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published Tuesday, Jul 27th

Hydro Thunder: Hurricane Review

Hydro Thunder: Hurricane is the sequel to the heavily ported Hydro Thunder, part of Midway Games’s Thunder series seen in arcades in 1999. Hydro Thunder was first published on a home console on Sega’s ill-fated Dreamcast, before a career mode was added for the PlayStation and four-player multiplayer for the Nintendo 64. Until recently it was added to the Midway Arcade Treasures 3 collection for the Gamecube, Xbox and PlayStation, with the latter console releases having major technical problems. However, when Midway was sinking under bankruptcy protection, Warner Brothers purchased the rights to the majority of their franchises, notably Thunder which was subsequently bought by Microsoft.

The game is a racer, not with cars, but with speedboats, centred across 8 tracks. The first thing that springs to mind on the very first race is the amount of imagination put into the structure of the courses. The races are filled with twists and turns, and the game isn’t afraid to turn a little crazy, from biplanes dropping bombs to create an uneven sway and tide to put the boat off course, to giant Vikings swinging axes in your path and Dinosaurs chopping off your intended route.

Disappointingly, each of these features is scripted and timed upon your arrival; nothing ever happens differently on the same two laps. Eventually objects get in the way of victory, which causes frustration rather than excitement. Other than the surreal, ‘normal’ features of the raceways are ramps, hidden paths and huge jumps. Items including canisters that fill the boost meter and hidden collectable Hydro Thunder: Hurricane logos are placed along the way too, some in not-so-obvious places. The boost is vital for that extra push to get to the head of the pack, but it also allows the boat to ‘boost jump’ over objects, getting into short cuts and secret areas.

The speedboats themselves range in design, and have their own level of speed, acceleration, handling and air control. Each of the boats get more complex, and as their statistics rise the difficulty rises with it, so that if the player wants to use a bit of power there is going to be a certain amount of opposition. This might seem fair, but the difficulty curve takes its toll on the trophy flow once the door from professional to expert opens. Nevertheless, mix this difficulty in with the hazardous environments and the game outputs action and tension that keeps the attention on the screen.

The reward for finishing an event is the customary trophy, which more importantly has credits attached, even if the race has already been completed. Credits unlock new boats, tracks, and events in no particular order, but the pace is always even if you keep the credits rolling.

The Ring Master Event is a time trail race where the boat is timed along a certain path. As long as the rings are hit successively the boost meter will fill, but as soon as one is missed the meter will deplete and valuable time will deducted at the end. Gauntlet is also a timed event, but the track is littered with exploding barrels, which like planting a wall with the bow of the boat will automatically destroy the vehicle, hindering progress by restarting the boat further back.

There is a fourth game type but this is just a Championship style compilation of Race, Ring Master and Gauntlet, where the player competes for points in each round before being placed on an overall leaderboard. It is disappointing that it adds nothing new to the game, but at least it is another challenge when stuck for places to go to rack up credits.

Multiplayer consists of online competitive one-versus-all, cooperative team play, and local four-player split screen. Race times are always posted to the leaderboards as long as there is an Xbox Live connection, keeping in competitive touch with friends and the world. Hydro Thunder Hurricane is a great set-up for multiplayer; the techno beat, lively commentary, and the weird course events will keep the banter going. It originated from the arcade after all.

Overall the game is a great arcade racer with a twist, working heavily in its favour against other in the genre. The waterworks and out-of-this-world destruction paint the scene for competitive gameplay. However, its biggest asset is also its greatest flaw. There might be awe at first sight, but after that it is just lashings of the same 8 scenes over and over again. Replaying each of the levels has its rewards, but it isn’t particularly fun earning them once you’ve seen what each course has to offer. Hydro Thunder Hurricane will take you on a thrill ride, but don’t expect it to last.