Overall, Hydrophobia is fairly average with the exception of its unique water physics. This feature is quite impressive, so it's a shame that the rest of the game's elements are somewhat underwhelming. However, it can often be got for the price of a coffee and if you're interested in what the HydroEngine can do, it's worth the price. The graphics are pretty good, so no fear it won't look pretty enough and the water visuals are top-notch. Non-interactive water does play a mighty big part as much of the environment is flooded.
The original Hydrophobia Xbox Live version was not received well and many features were re-worked - first for the Xbox and then for the PC and PS version, which was re-named Hydophobia: Prophecy. This included the graphics, additional cut-scenes, new levels, the voice recasting of Scoot, and the water physics. Swimming controls were also made more responsive and an air meter added. Improvements were made to the HUD display and more checkpoints added.
The game takes place aboard the Queen of the World, a city sized ocean liner built by a group of corporate giants known as the Five Founding Fathers: a group that has prospered while the rest of the world has suffered due to over-population. The story begins with this vessel being bombed by terrorists known as Malthusians, who plan to murder most of the population to relieve the stress on demands for food. You play as Kate Williams, a systems engineer who will become a reluctant hero when the QOTW is taken over by these terrorists.
Combat suffers from some problems. This is one area where the first release on Xbox was highly criticized, and although it was much improved for the Xbox update and subsequently the PC remake, it is still not smooth sailing. You are encouraged to use the environment against enemies, but that is not always possible and weapon variety and ammo is sparse. In addition, there is no melee attack. This can prove problematic if you run out of ammo during fights with numerous terrorists as the only fall-back you have is a non-lethal stun gun that takes time to recharge. You do gain the ability to maneuver water and use it as a weapon but unfortunately this occurs fairly late in game, so although it is a unique mechanic, there is not enough game left to truly master or play around with it.
The game also has collectibles and achievements, which adds value for users who enjoy those aspects and finishing opens up a challenge room mode and a practice mode. If you want to continue fooling around with the water ability, you can do it here.
To some degree, Hydrophobia looks more like a showcase for the HydroEngine than a complete gaming experience. It feels unfinished with 3 short acts and a very abrupt ending. The game was initially episodic on Xbox Live and perhaps the developer was thinking of continuing to improve the PC version before things went south. It kinda reminds me of what happened with Trine 3 when lack of development money became an issue to finishing the game properly. Or, on a purely speculative note, perhaps their aim was just to demo and create a market for their unique engine. However, there is really no way of knowing what they were thinking as Dark Energy is now defunct
Some critic reception to the improvements was fairly positive, which raised the game's score for PC. However, others not so much and this further negativity caused some serious backlash when Dark Energy publicly struck back. This resulted in a lot of bad publicity, and some retaliated by slamming everything about the game.
The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Hydrophobia Prophecy has its weaknesses, but it is not as bad as some reviews and comments would lead you to believe. I'd guess that most of the development work went into the water features, leaving the rest of the game's mechanics lacking in polish. It probably should not have been released when it was, but sometimes these decisions are based on financial woes. Regardless, it's a shame that the HydroEngine has been lost in the ether
The game normally sells for $5.49 on Steam, but I've seen it on sale for .49c and at the writing of this .27c. People ask if it's worth it. LOL! My position is this; even a free game is not worth it if you don't like the genre and premise of that game. However, if you do, you could do a lot worse that Hydrophobia Prophecy. Just be aware that there will be no developer support, patches or updates unless it resurfaces in the hands of whoever might own it now. Obviously someone does as it's still for sale, but that is a mystery.