Hydro Thunder: Hurricane
Developer: Vector Unit
Publisher: Microsoft/XBLA
Price: 1200 MS points
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1-4 split-screen, 2-8 online
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Hydro Thunder: Hurricane (HTH) is the latest in a growing catalogue of quality Xbox Live Arcade games, and is the perfect antidote to a bad day at work, or a bad session on a car sim-racer that expects you to do 10 laps around a boring course in a boring car, and then do it all over again the other way round or in a slightly different car. It plays a lot like but looks a heck of a lot better than I remember the original PlayStation, N64 or Dreamcast games looking. Zooming along long and varied courses in a high-powered powerboat should, of course, be exciting, and thanks to smooth, colourful graphics, lively physics and a trillion gallons of virtual water HTH is rarely less than that, and just about every lap of a track will feel different.

I doubt you'll be calling anyone up to show them HTH as a showoff game for your 360’s visual prowess, but at the same time it costs a reasonable 1200 MS points (£10.28/€14.40/$15.00) and has graphics that please the eye as you zoom along with no slowdown whatsoever. HTH also possesses a thing that is vital to all good racing games—it conveys a good impression of speed. The game seems a bit schizophrenic at times with plausible looking boat designs and real-ish locations mixed with fantasy ones. The boats all have individual handling characteristics and capabilities and the usual racing game trade-off of speed versus handling. You soon find whether you like a loose (skiddy) boat or a responsive one, and which boat suits which tracks best. The handling and response is excellent—although on some tracks your boat will seem to spend more time in the air than on water thanks to waves, waterfalls and numerous jump ramps. The boats all have a boost capability (press ‘A’) and top speed can only be maintained if you keep passing through the nitro bottle boost icons, which are usual placed on the inside of bends, at the top of ramps or in other tricky-to-reach places. You’ll soon discover that HTH isn’t an easy game and you’ll need to collect a lot of boosts and use them well if you’re to progress very far.

Apart from single races there are Ring Master (pass through as many rings as possible as you race around the circuit), Gauntlet (try and get to the end of the track without hitting the floating hazards, exploding barrels or collapsing scenery) or championship modes. There are 8 stylized and themed tracks, the weirdest of which is Area 51 which starts off at the Nevada airbase before transporting you to an alien planet and back during a circuit! Successful races earn you new boats, new tracks and new race modes while new boat skins can be unlocked by finding the 10 secret packages on each track. Each track/event can be played on three difficulty settings (Novice, Pro & Expert) — you can get by with just slick driving to win most Novice events but Pro means you need to learn the shortcuts and pick up most of the boost bonuses along the way.

Online play is well supported and works a treat, you can even set up a 2-4 player local (split screen game and then take your buddies online to race.) I expected the 360 to come juddering to a halt but the game remains remarkably playable, although a big screen TV is obviously highly recommended. Online features straight races, or Rubber Ducky. Races keep a running score which is kept as long as you stay in a lobby. Online racing also earns you XP that unlocks stuff for the solo game. Rubber Ducky, which PGR2 veterans will recognise plays a lot like Cat & Mouse (an ad-hoc game mode originated by the racers themselves), one player being the rubber duck for one of the two teams (and actually driving a giant rubber duck-shaped boat with degraded handling), while the rest of the team members try to get their ducky to the finish line before the other team. Anything goes in this mode; pushing, boosting, ramming—you name it. This would be good fun if enough people played it but no one online seems to want to try it.

HTH plays like a throwback to the high-adrenalin arcade games that we all used to pump coins into years ago before home consoles had the power to reproduce convincing and spectacular visuals. It’s simple to play but very hard to master, and cool (well, wet anyway) and fast enough that if you whack some dance music on (the in-game music is mostly dire) then it could even be your 360’s answer to WipeOut.

Best Bits

- Fast & smooth.
- 4-player split-screen.
- Competitive and playable online racing.
Worst Bits

- Maybe gets too hard too soon.
- The scenery won’t make you want to go sight-seeing.
- A replay mode would have been nice.

by: Diddly

Copyright © Gamecell 2010