gameplay a few new game types have been added (including wager matches which are always fun) and the weapon upgrade system differs slightly from COD:MW2. Players still level up to unlock weapons, but everything (except the starting set) is truly unlocked by purchasing it with COD cash (also known

Stick and Stones: Best MP mode ever.

as space bucks). Each piece of equipment for each gun comes at the price of 2,000 space bucks (average earning for a match), as do as the guns after you unlock them. This system is more flexible than the achievement based system from before, except for unlocking guns, which are, oddly enough, still level based. It just seems like an odd system when you have to unlock a gun and then buy it, even if it is for a relatively small amount.

Overall, the multi-player aspect of Black Ops is very fun to play. The new maps are very clean and nice looking. There is enough balance for even new players to have a chance at winning. As far as multiplayer games go, Black Ops isn’t a bad choice.

Zombies

A staple of Treyarch’s Call of Duty: World at War, Black Ops ships with the much anticipated Zombies mode. Here, four friends can pit themselves against undead Nazis as historical figures John F. Kennedy, “Tricky Dick” Nixon, Fidel Castro, and Robert McNamara (no one cares about him) in the Pentagon. Why are they there? Who cares!? It’s time to kill Zombies. There are a few other maps with different characters but they all follow the same high-concept, just with less historical relevance (I think one is about time travelling communists?).

World leaders at work.

 

The Dresden Files

The Dresden Files

Recently, I’ve been playing a new pencil and paper table-top RPG under the moniker The Dresden Files.  It’s only been around since June of this year, and it takes a while to overcome the behemoth that is Dungeons and Dragons (D&D).  A few of my friends began playing in September and, more or less, on a whim I joined the group as an inexperienced wizard, against my better judgment, and I was immediately hooked.  The Dresden Files is based on a series of novels, under the same title, by Jim Butcher and uses the “Fate system” as a core mechanic (as opposed to the D20 system), I’ll explain this later.

I hate to compare The Dresden File to D&D, but I suppose it is a must in the Tabletop RPG world, so let’s get on with it. The Dresden Files is, comparatively, a much more role-playing based game than D&D.  I know what you’re thinking, how could one Role Playing Game (RPG) be more RP (Role Playing) focused than another?  While D&D has the capacity for roleplaying, characters are often more focused around combat and support of that combat.  While someone in D&D may be experienced in diplomatic relations, it’s often

That's right: Goats with sub-machine guns.

simpler to alleviate tensions by killing whatever is opposing you.  D&D rulebooks are filled with pages and pages of how to build your character for combat, how to level him/her to be better at combat, and things you can buy to use in combat, with relatively few entries on what to do elsewhere.  It is best played running around a labyrinthine cavern in search of massive serpentine fire breathing lizards.  The Dresden Files, on the other hand, focuses almost entirely on the role playing aspects of RPGs.  Yes, you can build your character to be an epic fighter, but he/she will probably be just as good (maybe marginally better) as anything else of your template.  The ability of a character is based solely on the ability/creativity of the player and adventures are anything but ordinary.

 

The Ladder

The 8th rung breaks and is lined with diamond wire...wait, wrong game

The Dresden Files is based on the FATE(Fantastic Adventures in Tabletop Entertainment) system, which places the emphasis of the game squarely on roleplaying rather than rolling dice to decide what your character can and can not do.  For every action, you roll four six-sided dice and everything above 4 adds 1 to action and everything below 3 negates 1 from it (3 and 4 both being neutral) so that, on average, you should be able to perform as well as you normally could but, with a little luck, be able to do something extraordinary.  Within the game all characters start out as average (i.e. a natural +0 to any given skill) and only through aspects do they gain bonuses to particular skills.

YO YO!

For example, if a character, we’ll call him Rocky, had the aspect “Street Brawler” from growing up on the mean streets and having to fight for his bread then he might have a good (+3) rating for fist, meaning that he was skilled at using his fists for punching things.  Now, if our friend Rocky was given the choice between using his hands or a crossbow to fight someone then this aspect could be invoked (by the player) or compelled (by the GM) to use his fists and not the crossbow.  If the GM (Game Master) were to invoke this aspect, possibly because he sees it out of character for Rocky to not beat the hell out of his opponent, he would be awarded a fate point, which the player, we’ll call him Sylvester, can spend to invoke any of his aspects or override a GM’s compel.  That’s it.  That’s the FATE system in a nutshell.  Simple, right?

Wizards, Vampires, Elder gods...oh my.

The Dresden Files extends the simple FATE system to include wizards, vampires, fey, even the Elder Gods. An entire world is crafted, based on novels by Jim Butcher under the same name, on the idea that these supernatural occurrences and creatures are and always have been a part of the human world and the humans are, on average, a bit too dense to figure that out.  Granted, there are laws set in place by the supernatural beings to avoid total cataclysmic devastation to the world that they also happen to frequent.  The two rulebooks for the The Dresden Files follow the idea of a game based on role-playing rather than rules and take

most of the time explaining, in general terms, how the world works rather than citing specific rules for each and every event, apart from the few pages explaining how the FATE system works.  Let’s take magic for example.  In D&D there are hundreds of pages detailing how specific spells operate and they can and cannot do.  If your character doesn’t happen to know the exact variation of fireball you would like to use then you can’t cast the spell.

