Preview: Hydrophobia

I played Hydrophobia for the first time this past March at PAX East and, at the time, I was fairly impressed. My feelings on the downloadable title haven't changed dramatically after trying out the game's combat in the E3 2010 build, but I did notice a handful of rough edges this time around. The new parts of the demo essentially picked up exactly where I left off at PAX -- a handful of gun-toting Neo-Malthusians stood in my way and, lucky me, I had just stumbled upon a pistol.

As it turns out, the pistol isn't equipped with live rounds -- at least initially, though the Dark Energy Digital rep talked to us about a handful of other types -- but rather "Sonic" rounds that require a charge up for full blast. The idea here is to encourage environmental attacks rather than traditional, cover-based, third-person shooting; flaming barrels, glass panes and electrical boxes littered throughout the environment certainly helped to encourage me as well.

In theory this works -- and presumably would work better had I gotten more acclimated to the concept -- but I found myself accidentally igniting exploding barrels and trying to drown foes to no avail far more often that I would've liked.
%Gallery-74474% While the initial learning curve of combat was a bit frustrating, the effect of a massive gush of water washing away pesky hallway guards helped me to look past my issues. A frustration that stayed with me, however, is the game's cover mechanic: getting in the way of quietly sneaking up on enemies is the exact antithesis of what a cover system should do. Unfortunately, as the very first Neo-Malthusian I encountered exited the first room, I popped my head out to see where he was and that was more than enough to set off the alarms (the equivalent of death). On the flipside, later in the demo, I stood less than a foot away from an enemy who seemed to totally disregard the dangerous stranger with a gun.

To be fair, what I've seen of the game isn't much -- a half-hour or so, maybe an hour -- and it's possible that various kinks will be ironed out before the game's intended end of summer release. It also doesn't hurt that the developer plans on keeping pricing in-line with other digitally distributed titles. That said, inconsistencies in the gameplay could turn the tide on an intriguing game concept if they aren't fixed before release.

Dark Energy Digital did tell us about an allegedly robust player stat tracking system built into Hydrophobia's proprietary game engine -- one that would allow for updates post-release. My hopes remain high for the developer's first game, supported at least partially by the promise of post-release support, but are a bit tempered after a playthrough at E3. What could keep me excited is the addition of "challenge rooms" once the game's main campaign is completed -- something you can read more about in an upcoming piece.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.