August 12, 2010

Hydro Thunder Hurricane Review

For a couple of months now, I was eagerly awaiting the release of Hydro Thunder Hurricane(HTH), a ten years in the making redesign of the 1999 hit arcade racer Hydro Thunder(HT).  While there are already numerous reviews out about the game I figure I would throw in a little depth  with my 2 cents.

First off, the game carries the HT name quite well, however to fully enjoy it, you have to remember that this is not the same game we know and love.  The boats are back and the race courses are exotic with twists and turns, however gone are the crazy announcer (different less impressive announcer now), mighty hull and a few other small parts, which have been replaced by different and in some case better improvements.  The quick answer to "should I buy it" is YES, the long answer is... well read more to find out.

The boat controls are similar to the original HT gas, boost and steer (but oddly no reverse).  However the new wave physics of the water in each course makes the actual overall feel of each race far different from the original game and takes some getting used to. Hydro jumping makes a return, but is (over) simplified down to just a button press removing what was a tricky skill related move and replacing it with something anyone can achieve by pressing x.  Might hull, the move that would smash opponents out of the way has been removed, which is a shame in single player, but makes sense in multiplayer, as it would turn into a complete mess of whoever runs out of boost first gets smashed, and there is already plenty of boat smashing going on.

The Boats are back, minus Midway (now named Vector).  Each has two or three unlockable skins to help show off your progress and make you stand out more in races. The boats are ranked novice, pro and expert (complete with the "your crazy"). However the feel of the boats have been altered considerably.  The novice boats are not worth using after unlocking the pro boats, which may put off new players due to initial races being far more difficult to maneuver, however I urge you to keep playing because the pro/expert boat make the game far more enjoyable.  On the other hand, further in the game the expert boats that can be unlocked are way more responsive than their original counter parts, rad hazard being a good example, it is far less prone to spin out on turns, which makes it quite fun to drive now. The down side to this is that in online competition almost every player uses a expert boat, sort of making the rest of the boats pointless (design flaw).  Yet, while experienced players will probably stick with expert boats, I had no problems winning a few online multiplayer races with a Thresher(pro boat), it was just far more challenging than with the faster expert boats.  In conclusion, other than the novice boats the rest are well relatively balanced and fun to race with once you master their quirks.

The tracks in HTH are all new, however they carry over the feel of the classic tracks.  Below are a quick guide to the mix of each track based loosely on the classic ones.

Lake Powell (Lake Powell)
The first track, also making a triumphant return, a lot of different paths to take and a few classic shortcuts to leverage.  All in all a fun track which won't take too long to master.

Storming Asgard (Arctic Circle + Ship Graveyard)
The second track, less light and lots of ice.  A fun track with some cool surprises, though I am a little sad that the ice shortcuts require you to boost unlike the original which was crazy fast before even boosting.

Monster Island = (Jungle Adventure + Catacombs)
Third track, a circuit track with three laps that change what path is available to take due to the water level dropping.  A few too many sharp turns for my tastes, but after getting used to it it is not too bad.

Hydro Dome (Hydro Speedway)
Fourth track, a circuit track with three laps which is very fun and built for speed.  Close quarters so online play will knock you around a lot, however once you figure out the layout and shortcuts it is full throttle all the way to the finish.  I destroy with Rad Hazard on this track!

Lost Babylon (Nile Adventure)
Fifth track, this one takes a lot of play to get used to, but is probably my favorite.  Impressive visuals, lots of tricky shortcuts and quick turns make it very changeling but worth it.

Paris Sewers (New York Disaster)
Sixth track,  a circuit track with three laps, built for speed and turns, not too much else going on, but still a solid track.

Seoul Stream (The Far East)
Seventh track, night track with lots of fancy lighted waterfalls and fountains. After the initial oohs and awes, not much going for this track beyond a few interesting but hard to activate/use water powered shortcuts.

Area 51 (Greek Isles + Ship Graveyard)
The eight and last track, a lot of people love this track, I like it but it is not my favorite. Includes a lot of interesting events going on in the background to keep you entertained. Otherwise a balanced track with emphasis on speed in the later half.  Listen closely to what is said in the background during the race to get a few laughs.

Unlike the original HT, the track design in HTH are about the same in difficulty. Yep, sadly no Venice Canals successor to challenge our reflexes. Instead the difficulty of each track is controlled by what class of boat you use. Racing with a novice vs pro vs expert causes the other boats to adjust speed, use boost and take shortcuts. The expert racing is, as expected, the hardest as other boats are always at top speed.  I prefer the pro races over all.

Secrets on each track are back, this time in abundance, with most tracks offering several routes to choose from, ranching from normal to secrets that have to be landed in from a high drop. This is fine, however I have a minor complaint with how a lot of the secrets are set up.  A few have the classic feel, and if not taken only slow you down, however a lot of the extra paths are pointless to take. While even worse some important ones do not provide enough of a boost aid even after being extremely hard to access.  Namely, that in the original HT taking shortcuts would normal fill your boost quit well, most in HTH do not, or even waste boost to access.  This is not ruin the overall play experience, but you will occasional find your self thinking, "why did I even take this shortcut?"

Online Play:
Of all the features in HTH the one that I was looking forward to most is the online play.  Races pit you against 1-7 other players with the host of each game choosing what map is played.  I must say that the developers could have taken a cue from the Halo series and added a count down to each lobby, as I am always kicking out people who sit in a not ready state for over 20 seconds while every other player is ready to go.  Beyond that the races are as expected, far different and more challenging than with humans vs the game AI.  You tend to get knocked around far more as experienced players try to prevent others from getting boosts and accessing shortcuts.  To make things more even in races, boost is adjusted based on position, so first gets normal while 8th place gets 8X as much ofter filling the gauge, this is both annoying if you are in first and very helpful when your boat explodes from a small mistake, so I am listing it as a moot point, though in the end it does not do much to help new players win, and would have been nice to be able to disable. In the end a ranking system would have been more fair for new players; I hit the game running, but new younger players must be feeling some frustration being constantly pitted against veteran players with no chance of winning till they get used to the track and unlock better boats.  I have had a few races where I am against only one person in a novice boat, I had a good 60sec lead by the end, which is just not fair for them, but an easy win for me.  Beyond the online races the leader board keeps track of your overall rank on each track, but due to some glitch problems on tracks allowing players to achieve impossible times, the leader boards are somewhat pointless, nothing like seeing 1:20 at the top where I can only get close to 2:00 on a race with an expert boat.

Down loadable content:
While rumors are flying, it is mostly confirmed that two more tracks should be available at some point.

That about covers the game, so if you like what you have seen go buy the game, if anything go grab the demo and check it out, however be ready for the novice boats to be very lame to drive.