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Hydrophobia Hands-On Preview

Hands-on with the watery romp...

By the year 2051 the world's population will have hit a staggering total of 9.8 billion. Mankind's resources will be unable to cope with the demands. Clean water will be hard to source. Food supplies are projected to be even tougher to maintain. Space shortages will give rise to housing problems. For many the world will not end in a bang - rather it will wither away slowly as its inhabitants are starved and left without the basics needed for life.

In Hydrophobia's grim future - which, it should be noted, is frighteningly close to select scientific projections - five self-proclaimed founding fathers think they've got the answer. The heads of the world's biggest companies decide to pool resources to create a floating paradise called the Queen of the World, where their research into the enhancement of supplies isn't impeded by stringent government regulations. Their ideas eerily echo those of Andrew Ryan. Their world may be on the surface rather than the sea bed, but the free-from-state principles remain intact. And, rather unsurprisingly, not everybody agrees with the idea.

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Though protesters were initially placated by the news that clean-as-soap nano-machine R&D group NanoCell were pouring all their money into new water purification systems, a decade of silence has dashed all hopes. All the while a collection of Neo-Malthusian terrorists have been infiltrating the ship's hierarchies, laying down sleeper cells ready to strike when the time is right.

Hydrophobia begins just before the tenth anniversary of the Queen of the World's launch. On the eve of the anniversary celebrations NanoCell's playboy head John Dolton breaks company silence and throws a giant party for the world's leaders to unveil his plans to enhance human life. But before NanoCell saves the world the terrorists strike, and one of their bombs sends an elevator - with engineer and Hydrophobia protagonist Kate Wilson - careering down to the ship's lowest decks. Ker-ash.

With no security clearance (you can thank a system-wiping computer virus for that) her goal to reach the Queen's top levels and escape the flooding vessel isn't going to be easy. To make things worse a traumatic childhood experience during which Kate lost her sister has left her with a fear of water, and the ship's hull is failing fast.

It's been more than two years since we first got our eyes all over Hydrophobia. Back then it was little more than a swanky wetness engine; now it's almost complete. In its 24 months underground (or should that be underwater?) the biggest change has unquestionably been its shift from full retail release to Live Arcade title. Hydrophobia's story has been split into three episodes of around five hours each to be released within a twelve month window. If it proves to be successful there's potential for more episodes beyond the original three.

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Although digital deliveries are normally associated with lesser games nothing has been scaled back to squeeze Hydrophobia's file size down. It's a game comparable to most full-priced titles you'd care to mention (and indeed, offering more than some of them), and is best described as a kind of damp amalgamation of Tomb Raider and Dead Space.

The creaking, groaning hull of the Queen of the World hides levels which take their cues from Dead Space. Lights flicker on and off as water drip-drips down into cable gullies and bloodied bodies litter the gantries to signify nearby terrorists. The world possesses the same fidelity as EA's sci-fi shooter, only it's obviously not as far-flung into the future. Dead Space deals in holograms, Hydrophobia in flexi-screens - real technology being developed today. Flexible, extendable screens with light-blue writing doubles for signage all over the ship, immediately invoking echoes of Dead Space's artistry.

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