Maybe if we constructed a giant wooden badger

In The Dresden Files you need only decide what you want the spell to do and it does that, provided you pump enough power into it (which will likely have negative consequences on your character if you overdo it).  It’s then up to the GM to decide whether or not what you’ve done is physically possible and, if it is, the collateral damage.  Some people like the structure provided by traditional systems, but others prefer the free flowing nature possible in something like The Dresden Files.  Mostly, the space in the rulebooks is reserved for giving examples to make sure that everyone understands how things work but are also dripping with background story and humorous additions from the “characters” writing the books.  It can be pretty hilarious while reading rules when a Monty Python reference pops up in the margin.  Overall, the rulebooks are fun to read, something which I often find missing from traditional roleplaying books.

The Dresden Files, and likewise the FATE system, probably won’t be replacing Dungeons and Dragons any time soon but, at the very least, is an incredibly fun setting to gather around with friends and beat up some monsters, go to a movie, or whatever else you might have in mind.  The setting is not limited by countless rules but a few guidelines that allow for players to create their own story rather than play one out.  Just look at my group:  A classy emotional vampire, a pizza loving faerie, a mostly normal girl who can turn into a cat, a demon possessed clone of a vampire hunter, and an inexperienced magic cop who has no idea what he has gotten himself into.

The two rulebooks “Your Story” and “Our World” are available for digital download on the Evil Hat Productions website for $40.00, not a bad price split among a few friends.  For the physically inclined, hardcover editions are available for a little more, $49.99 and $39.99 respectively, but also come with PDF copies.

This will happen, at least once.

Hydrophobia-phobia

Curse you Thomas Malthus

Released September 29th by Dark Energy studios, Hydrophobia is a third-person action game with the intent of displaying the capability of water physics possible on the Xbox 360.  It also claims to be a survival horror game and fun, but neither of these is completely true.  Hydrophobia boasts a fantastic new engine for creating in game water effects and features but, sadly, little else.  It relies far too heavily on this feature and suffered when additional features were seemingly hastily thrown in to make a game people might buy, ruining the rest of the game in the process, something I refer to as “Mirror’s Edge Syndrome.”

http://xboxoz360.files.wordpress.com/2009/06/hydrophobia-queen-of-the-word-oxcgn.jpeg
I’m on a boat.

Hydrophobia takes place in the mid-21st century on a boat, The Queen of the World, on its tenth anniversary.  You are an engineer named Kate assisted by a thickly accented Scottish man, aptly named Scoot.  I’m pretty sure he mentions dilithium crystals once…maybe.  On this special occasion, a group of overpopulation terrorists attacks the boat with some non-specific ill intent, screaming the battle cry “Save the world, Kill yourself!”  These Neo-Malthusians, basing their claims on theories by classical economist Thomas Malthus, are the most awkward evil force in a game that I have ever come across.  The idea, while novel, is so far out of left field that I doubt anyone would understand what they were against without taking a course in economics.  This concept might not even be that far-fetched if the developers had at least known something about Malthus, thus preventing the generic and often religious statements by the terrorists.  But, I digress.  You, Kate, are trapped on a lower level of this ship and spend the entire game fighting through terrorist and water to make your escape, or drown trying.

https://i0.wp.com/farm5.static.flickr.com/4126/5003543889_c71d596a9e_o.jpg
Guns, my ONLY weakness!

Sadly, Hydrophobia offers little direction besides the ever present objective of Escape.  Often to a painful degree.  On multiple occasions, it presented a room with a puzzle with some obscure solution and, after fighting off the guards, left the player to run around for an obscene amount of time with the only direction of “Ye need to get oot of the room, Lassie.”  These are only second in annoyance to rooms full of armed Terrorists.  Also, you are armed only with a stun gun, with the occasional drop of specialized ammunition designed for dispatching enemies, which drop in disturbingly small quantities.  The player is then free to throw themselves endlessly at the oncoming horde, dying countless times, until, after hours of obscenity filled rage, they make it through, only to die to an errant flame and be forced to start over.  It is often quite frustrating and took a severe amount of dedication to finish the game and not call Bill Gates directly and demand my money back.  How does it end?  You can find that out in the next installment, left at the end of Hydrophobia with only a disappointing “To Be Continued…”

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Why is there so much FIRE!

Let’s continue with the best feature of this game:  The HydroEngine. Hydrophobia features the HydroEngine physics engine, created specifically for this Xbox Live Arcade game and designed to incorporate flowing water and other such effects with a level of realism never before seen in video games.  The water effects in Hydrophobia do live up to the hype.  The tangible ebb and flow of the water, which serve to impede and move the player against their will, provide an exciting experience with the water as an enemy.  At least until the game forces the player to swim.  The controls of Hydrophobia are finicky on land and even worse in the water.  Swimming becomes a veritable feat, accomplishable only by the incredibly experienced.  Though, once you get the hang of it, it’s not the worst thing in the game.

Look at those great…effects.

One other thing that I did like was the hacking minigame which is, in my opinion, one of the better ones.  Using the two joysticks in tandem, the player must adjust the amplitude and frequency of their hacking console to match that of the device being hacked.  I know this doesn’t sound like much, but given 20 seconds to match 4 different waveforms it’s a very fun experience, especially for a hacking minigame.  Especially amongst the rest of the game.

What is this? Magic plastic?

On that note, Hydrophobia does manage water quite well, being pushed back by a wave of water rushing through an open door has never felt more suffocating, but this core feature of the game is overshadowed by a constant onslaught of mild to aggravating annoyances that completely detract and distract from this revolutionary concept.  Hydrophobia is built on a gimmick and the rest of the game shoddily placed around it in order to appeal to the Xbox community.  Had Dark Energy focused solely on the water mechanics, Hydrophobia may have been an enjoyable experience, but they didn’t.  Someday, the HydroEngine may be incorporated in a different game that manages to take full advantage and showcase this awesome piece of engineering, without the overly obscure philosophical references.

Hydrophobia The second.
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