Hydro Thunder Hurricane
It’s been a long time since we last indulged in some nautical thrills and spills with the racing genre, and if Vector Unit’s attempt to revitalise Hydro Thunder proves anything, it’s that the absence of such games has been wholly unwarranted. The term ‘wet and wild’ pretty much covers it, for while there can be little question of the game’s graphical limitations (though it is a great looking download), the promise of fun in a watery world is made all the more tempting due to its release window, making it the perfect candidate to splash down on Xbox Live during the Summer of Arcade season. It may still have its share of problems but anyone seeking to break the annual dearth with an enjoyable racer should look no further, as Hydro Thunder Hurricane is the game for you.
Racing games tend to live or die by their handling and in this respect the developers have crafted a fast and fluid system featuring pick-up-and-play mechanics – it’s instantly accessible, opening itself to a much broader audience than numerous other titles. This doesn’t mean the game is left wanting in the challenge department, in fact quite the opposite; sure a family member can pick up the controller and have a good time with it, but a high skill level is required to compete in some of the more difficult events. The cornering, the throttle, the boost; everything feels exactly as it should after the first few minutes of gameplay, making it very easy to slip into a groove and settle down for the evening.
Since Hydro Thunder is more about quality than it is quantity, the number of courses and vehicles may well disappoint. There are only eight tracks to speak of and only nine crafts with which to tear them up. To compensate for what would otherwise be a dire lack of replayability, the developers have employed a point system similar to the one featured in Split/Second. Completing an event on the Novice difficulty will add a modest amount of credits to your total, while winning on Pro or Expert will earn more depending on your position or completion time. Load times are short, making it quick and easy to restart a race should you feel the need, significantly reducing frustration in the process. That is, at least until the moment you decide to brave any of the events in the hardest category.
To the game’s credit, the eight locations have been well designed with frenetic gameplay in mind, providing enough shortcuts, boost refills and ramp triggers to keep things interesting. Most areas feature scripted moments – much like something from a water-based theme park ride – that appear on specific laps to add a welcome dose of variety. Each time such an event is activated the water responds accordingly, jostling your craft and causing chaos in the process. This can pose something of a problem during a mode such as Gauntlet, where each course gets littered with an abundance of deviously placed explosives.
The four single-player modes available are Race, Ring Master; a time trial demanding you complete the course while keeping within the rings to maintain boost power, the aforementioned Gauntlet involving explosives, and finally the multi-tiered Championship, made up of several events where a trophy is awarded for your overall ranking on the scoreboard. Essentially you’ll be doing the three event types over and over, but tedium is postponed thanks to the various route changes and difficulty levels.
A couple of avatar awards can be obtained via completion of specific criteria and whether you’re an achievement hunter, after in-game credits or items for your avatar, there’s always something to shoot for if you have the inclination. Be aware that the first couple of hours with the game will be spent blasting through the same couple of stages to increase your score and broaden your event list, but those of you rolling your eyes should take heed; there is another way – that way being via the impressive online component.
Featuring up to eight players at once, online races are fast, frantic and lag free. Points can be earned here in very much the same way as the campaign, resulting in a much faster accumulation of points leading to subsequent speedy unlocks. Beyond the standard race, a team-based mode entitled Rubber Ducky is presented, involving a designated duck tasked with crossing the finish line before the opposition. Split-screen has also come supported for up to four players, with skilful AI opponents claiming the remaining four spots. For the most part, taking on other people proves to be even more hectic (and in turn more exciting) than doing battle with the computer, as fellow gamers bump and shove your craft in a desperate bid for pole position. Online leaderboards keep track of your racing progress, offering competitive types a reason to keep playing long after the final events have been unlocked.
The overly critical will undoubtedly claim that Hydro Thunder contains too little content to warrant a full recommendation. We, on the other hand, believe such criticism to be largely unfounded given the modest 1200 point price tag, particularly at a time when many retail games sit proudly on store shelves lacking the accessibility, or indeed playability, of what’s on offer here. At under half a gig in size and just over the usual Live Arcade asking price, Vector Unit’s sequel to the original Hydro Thunder stands surprisingly tall against its ground-based competitors. It might not quite be F-Zero on water but what the game does, it does remarkably well; the stages are themed and colourful, the handling is superb and the action can get downright crazy at high speeds. A quality racer that won’t break the budget, we expect Hydro Thunder Hurricane to make waves this summer.
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