According to Blade Interactive's Pete Jones, "games have got to be done differently, it's got to change. People are looking at next generation like last generation, but we need a different way of thinking. We've got to show gamers something different." Not the words you'd necessarily expect to come from the head of a studio whose biggest hit has been a snooker simulator. But Blade Interactive's latest project - Hydrophobia - aims high. Recruiting talent who've worked on Splinter Cell and Fable 2, a genuine astrophysicist, blokes from the movie biz and letting loose the imagination of a team limited to making baize look brilliant in high-definition, it's rare to come across such genuine excitement in a development team.
And while Hydrophobia is a blend of the old and the new, what's new is groundbreaking. A thousand page document fleshes out the backstory of a game influenced from every water-based Hollywood movie from The Poseidon Adventure to Titanic. You're in control of a not-quite-all-action-or-as-fit-Lara-type (you still would, mind) called Kate, an engineer on a massive super ship sailing with the understated handle, Queen of the World. Loosely based on an ill-fated real world project called the Freedom Ship, the Queen of the World is a gargantuan floating city, a ten-deck behemoth with Skyscrapers, shops, casinos, restaurants, golf-courses and even beaches, designed as a haven for the super rich. Since she never sails in territorial waters, it's an attractive place for wealthy individuals to dodge taxes, and companies to dodge laws.
Unfortunately, the supposed freedom she brings invites her downfall. A research company called Nano Cell that produces nanobots that purify water, incites the wrath of fanatics called Neo-Malthusians. A year into its lifespan the ship comes under attack and Kate is thrust into the role of the reluctant heroine, Die Hard's Bruce Willis with baps, make-up and a diploma in mechanical engineering. Plunged down to the bottom deck where a hole's been blown through the hull, Kate has to use her body and her brains to survive the sinking ship, help others and get rid of the terrorists. And she ain't too handy with guns. Oh, and - here's the twist - she's terrified of water. Nice one, love.
But while its unique setting and survival-action-puzzle-fear approach instantly sets it apart from the blockbuster shooters that dominate on 360, it's the water itself that is truly revolutionary here. Previously water, like fire, has been a cosmetic benchmark, mere eye candy. Titles like Bioshock and Dark Sector are now beginning to apply some real-world properties to their H20, like the ability to conduct electricity, but Hydrophobia makes all that look primitive. Here water works like water. It is water - a truly 3D liquid, which reacts dynamically to its environment. It flows from source, it bubbles, it gets surfaces wet, it has a current, it's persistent. These properties make the water an intrinsic game mechanic, something we've never seen before, and in motion looks stunning.
WET WET WET
At its most basic level, the water chases Kate through the ship. Staying alive will mean keeping Kate's head above water, searching out air pockets to catch your breath, navigating flooded rooms and corridors to find keys and gettingaround obstructions. But the water isn't just an obstacle in itself. Objects will float in it making physical hazards, waves can sweep people away, and underwater currents creating mini rivers in the ship. And then there's the actual visuals - explosions, bubbles, spray, reflections and refractions make for dazzling effect as the water sweeps through the ship.