Hydro Thunder Hurricane – A Soulless Sequel

Review

Originally Posted at: http://www.criticalgamer.co.uk/2010/07/26/hydro-thunder-hurricane-review/

Can a racing game have soul? The genre certainly fights an uphill battle. With emotionless heaps of metal zipping around tracks devoid of human life, there’s not a lot of room for charm. Yet you can feel it every time you get a takedown in Burnout or dodge and weave through a dozen opponents in Blur.

A racing game’s soul comes from the thrill of speed, the challenge of your competition, or the satisfaction of a well-taken turn. In arcade-style games, it can come from outlandish, Bruckheimer-esque moments, an impossibly-long powerslide, or a mile-high jump.

That said, Hydro Thunder Hurricane could use a little soul-searching. An update of the 1999 arcade boat-racing game Hydro Thunder, Hurricane attempts to recreate the thrill of that original in a downloadable XBLA release, with mixed results.

Hurricane starts off on the right foot. The first race event takes place on Lake Powell, a canyon river with huge waterfalls, cave short-cuts, and a maniacal helicopter dropping bombs into the water. If you’ve played the previous Hydro Thunder then you should know the story – collect as much boost power-ups as possible and attempt to rocket around the track from beginning to end. It’s as much about chaining boosts as it is about winning the race.

In this respect, Hydro Thunder Hurricane nails it. Most of the tracks are well-designed, with several different paths, tricky jumps, and strategically placed power-ups that will satiate any speed addicts. The overriding issue is that almost every thing else about the game attempts to undermine this simple thrill.

The first culprit is the game’s single-player mode. Beyond the 8 standard races, the event structure is heavily in favour of the gimmicky Ring Master and Gauntlet modes. Ring Master is similar to a slalom event, requiring you to navigate carefully through rings or suffer crippling time penalties. The sensation is akin to threading a needle repeatedly. Gauntlet suffers the same issue, as explosive barrels are strategically placed around the track to kill you any time you try to have fun. With these two events taking up at least two-thirds of the single-player game, there’s little fun to be had here.

Multiplayer focuses on racing, which is good, but one questionable design decision manages to strip away a lot of the enjoyment. Boost power-ups that would usually give you a fixed amount of boost now give you a variable amount based on your position among the other racers. The result is that being in first place is a miserable experience – you’re always running dry on boost, and everyone behind you is having fun and catching up. It’s an especially odd decision considering that the game already allows you to draft behind your opponents from a great distance.

Hurricane’s gameplay is so unfulfilling that it throws the fun of the original into question. Perhaps this was just a case of rose-tinted lenses? No, the original Hydro Thunder is actually a much faster game, with much more whimsical, unrealistic controls that gave it the soul this current version is lacking.

There are a few tweaks that could be made, especially on the multiplayer front, that could salvage Hydro Thunder Hurricane. There’s a solid backbone of fun at the core of this game – something brilliant that you can find in those initial single-player races – but developer Vector Unit doesn’t give it room to breathe, crushing the fun under the weight of a soulless, unpleasant experience that’s hard to recommend.

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